The Missing Ring


Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press
New York
2006

In the autumn of 1966, as the world teetered on the brink in a variety of ways, Paul "Bear" Bryant's University of Alabama Crimson Tide pursued the most elusive prize in college football—a third consecutive national championship. But something happened on the way to the history books. In an imperfect world, perfection on the field was not quite enough.

The Missing Ring is the story of the one that got away, the one that haunts Alabama fans still.

Led by the electrifying force of quarterback Kenny "Snake" Stabler and one of the most punishing defenses in the storied annals of the Southeastern Conference, the Crimson Tide cruised to a magical season. But Alabama finished with a dubious distinction: Undefeated, untied and uncrowned.

Native Alabamian Keith Dunnavant takes readers deep inside the Crimson Tide program during a more innocent time, before widespread telecasting, before scholarship limitations, before end-zone dances. Meticulously revealing the strategies, tactics and personal dramas that bring the overachieving boys of 1966 to life, Dunnavant's insightful, anecdotally rich narrative shows how Bryant molded a diverse group of young men into a powerful force that overcame obstacles large and small to become one of the most dominant college teams of all time.

Set against the backdrop of the civil rights movement, the still-escalating Veitnam War, and a world and a sport teetering on the brink of change in a variety of ways, The Missing Ring tells an important story about the collision between football and culture. Ultimately, it is this clash that produces the Crimson Tide's most implacable foe, enabling the greatest injustice in college football history.

Praise for The Missing Ring

"Absolutely stunning. The Missing Ring left me breathless. Keith Dunnavant has proven again why he is one of America's greatest sports authors and historians. With so much having been written about Bryant and Alabama, I had my doubts going into this book there was something I didn't know or hadn't read. Yet, Dunnavant has managed to strike gold with The Missing Ring in every way and shape imaginable. His quiet prose goes down as effortlessly as bourbon and branchwater. Fans of college football will marvel at his painstaking research. Dunnavant turned the clock back 40 years and it was 1966 all over again. The pain and the glory, the pride and the prejudice, all brought to life in the pages of this extraordinary book."

—Paul Finebaum, Finebaum Radio Network

"Keith Dunnavant's triumph is that he takes us into the heart of Alabama, into the darkness and the light, and there we see Joe Namath, Kenny Stabler, Ray Perkins, and their band of brothers play football for Bear Bryant the way life should be lived, at full throttle, indominatably."

—Dave Kindred, author of Sound and Fury: Two Powerful Lives, One Fateful Friendship

"Keith Dunnavant nails it: All the sacrifices the 1966 Alabama team made to win three national championships in a row and how we were robbed at the ballot box."

—Jerry Duncan, one of the boys of 1966

"Dunnavant infuses reportage and passion into a tale that every Alabamian of a certain age knows: for all the crying about Penn State in 1969, Penn State in 1994, or Auburn in 2004, no team ever got shafted the way the 1966 Crimson Tide did. They conquered their opponents on the field, but proved to be no match for the politics of the day off the field. The '66 Tide is still waiting for The Missing Ring. Thanks to Dunnavant, we don't have to."

—Ivan Maisel, senior writer, ESPN.com, co-author, A War in Dixie

"Keith Dunnavant has written yet another fabulous book about the fabled Alabama football program. You will be amazed at how one of the great injustices in college football cost them their rightful place in history. And you just thought the system was screwed up now."

—Jim Dent, author of The Junction Boys

"Evocative and provocative. You can now add to your literary starting lineup The Missing Ring."

Sports Illustrated

During the turbulent battles over issues such as civil rights and Vietnam in the mid-1960s, the University of Alabama's Crimson Tide football team, led by legendary coach Paul "Bear" Bryant, had its own cause-becoming the first team in modern college history to win the national championship for three straight years. In this solid if somewhat overlong study of the Tide's quest, Dunnavant expands upon his earlier Bryant biography, Coach, to explore how national politics and collegiate sports inevitably collided. While the bulk of the book delivers insightful profiles of the team's working-class players and fast-paced looks at the team's unbeaten season, it also convincingly argues that Alabama's image as reflecting "establishment America" was skewed by "the poisonous climate" of Gov. George Wallace's segregationist policies. But in a provocative account of a late-season meeting with Notre Dame, Dunnavant names his story's true villains: Notre Dame coach Ara Parseghian, who, as Dunnavant sees it, played for a tie, sitting "on the ball to avoid a turnover" instead of playing to win—"the most cynical act in college football history"—and the sportswriters who voted "media darling" Notre Dame the national champion over a team from "a state seen by many Americans as a national pariah."

Publisher's Weekly

"A stunning look at how a team of overachievers was able to accomplish everything—except win a national title. Dunnavant's attention to detail puts the reader into the players' heads; one can almost sense the fear when Bryant walks into the locker room."

The Tampa Tribune

"When it comes to Alabama football, nobody does a better job of research and reporting than Keith Dunnavant, and this is another masterful job."

—Tony Barnhart, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

"The Missing Ring, a stirring tale of Southern football set against a backdrop of the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement, tells the story of the greatest disappointment of the Bear Bryant era—and tells it unforgettably."

—John Pruett, The Huntsville Times

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