Few people outside the confines of the Deep South possess a deeper appreciation for and understanding of University of Alabama football than Glen Tuckett.

He can tell you all about the program's staunchly loyal fans, the "Million Dollar Band," the legend of coach Paul W. "Bear" Bryant, the 12 national championships, the NCAA records for bowl appearances and bowl victories and the famous "Go 'Bama, Rooooollllll Tide!" cheer. Save Notre Dame, arguably no other school has a more storied history, or richer tradition, than the Alabama Crimson Tide.After spending 34 years eating, drinking, sleeping and breathing BYU sports as a Cougar coach and athletic director, Tuckett served as Alabama's interim AD for one year, in 1995-96, in an attempt to restore honor to a program in turmoil. He says he owes a lot to Alabama, and the feeling is mutual.

So it is that when BYU and Alabama meet for the first time ever on the gridiron Saturday night in Tuscaloosa, Tuckett's illustrious pasts at the two schools will converge.

It's only fitting that Tuckett is personally responsible for scheduling the matchup between this pair of college football powerhouses. And, naturally, he'll be on hand for the occasion, sitting in the press box of newly expanded, 83,000-seat Bryant-Denny Stadium, for which Tuckett helped expedite the expansion process.

"It's a big moment," he says. "For a person who has spent almost a lifetime in football, being at the University of Alabama was like being at Mecca."

And the place kind of grew on him. Last week, Tuckett sat in the living room of his Provo home, leafing through a copy of the 1998 Crimson Tide media guide. As he pointed to the pictures of a number of athletes on the team, he talked about them individually, and in great detail, as if they were his sons.

"The players don't swear, they dress impeccably on road trips, they say `thanks' to the water boys and they pick up their tape after showering," he says. "They're great kids. I can't wait to see them and be around them again."

Tuckett remains in close contact with many players and coaches from Alabama. Head coach Mike DuBose wrote a letter to Tuckett just last week. One current player, safety Warren Foust, corresponds with Tuckett, asking for career advice. Last winter, Tuckett put in a good word for former BYU graduate assistant Charlie Stubbs, who was later hired by DuBose as the team's quarterbacks coach.

Tuckett knows everyone from administrators to groundskeepers to game program vendors by name in Tuscaloosa. Speaking of names, there were plenty of influential and famous ones that requested an audience with Tuckett when he was the A.D. "It was amazing for a guy like me to be there and for the secretary to say, `Can you have lunch with Bart Starr tomorrow? And LeRoy Jordan is waiting in the lobby for you. By the way, Joe Namath is on the phone.' "

So how exactly did this Murray native who bleeds Cougar blue wind up in that crimson-red cradle of college football?

A couple of years after retiring from BYU, Tuckett received a phone call from then-Alabama president Roger Sayers, whom Tuckett had worked with on an NCAA committee. The Crimson Tide football program had just gone on probation for the first time in school history and Tuscaloosa sat under a cloud of depression. Sayers told Tuckett he was flying out to Salt Lake City to visit with him. But presidents of major universities don't fly thousands of miles out of their way just to eat lunch. Sayers had an offer for Tuckett: to become 'Bama's interim athletic director. He had a short list, and Tuckett's name was the only one on it.

He was the logical choice. He has long had a sterling reputation in and around the NCAA for being forthright, hard-working and successful (Exhibit A: BYU's athletic department).

Tuckett had been contemplating serving an LDS mission with his wife, Jo, but he listened. Sayers had another type of mission in mind for Tuckett, and outlined three responsibilities he would have - to help appeal the NCAA sanctions, make sure the school was in absolute compliance with the NCAA and deliver "tender loving care" to fans and alumni. Replied Tuckett: "I can help you with those things."

After discussing the proposition with his family, he called the president back that same night, a Monday, and accepted. Said Sayers: "We're having a press conference Thursday. Can you make it?" He could.

At age 67, Tuckett grabbed that opportunity and during that 1995-96 sports campaign, not only did he assist with the appeal, which resulted in fewer sanctions than were originally handed down by the NCAA, he mended the broken hearts of Tide fans.

"He came to Alabama and blended in like he had lived here forever," says Alabama senior associate athletic director Steve Townsend, who worked closely with Tuckett. "He was accepted by our fans, coaches and athletes with open arms. He came in at a very difficult time in our athletic history and was able to keep morale among the staff up. He made people feel good during a difficult period."

Townsend also praises the efforts of late BYU president Rex Lee, who defended Alabama during the school's NCAA appeal. "We're indebted to their service," Townsend said.

While at Alabama, Tuckett soaked in the mystique and often thought, "Is this livin,' or what? People would kill to do this." He felt like a kid who was given the key to the toy store.

He became friends with coach Gene Stallings and traveled on the athletic department plane to address Tide Pride and Red Elephant booster groups throughout Alabama and the East Coast. "I knew a lot about Alabama, and they knew I knew a lot," Tuckett says. "I've never been treated like that before. The fans are the nicest people. They are genuinely like that.

"People would roll into town on a Wednesday night for a Saturday game in their RVs. Geez, you've never seen so many RVs. Fans pay $5,000 just for the right to buy season tickets."

Tuckett also accomplished one other important feat while he was in Tuscaloosa. He found Alabama's schedule was filled up for the next 10 years, except for one hole in 1998. Knowing BYU was looking for a nonconference opponent, he spoke to BYU A.D. Rondo Fehlberg and associate A.D. Pete Witbeck, who jumped at the chance to line up a date with the Crimson Tide. "We thought it would be great to have that exposure in the South and play there," Witbeck says.

"We needed a home game," Tuckett remembers, "and I signed the contract. I didn't talk to anybody (at Alabama) beforehand about it. As athletic director, I just did it."

Ironically, years earlier, when Tuckett was at BYU, he had inked a home-and-home agreement with Alabama. Under the terms of the contract, the Crimson Tide were scheduled to visit Provo in 1995 and then host BYU in 1996. But when the SEC expanded in 1994 and Alabama needed to make room in its schedule to play one more conference game, BYU allowed Alabama out of its contract. In 1998, it's a one-time, maybe once-in-a-lifetime, shot for BYU to play Alabama.

Having been immersed up to his neck in 'Bama football, Tuckett understands what it means. "Football is ultra-important to the citizenry of the state of Alabama. It's so very special and a source of great pride," he says. He points to the astounding success the Tide has enjoyed and the shadow cast by "Bear" Bryant, who holds the record for career wins, 323, by a Division I coach.

"Football was important before coach Bryant, but he helped develop a pride in football," Tuckett continues. "Their whole life is wrapped up in that football program. Everything revolves around it. You've never seen an area so dominated by the aura of a person as is the case in Tuscaloosa. You've got Paul W. Bryant Drive, the Paul W. Bryant Conference Center, the Paul W. Bryant Museum, the Paul W. Bryant Dormitory and Bryant-Denny Stadium. The memory of that man (who died in 1982) envelopes the area. Everyone I met there counts the point of demarcation in their lives with something having to do with coach Bryant. People would tell me, `I used to cut his hair.' Or `I was one of his trainers.' That was like winning an Oscar. Everything points to Coach Bryant. If you wanted to puff out your chest, all you had to say was that you played for Coach Bryant. Then you would be revered and envied by those who didn't have that opportunity."

Though Tuckett, who recently fulfilled an LDS mission with his wife to the genealogical library in Salt Lake City, earned the utmost respect of folks in Alabama, BYU's reputation stands on its own. "Everyone here knows college football," Townsend says.

"Everyone here is keenly aware of what BYU and (coach) LaVell Edwards has done and what they've achieved in football."

By the way, don't even think about asking Tuckett which team he's rooting for Saturday. He's just hoping on a pleasant homecoming and a classic game. And he may be wise to adhere to the dress code of his wife, who has pledged neutrality. "I'm going to wear purple," she said.



BYU at 'Bama

A sellout crowd of 83,818 is expected to attend the first game in expanded Bryant-Denny Stadium for Saturday's BYU-Alabama matchup. Game time is set for 5 p.m. and will be televised live on ESPN.