Walking among us on the Gulf Coast of Alabama every day is maybe the best example to be found of the modern-day Renaissance man.
To live up to that term in Alabama, you certainly have to establish your bona fides as a football player. Then, it doesn’t hurt to be a proficient writer, an ultra-successful man of medicine and have a wife who was named Miss Alabama.
Dr. Gaylon McCollough has all of those credentials in spades. Now he is out with his latest book, “Victory in the Game of Life.”
McCollough was a star player from Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant at Alabama, helping to lead the Tide to the 1964 national championship as a senior. He turned down a chance to play for the Dallas Cowboys in order to go directly to medical school. He eventually built three medical clinics, sold them and moved to Gulf Shores, where he continues to practice facial plastic surgery at the McCollough Institute. “Victory in the Game of Life” chronicles every step of that journey.
“This book is really my memoir,” McCollough said. “I go all the way back to my childhood. I grew up in Enterprise as the son of the small-town plumber. We won a state championship at Enterprise and I was fortunate enough to get a scholarship to college.”
But the path from Enterprise to his in-state flagship university was not direct. McCollough actually committed to play for Georgia Tech and pursue his dream of becoming an architect.
“Recruiting wasn’t as complicated back then as it is today, but I did commit to Georgia Tech after being recruited by Auburn, Clemson, Florida State and Houston,” McCollough said. “Then coach Bryant came along and promised me a championship ring if I went to Alabama. So I decided to go to Alabama, which didn’t have an architect school.
“My father always told me that he wanted me to get all the education I could even if it meant I had to become a doctor. So he planted that seed and I entered pre-med when I got to Alabama.”
The decision to attend Alabama worked out for McCollough both on the field and off. During his three years on the field, the Tide posted a record of 29-4 and he earned that championship ring Bryant promised.
“I wouldn’t take anything for that experience,” McCollough said. “I learned a lot from Coach Bryant and I use those lessons every day of my life as I go to my clinic in Gulf Shores.”
When McCollough reminisces about his playing days at Alabama he is often asked about his old friend and teammate, Joe Namath. He never tires of retelling stories about the colorful Namath.
“One story that tells you a lot about who Joe Namath was came in our last Auburn game. We had the ball and the lead with about two or three minutes to go, and a player came in from the sideline and said that Coach Bryant said that Joe was only 20-something yards from the Alabama passing record and that Joe could call a passing play if he wanted. Joe said ‘Are you crazy? There’s no way I’m going to risk an interception and have us lose.’ He was all about the team and all about winning.”
After their final season, Namath famously moved on to play for the New York Jets of the AFL after weighing an offer from the St. Louis Cardinals of the NFL. McCollough also faced a difficult decision.
“I was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys and faced one of the most difficult decisions I ever had to make,” McCollough said. “I needed the money and what they offered would have financed my med school costs if I didn’t make the squad. I went to Coach Bryant and talked to him about it. He said, ‘Gaylon, I’m telling you, you can play, so you don’t have anything to prove to anybody.’ He asked me, ‘Can you live without football?’ Nobody had ever asked me that before. I said, ‘Yes sir, I think I can.’ It was the best advice I ever got. But I’ve got to tell you, it would have been great to be a Dallas Cowboy just for a little while.”
McCollough clearly made a good decision, but he will never completely walk away from the game. He still stays involved as a fan and as an ambassador for Alabama.
“It’s still about blocking, tackling, pitching and catching, and kicking,” McCollough said. “But we only had three players on the 1964 team that weighed more than 200 pounds. I was one of those and I weighed 205. These players today are faster and stronger and more talented. I just don’t know where we’re going with all of this.”
McCollough was awarded the Paul W. Bryant Alumni Athlete Award last year. It’s just the latest in a long line of accomplishments for a man who has quite a story to tell.
Randy Kennedy writes a weekly column for Lagniappe and is co-host of “Sports Drive” every weekday from 3-6 p.m. on WNSP 105.5 FM, the country’s first all-sports FM station.