Don Salls

The oldest living Alabama football player recently hit the century mark.

Don Salls celebrated his 100th birthday at the Bryant Museum in Tuscaloosa several weeks ago surrounded by his family and friends.

Salls played for Alabama under coach Frank Thomas 78 years ago, but he still remembers his time as a member of the Crimson Tide fondly.

“Well, from a little old Yankee up in New York, coming to Alabama I fell in love with the green grass and the paper mill and all the good things that were here,” Salls said. “I loved coming to Alabama and I still love Alabama.”

The Alabama football program has undergone major changes since Salls last wore the crimson and white. When he competed for Alabama, Bryant-Denny Stadium was just Denny Stadium and it seated a mere 12,000 fans. Salls enjoyed competing for Alabama and also learned a lot from Thomas.

“[Thomas] was an excellent coach and a fine person and I tried to be just like him,” Salls said. “So, yes I tried to emulate his way of working and his way of coaching and it worked out well thank goodness.”

After his collegiate career was over, Salls served in World War II, earning the Purple Heart and Bronze Star for his service. Later, he received a master and doctorate degree and was hired by Jacksonville State to teach and be the head coach of its football program.

Max Bass remembers Salls recruiting him to Jacksonville State from a junior college in Mississippi.

“Just the way he treated all the players meant more to me than anything else but he saved my life by coming to get me out from down there, so that’s my pleasant memory of him,” Bass said.

When Salls was 75, he wrote a book about living to be 100. He was able to celebrate that accomplishment with those he loves most.

“I’ve always said growing up there could be a huge rainstorm and he would look up and he would say, ‘I see a clear spot.’ And, that’s just the way he lived his life,” Salls daughter Donna Rankin said.

Salls will, as always, be rooting for Alabama on the gridiron this coming fall.

“There’s only one way to play and that’s to win, win, win and win and that’s what they’re gonna do,” Salls said.

He’s certainly keeping the spirit of Alabama alive.

Don Salls

Categories: Spirit of Alabama