Remember When: Tell it like it is
Both Alabama rival football teams, the Auburn University Tigers and the University of Alabama Crimson Tide, have had their share of colorful football fans through the years. One, in particular, comes to mind as we come close to the end of the football season with the exception of the annual bowl games.
The fan I will spotlight in this Alabama Bicentennial 200 year was active during my college years where I can testify first-hand of his antics. As a member of the U of A “Million Dollar Band” in the mid to late 1960s, William Ralph “Shorty” Price and I became acquainted each fall afternoon on game days.
Price, a native of Barbour County (the “Home of Governors”), was born in October 1921 in Louisville, Alabama.
He had always been interested in politics and had dreamed of the day when he would one day be governor of Alabama. He was reared on a farm and attended rural schools graduating from Louisville High School in 1940. A Dr. Blasingame of the University of Alabama persuaded him to attend college thus Price arrived at the Capstone with $25. in his pockets. He worked for two years selling candy and sandwiches while attending classes.
In later years, he remembered that he got by on one meal a day and four hours of sleep a night. His roommate was another Barbour County boy named George Wallace.
In 1942, Ralph entered the Army as most college boys did after the Pearl Harbor attack and served for four years receiving wounds in action in France and a Purple Heart award along with a presidential citation. He also fought at the invasion of Omaha Beach in June of 1944. After the war and upon leaving the service, he returned to the Capstone where he decided to forsake bachelorhood in 1947, borrowed $50. from a friend, and was married to Miss Ruth Palmer of Eufaula.
Price built a two-room house at Alberta City just east of Tuscaloosa at a cost of $165. including “a sack of nails” making use of materials from a former prisoner of war hut. He planted a garden with the help of his wife who canned vegetables and they welcomed Ralph, Jr. His long-range plans were to get a law degree and set up law practice in Eufaula. At that time, Price was drawing $105. a month under the G. I. Bill, and his wife was earning $50. a week at the Gulf States Paper Corporation.
By 1952, Price offered himself as a candidate for Alternate-Delegate to the Democratic Convention to be held in Chicago. He threw his hat into the race. No one else qualified so he was automatically elected. “This was the first and last break I ever got in 20 years of politics,” Price later stated.
Price later ran in the Democratic primaries for Lieutenant Governor in 1956 and for Governor of Alabama in 1958, 1970, 1974, and 1978 although he never captured more than 2% of the vote. He was called by one newsman as the “Bantam Rooster of Alabama Politics” who raked his spurs lightly across Governor James E. Folsom but used his sharpest jabs on neighbor, ex-friend, and ex-college roommate Judge George Wallace.
Price said, “The people want a change and I can’t think of a bigger change than going from a six-foot eight-inch governor to a four-foot twelve-inch governor!”
Folsom stated, “He’s been wanting to be governor since he was no higher than a grasshopper. He admits he’s no higher than that today and still wants to be governor!”
In 1972, he proposed to shorten the governor’s term from four to two years. A line from one of his campaign speeches went like this. “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.” Many claimed his proposal to shorten the term was so he could run more often. He was known as the “perennial candidate.”
Wikipedia reports that “Although he was never a political power, Price became an important part of southern political and historical folklore in the storied and rich history of colorful candidates in the south.”
Famous for his antics at Crimson Tide football games which sometimes landed him in jail, Price pleaded guilty to public drunkenness and disorderly conduct on a number of occasions especially at Legion Field in Birmingham. Circuit Judge William Cole would tell him, “See you next fall!” after imposing $125. fines.
Those of us in the marching band would always expect his entry into the stadium usually around 3rd quarter. When he entered wearing an Alabama tie, a red and white double-knit suit with a design of “Roll Tide Roll,” he would be holding in one hand the tail of a stuffed tiger swinging it around and around and with the other hand an Alabama pennant. The crowd would roar with thunderous applause and cheer as he walked around the lower part of the stadium. I don’t believe he ever had a designated seat. He probably just talked someone at the gate into letting him in. Anyway, all of the attention from the game went to “Shorty!”
He would approach the band section and then stop there. The bell lyre (glockenspiel) players were always seated on the front row. (I was one of those eight.) “Shorty” Price, the energetic four-foot twelve-inch former law student, was determined to lead the band in the fight song, “Yea, Alabama.” Somehow, legendary band director Carlton K. Butler went along with him. He would oftentimes sit right down next to me and my band friends, and we would shift our eyes back and forth with glances and thoughts of “Wonder how long he is going to be here?” He would later move on after he had said all he wanted to say! We would just listen, nod, and smile.
“Shorty” was known to do somersaults off the six-foot walls of Legion Field. With bleeding head and face from his head hitting the pavement, he would make his way to the cheerleaders where he proceeded to dance with them and grab their megaphones impressing the crowd all the while.
At Legion Field, “Shorty” Price would routinely and eventually be escorted out by the Birmingham Police Patty Wagon. At the Cotton Bowl game in Texas in 1968, my band friends and I predicted that because it was freezing cold that year and due to the fact that it was so far away from home, “Shorty” would surely not show up. About 3rd quarter, here he came! He was “feeling no pain” as the saying goes!
One fan remembers a championship battle in the old New Orleans Sugar Bowl against the teams ranked No. 1 and No. 2, Alabama and Notre Dame. By some miracle, “Shorty” arrived early, had gotten on the field, and was poised to lead the Alabama team out on the field. Instead of swinging a tiger by the tail, he was beating an Irish puppet or leprechaun with a club. With one of the largest tv audiences in history at the time focused on awaiting the entrance of the team as were the ABC cameras, “Shorty” was picked up by two burly New Orleans policemen, one on each arm, and escorted off the field. Sadly, one of Bama’s greatest fans missed a classic game sitting in the jailhouse. “Shorty’s” removal from the game, one fan declared, was a bad omen for that night since Bama lost 24-23 and Notre Dame won the national championship!
One of my favorite mementoes in my college scrapbook is a postcard picture that “Shorty” was handing out, stacks of them, at one of those ballgames and sometimes pep rallies. It is a picture of Joe Namath on the left, “Bear” Bryant on the right, and “Shorty” Price in the middle. It is labeled “THE BIG THREE!” And yes they were! I just might donate that one of these days to the Paul “Bear” Bryant Museum in Tuscaloosa.
“Shorty” rented a Cadillac convertible in Miami at the 1966 Orange Bowl and entered himself in the bowl parade. The car had two bull horns on the front. Jimmy Wilson, a trumpet player in the “Million Dollar Band” remembers, ”’Shorty’ rode up and down Biscayne Boulevard cheering for Bama!”
In an interview at a Miami newspaper (UPI), Ralph “Shorty” Price announced that he would oppose Senator John Sparkman (D-Ala.) in the May primaries, because Sparkman had “gone north, turned left, and sold out!” (Things in Washington haven’t changed much!) The UPI reported that Price was in Miami attending the Orange Bowl as one of the University of Alabama’s most avid fans!
In April 1970, TV Guide carried a picture of Charles Caton, an Andalusia native and WSFA-TV newsman in Montgomery who often interviewed Price. The article read, “WSFA-TV’s News Director, Charles Caton, has travelled over 3,000 miles around the state to visit with each of the gubernatorial candidates. For spontaneous interviews from Jim Folsom’s front porch to “Shorty” Price’s back yard, watch “ELECTION ’70 – THE RACE FOR GOVERNOR” – TONIGHT AT 6:30.”
Price, in one of his books, “Alabama Politics – Tell It Like It Is,” wrote, “The program lasted for an hour. There were seven men on the program, but I hogged nearly fifteen minutes of it. Mr. Caton really did give me a good send-off. I enjoyed the program, but the best part of it was the fact that it was free.”
In 1976 “Shorty” traveled around the state of Alabama promoting his new book. I was at my office in downtown Andalusia that day when I looked out down the sidewalk and here he came! When he walked in our office, I am sure he recognized me. He jumped up on our counter and started doing cheers. My daddy told him, “Attorney Frank Tipler next door has been wanting to see you. He will buy at least a dozen books from you!” That was memorable. We were later told that when he visited a town, he always went straight to the nearest insurance and real estate offices.
In one of the last campaigns for governor when “Shorty” ran against his old college roommate George Wallace, it went like this: “SHORTY KICKS OFF – Shouting, urging, imploring, and cheerleading from atop a washtub in front of the Louisville Post Office, Price kicked off his gubernatorial campaign Saturday, the shortest in the history of the state, ‘I’m the shortest man in the race; it ought to be the shortest campaign.’” When the WSFA-TV van drove up to cover his announcement, he was elated and really cut loose according to Caton!
Explaining the strategy of his “shortest campaign” in history, Price said he was kicking off Saturday, going to church on Sunday, putting up some posters on Monday, voting on Tuesday, packing his “ditty bag” and going to Montgomery on Wednesday to move in at 1127 South Perry. Placards heralding the event said “Shorty” would “Kick Off, Kick Out, or Kick In.” About 400 assembled on the main street of Louisville to hear another famous political figure from Barbour County “go at it.”
It is recorded that after World War II, “Shorty” went back to the University to finish his law degree, but time seemed to drag, and he wanted to get into politics. His grades were coming along fine despite his having to catch up with the time he had been out of school. He thought long and hard about it and finally told himself that he would leave the six hours he needed for an AB degree or the nine he needed for his LLB, and would come back next semester – after his next campaign – and finish the little matter at the U of A. To this day, he never came back and he had no degree at all for the time and effort he put into it. His own family thought that was particularly
unforgivable since he had that degree almost in his hand.
Every few years when he had qualified to run for another office, some political candidate, he said, would offer him $1,000. or more and “bribe” him to not run which would have given him enough money to head back to college, but the thrill of the political arena was always with him. He would just recycle his old posters and head out again on the campaign trail.
“But even without a degree, he is perhaps one of the most loyal fans the university ever had. ‘L’ for loyalty and ‘L’ for the love of the University of Alabama. His cheerleading antics when he attended football games all around the country provided entertainment for his friends and acquaintances – the card, the comic, the genius with witty remarks.”
“He never practiced law, but for a long time, he operated the Shorty Price Insurance Agency along with his second wife Delores which business provided an adequate income for his wife and three children.”
I Remember When hearing about the accident in 1980. On his way to an Alabama football game one Saturday, “Shorty” Price at the age of 59 was killed south of Montgomery when he ran off the road and hit a bridge. He would have been there about the 3rd quarter!
Sue Bass Wilson, AHS Class of 1965, is a local real estate broker and long-time member of the Covington Historical
Society. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.