The story of Al Lary's 1950 season, setting an Alabama football receiving record that stood for 62 years
The offensive revolution in college football did more than change the optics of the modern-day game. In the records books, it wiped away decades of offensive accomplishments.
The heroes of decades past cannot stand up to the statistical possibilities of modern players in modern offenses, and Alabama’s record book is no different.
Alabama’s current top 10 in single-season passing yards, for instance: all of them have come since 2006. Entering the season, of the nine 200-yard receiving games in school history, only one of them happened before 2010.
Alabama’s record book has one anachronistic exception. When Amari Cooper broke the school’s record for single-season receiving touchdowns in 2012 – a record that has since been broken three times, once by himself – he broke a record that had stood nearly 65 years.
In 1950, Al Lary caught 10 touchdown passes. He went on to a 13-year baseball career in the Chicago Cubs organization, including 16 major league appearances, but his 1950 season remained the longest lasting impact of his athletic career. The record outlasted Lary himself, who died in 2001.
Lary was the big man on campus before the term was coined. He was pictured in The Nashville Banner on Aug. 22, 1951, with two women on each side of him. The caption: “A POPULAR GUY— Al Lary, 21-year-old former Alabama football and baseball star, is surrounded by an admiring feminine flock after his pretty six-hit victory over Atlanta last night at the Dell.”
Lary was a standout receiver in an era when the term barely existed. UA completed all of 97 passes that season; Lary caught 35 of them. (His brother, Ed Lary, caught 10 more, meaning the Lary family was responsible for more than 46% of the receptions for one of just four Harold Drew-coached Alabama teams to finish the season ranked in the Associated Press poll.)
Al Lary did most of his damage in two games that helped UA climb to the final ranking of No. 16. He had three touchdowns in the second game, against Tulane, a 26-14 victory that would have been a loss without Lary; the Green Wave ended the season ranked No. 20. Six weeks later, Lary had three more touchdowns in a 53-0 shellacking of Gulf States Conference champion Southern Miss. Both performances remain in UA’s record book, as DeVonta Smith is the only UA player to have more than three receiving touchdowns in a single game.
Lary was also more than a receiver, described in the Alabama Journal on Nov. 29, 1950, as having “glue hands and end-around antics.” Lary ran three times for 38 yards in 1950 after running eight times for 76 yards in 1949.
Lary did not score in the final two games of the 1950 season, wins over Auburn and Florida that cemented UA’s status as a top-20 team, but by then his status was cemented. He and quarterback Eddie Salem drew comparisons to Don Hutson and Harry Gilmer in local newspapers, both All-Americans at Alabama in the 1930s and 1940s, respectively.
Lary ultimately chose baseball, where his name is also in Alabama’s record book. He still holds the school’s single-season record for fewest hits allowed over at least 40 innings with 24; no UA players has finished a season with fewer than 30 since then. But his football exploits remain equally impervious to some of the best talents of the modern generation. Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley are two of many recent UA standouts who could not do what Al Lary did in 1950.
Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or email@example.com or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson