Original Big Al Costume Moved to UA’s Bryant Museum
If the old maxim rings true, beloved University of Alabama elephant mascot Big Al will never forget the many footsteps taken to bring him — the original Big Al costume, that is — to a comfortable resting spot amongst the memorabilia in UA’s Paul W. Bryant Museum.
Big Al’s journey began with his debut at the 1979 Sugar Bowl. Most fans will remember the goal-line stand, where the Crimson Tide turned back an advancing Penn State earning a 14–7 victory and UA’s eleventh national championship. For the behind-the-scenes players like UA alums Hugh Dye and Kathleen Cramer, that game was the culmination of hard work to create a mascot capable of stomping into the hearts of Alabama fans of all ages.
“We had to convince Coach Bryant, who had declined the idea in the past,” recalls Cramer, current senior associate vice president for student affairs and then cheerleader sponsor. “We sent students because he was always responsive when students reached out to him. The coach laughed and said ‘I guess we do have a mascot’ after Craig Cantrell reminded him that an elephant was already on our tickets and an elephant lamp sat right on the coach’s desk.”
After finding a suitable drawing of a possible mascot, the students sent plans to the Disney offices in New York for creation.
“We gave the artists instructions—not too cartoony, but not too ferocious—and after a few rounds we had a mascot,” says Cramer. “Coach Bryant loved it. ‘Just keep him off my field’ was his only request.”
Meanwhile, a self-described introverted UA senior, Hugh Dye, was unknowingly positioning himself to become the new mascot for The University of Alabama. After originally declining a request to try out following a knee injury during semifinals for cheerleading tryouts, Dye consented. The Crimson Tide would have its mascot and it would be a reluctant young man who wondered just what he’d gotten himself into.
Stampede forward to the not-so-ceremonious unveiling of UA’s mascot.
“I picked up the costume at the Birmingham airport,” laughs Dye. “It was packed in a huge crate that wouldn’t fit in my car, so I had the airport crew break down the crate and help me load the costume in the car. I headed to New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl with the head piece staring out of the back window. People drove past me and gave strange looks. I remember trying the costume on, coming out of the bathroom, and I suddenly had kids grabbing at me.”
Big Al had officially arrived. Since then, he has danced, crowd-surfed and made bedside visits for Alabama fans. The original costume was retired once it fell into disrepair and was deemed too hot and too uncomfortable in the summer months. The Big Al costume spent years in a display case in the Ferguson Center.
Recently, however, Bryant Museum director Ken Gaddy and staff moved the costume to a place more fitting. Now the original Big Al, minus the stiflingly hot wool sweater, rests in the Bryant Museum with other Crimson Tide legends and he’s remembered most fondly by Hugh Dye, the first person to give him life.
“It was one of the best times of my life, and I’ll never forget it,” Dye said.
The University of Alabama, a student-centered research university, is experiencing significant growth in both enrollment and academic quality. This growth, which is positively impacting the campus and the state's economy, is in keeping with UA's vision to be the university of choice for the best and brightest students. UA, the state's flagship university, is an academic community united in its commitment to enhancing the quality of life for all Alabamians.
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