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Alabama football's Sly Croom enters HOF, and what Redd Foxx has to do with it | Goodbread

Chase Goodbread
The Tuscaloosa News

It's pretty hard to beat the best memory Las Vegas has ever given Sylvester Croom, but on Tuesday night, Alabama football's former All-American lineman will have to rank something new at the top.

The National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame will induct 21 new members, including Croom, at the Bellagio Resort & Casino in Las Vegas. The Tuscaloosa native led Alabama to three consecutive SEC championships and a 1973 national championship from the center position, and will be the 20th Alabama player inducted.

As for that other Vegas memory?

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That would harken back to Croom's days as a San Diego Chargers assistant coach in the mid-1990s, during which he and friends would make the five-hour drive to visit Las Vegas once each summer. He managed to get front-row seats to see the late Redd Foxx, the legendary comedian and star of the old sitcom "Sanford & Son," and got singled out for a joke.

"He was at the height of his career, and he pointed me out and made fun of me, he said 'You sure are a big one, boy,' " Croom said. "He had no idea who I was, he just picked me out to make fun, and I'll always remember that, old Redd Foxx messing with me. I can't remember the hotel, but we still laugh about that."

He'll find plenty to laugh about Tuesday, as well.

Others being inducted from the SEC include Georgia's Champ Bailey, LSU's Kevin Faulk, and former Missouri coach Gary Pinkel.

Croom heavily credits his coach at Alabama, Paul W. "Bear" Bryant, for his success as a player. Initially resistant to the idea of playing at center, Croom came to Alabama from Tuscaloosa High School with the intent of playing tight end or linebacker.

"When I was in high school, I overheard two of my coaches sitting around talking football one day. One said 'When you go to college, if you can't play anything else, they try to move you to center,' " Croom said. "I didn't think anything of it because I wasn’t a center at the time but it stuck in the back of my mind. So I go to college to be a tight end or a linebacker, and when they start talking about moving to center, I was thinking that meant I was a failure."

Over time, Bryant sold Croom on the how much the Crimson Tide's wishbone offense depended on its center. He would excel at that spot for three seasons, earning him Tuesday's honor, and now says his lone regret as a player or coach is not taking to the center position as a freshman. After Croom spent a year with the New Orleans Saints in 1975, Bryant hired Croom to join his coaching staff, first as a graduate assistant, then as a linebackers coach. He would go on to an extensive career as an NFL assistant for eight pro clubs, and became the SEC's first Black head coach when he was hired at Mississippi State in 2004. He retired in 2017, ending his coaching career as a Tennessee Titans assistant.

But it's his excellence as a player that will send him back to Vegas, this time for something even bigger than Redd Foxx.

Reach Chase Goodbread at cgoodbread@gannett.com. Follow on Twitter @chasegoodbread.

Tuscaloosa News sport columnist Chase Goodbread.