52 Days Away from Bama Kickoff: Harry Gilmer
Each day counting down to Alabama's Week 1 matchup with Utah State, I will highlight one former player whose jersey number coincides with the amount of days until the game. Take a look today at the career of this Crimson Tide legend, Harry Gilmer.
Harry Gilmer suited up for the Crimson Tide from 1944-47 as the left halfback in Frank Thomas' scheme that was inspired by Knute Rockne's popular "Notre Dame Box" system from his days with the Fighting Irish.
Born in Birmingham and hailing from Woodlawn High School, the multi-sport athlete was actually drafted to serve in World War II just ahead of his graduation, but failed the physical, allowing him to attend the University of Alabama and play football.
Although Gilmer was spared having to fight in the war, many of his teammates were not as lucky, and the Crimson Tide was left without a large portion of its team for the 1944 season.
The NCAA waived a previously standing rule that prohibited freshmen from playing varsity, and Alabama fielded a team of mostly first year players who had been ruled ineligible for service.
Despite the setbacks, the 1944 team finished the year 5-2-2, just barely losing to Duke in the Sugar Bowl by a field goal.
In his sophomore season, Gilmer continued to shine for the Tide. As the left halfback in the aforementioned "Notre Dame Box" offense, Gilmer's responsibilities were that of directing his fellow halfback and making plays through the air in the passing game.
In 1945, the Birmingham native combined for over 1,400 scrimmage yards and 22 touchdowns, 13 of which were through the air. Alabama went 10-0 and won the national title. Gilmer finished fifth in Heisman Trophy voting.
In Gilmer's junior season, he added both punting and return man responsibilities to his repertoire, finishing the year as the nation's leader in average yards per punt return (14.5).
In his last season with the Tide, Alabama finished 8-3 and lost in the Sugar Bowl to Texas.
Across his four year career, Gilmer compiled an impressive 50 total touchdowns and over 4,500 scrimmage yards. He was inducted to the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in 1973 and the College Football Hall of Fame in 1993.
After his excellent career with the Tide, Gilmer became the first and only former Alabama player to ever be taken first overall in the NFL Draft when he was picked up by the then-Washington Redskins in 1948.
He spent nine seasons in the NFL before he retired from playing and started his coaching career. Gilmer served as an assistant on the Steelers and Vikings before taking over as head coach of the Detroit Lions for two seasons.
After a brief stint with Detroit, Gilmer returned to an assistant role and ultimately a scouting role until his retirement in 1993. Following his days in coaching and scouting, Gilmer settled down with a farm in St. Louis where he eventually passed away at age 90 surrounded by his family in 2016.
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