September 30, 1996 12:00 PM

PUT IT THIS WAY: THERE HADN’T been this many small Bears in one place since Yogi threw Boo Boo’s bar mitzvah. But this was a day to honor Paul “Bear” Bryant, the late and venerated coach who ruled the University of Alabama football program for 25 years and, along the way, inspired such passion that scores of fans named children after him. To celebrate what would have been Bryant’s 83rd birthday on Sept. 11—he died 13 years ago—the university held a tailgate party for the coach’s namesake progeny. Nearly 150 Bears, Pauls, Paulas and Bryants answered the call.

“I don’t think he would have expected this,” marveled Paul Bryant Jr., the coach’s 51-year-old son, who is a Tuscaloosa businessman and the first among junior Bears. The trend started early—”[Parents] would send him pictures. I know it made Papa proud,” says Bryant Jr.—and surged when Bryant passed away five weeks after retiring.

The assembled Bears ate wieners and beans and heard their parents talk fondly of the man who had led the Crimson Tide to six national championships. “You hate to say you idolize somebody, but I did idolize Coach Bryant,” says Carroll Gulledge, a 49-year-old insurance agent and high school teacher from Dadeville, Ala., who named his son William Bryant Gulledge in 1991. “He was a winner when Alabama didn’t have any winners.” Noted drama teacher Paul Bryant Crook, 27, describing people’s reaction to learning his full name: “The response ranges from ‘Oh, wow, that’s great!’ to ‘Your parents must be maniacs.’ ”

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