Alabama’s History of ‘Little People’ Managers
At several times over the past three seasons, many fans who have watched Alabama football on TV have noticed someone of diminutive stature on the Crimson Tide sidelines. And for once, we’re not talking about head coach Nick Saban.
The person in question is John Bartlett, a senior from Elberta, AL. By all accounts, he has been a valued member of the football program since he became a student equipment manager prior to the 2011 season. He’s even poked fun at his lack of height by dressing as a baby - complete with a diaper, pacifier and cardboard sign that reads “Where’s My Mommy?” - this past Halloween.
He’s also the continuation of an unofficial tradition in Tuscaloosa: That of the “little people” student managers, one that started in the late 1970s when Bear Bryant was the head coach. From the sounds of it, it happened completely by accident.
“We’re unique in that respect,” said one of Bartlett’s predecessors, Colin “Big C” MacGuire (above), over the phone from his home in Greenville, AL. “I was the first one… It just happened, I guess you could say.”
MacGuire arrived at Alabama in 1977 after spending his freshman year of college at Marion (AL) Military Institute, where he was a manager for the football team. After working with the Crimson Tide’s wrestling program as a sophomore, he moved over to the football team in advance of the 1978 season, which culminated in a national championship.
He was joined the next year on the Alabama sidelines by another, similarly short student manager named Joe Henley (above left). Henley was high school best friends with incoming DB Tommy Wilcox (who would earn All-America honors in 1981 and 1982) in Hanrahan, LA. Wilcox helped Henley get in with the football program and, along with MacGuire, watched the Crimson Tide defend their national title.
“That time was the best time of my life,” said MacGuire, who still makes it to most of Alabama’s home games each year and also runs his own personalized rankings website, Grading College Football.
One of the reasons that the little people managers tradition in Tuscaloosa isn’t a widely recognized one is that it was “discontinued” for a long period of time following Henley’s graduation in the early 1980s. Coincidentally, it was Henley’s son, Ryan (pictured right), who started it up again in the late 2000s when he followed in his father’s and MacGuire’s student managerial footsteps.
And like his father and MacGuire, the younger Henley got to witness a national championship of his own in January of 2010. He also has his own tribute video on YouTube (below).
Two seasons later, he was replaced by Bartlett, who has watched his school capture a BCS title in each of his first two years as a member of the football staff - just like MacGuire did over 30 years ago.
“We got one thing in common, we’re back-to-back,” MacGuire said of Bartlett. MacGuire added, with a chuckle, “If he gets a third championship, then they’ll have to have a short person from now on out.”.
Considering that a little person student manager has been on the Crimson Tide sidelines for five of their last six national championships, perhaps they might have to. They may be short on stature, but when it comes to being a good luck charm, they’re as big as you can get.
Second Photo Credit: Greenville Advocate