By Alex Scarborough
For going on 14 years, Alabama has beaten Tennessee every October, and every year coaches and players have enjoyed a traditional postgame cigar. You’ve probably seen the photos that pop up on social media around this time each year. The one of Derrick Henry puffing a stogie with his arm around Nick Saban is particularly memorable, the running back towering over his head coach.
Fans have gotten in on the action, too. Television cameras have often panned into the crowds in the fourth quarter to show plumes of smoke rising from the bleachers. And somewhere, whether in Bryant-Denny Stadium or at his home in town, Jimmy Tom Goostree has been watching it all with a smile on his face.
Jimmy Tom’s father, Jim Goostree, is the reason cigar shops in Tuscaloosa and Knoxville have a run of business the week of the rivalry that’s better known as the Third Saturday in October.
Jim was a longtime trainer at Alabama, but before that he was an assistant trainer at Tennessee. And like his boss, Paul “Bear” Bryant, he hated the Volunteers. So, the story goes, in the fall of 1961, Jim made a bet with the players on the team. Beat Tennessee for the first time in six years, he said, and he’ll dance around the locker room naked.
Whether by talent or precision or the promise of seeing Jim cut a rug, the Crimson Tide beat the Vols 34-3. And true to his word, Jim danced, albeit with a victory cigar pressed between his lips.
Thankfully, the stogie is the only part of the celebration that carried over.
“It’s a sense of pride for all of our family members,” Jimmy Tom said. “It means a lot that Dad is recognized this particular week.”
Bill Oliver was a senior on that 1961 team that started it all, and he remembers the elder Goostree as “a little short fella” and an excellent trainer. He had “a keen mind,” Oliver said, and he understood the rivalry with Tennessee better than almost anyone given his time with the program prior to coming to Alabama. Oliver said Goostree’s history paid off in that “the more knowledge you had, the more you could find out, the more we could smoke cigars.”
“Beating them was the ultimate,” Oliver recalled. “It really was.”
Jim Goostree died in 1999, and Jimmy Tom isn’t sure where all the time went. When he walks into his den, though, he’s reminded of his father. In a glass case, on the top shelf, is a football that’s nearly 50 years old. There are no markings on it to signify its importance, but Jimmy Tom knows.More…