Alabama has had its share of what I call “run for the fun of it” candidates. The most colorful of all these perennial “also ran” candidates was Ralph “Shorty” Price. He ran for Governor every time. His slogan was “Smoke Tampa Nugget cigars, drink Budweiser beer and vote for Shorty Price.”
In one of Shorty’s campaigns for governor his campaign speech contained this line, “If elected governor I will reduce the governor’s tenure from four to two years. If you can’t steal enough to last you the rest of your life in two years, you ain’t got enough sense to have the office in the first place.” He would use recycled campaign signs to save money but he rarely garnered two percent of the votes in any campaign.
Shorty loved Alabama football. Following the Crimson Tide was Shorty’s prime passion in life. You could spot Shorty, even though he was only 5 ft tall, at every Crimson tide football game always sporting a black suit, a black hat with a round top, his Alabama tie and flag.
I do not know if Shorty actually had a seat because he would parade around Denny Stadium or Legion Field posing as Alabama’s head cheerleader. In fact he would intersperse himself among the real Alabama cheerleaders and help them with their cheers. There was no question that Shorty was totally inebriated in fact, I never saw Shorty when he was not drunk.
Shorty worshiped Paul “Bear” Bryant. Indeed Bryant, Wallace and Shorty were of the same era. Like Bryant, Shorty hated Tennessee.
Speaking of the Tennessee rivalry, I will share with you a personal Shorty story. I had become acquainted with Shorty early on in life. Therefore, on a clear, beautiful, third Saturday, fall afternoon in October Alabama was playing Tennessee in Legion Field. As always, Shorty was prancing up and down the field. I was a freshman at the University on that fall Saturday. Shorty even in his drunken daze recognized me. I had a beautiful date that I was trying to impress and meeting Shorty did not impress her. Shorty pranced up the isle and proceeded to sit by me. His daily black suit had not been changed in probably over a year. He reeked of alcohol and body odor and my date had to hold her nose.
After about 20 minutes of offending my date, Shorty then proceeded to try to impress the crowd by doing somersaults off the six-foot walls of Legion field. He did at least three, mashing his head straight down on the pavement on each dive, I though Shorty had killed himself with his somersaults. His face and his head were bleeding profusely and he was developing a black eye. Fortunately, Shorty left my domain and proceeded to dance with Alabama cheerleaders that day as bloody as he may have been.
Shorty was beloved by the fans and I guess that is why the police in Birmingham and Tuscaloosa seem to ignore Shorty’s antics. However, that was not the case in a classic Alabama game four years later. By this time I was a senior at the University and we were facing Notre Dame in an epic championship battle in the old New Orleans Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Eve. It was for the 1973 national championship. Bear Bryant and Ara Parseghian were pitted against each other. We were ranked #1 and 2.
One of the largest television audiences in history was focused on the 7:30 p.m. kickoff. It was electrifying. Those of us in the stands were awaiting the entrance of the football team, as were the ABC cameras. Somehow or other, Shorty had journeyed to New Orleans, had gotten on the field and was posed to lead the Alabama team out on the field.
As was customary, Shorty was drunk as Cooter Brown. He started off by beating an Irish puppet with a club and the next thing I knew two burly New Orleans policemen, two of the biggest I had ever seen, picked up Shorty by his arms and escorted him off the field. They did not know who Shorty was and did not appreciate him. Sadly, Shorty, one of Alabama’s greatest fans, missed one of Alabama’s classic games sitting in a New Orleans jail.
I have always believed that Shorty’s removal from the field was a bad omen for us that night. We lost 24-23 and Notre Dame won the National Championship.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.