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Kentucky’s playing A&M for the first time since Bear Bryant left Kentucky for ... A&M

The Wildcats and Aggies were early catalysts for one of the greatest coaches in football history.

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Bear Bryant is a college football legend most closely associated with Alabama.

But before taking Bama to unprecedented heights for over two decades, Bryant left Kentucky for Texas A&M under strange circumstances in 1953. That makes Week 6’s big game between the two, their first meeting as SEC programs and first since that same year, a historic occasion as well.

The Cats are 5-0 under Mark Stoops in 2018, and have a chance to do something they haven’t since Bryant was in charge.

Bryant started his head coaching career in 1945 at Maryland, but it was a rocky beginning. He clashed often with his boss, Curley Byrd, and after one season, the relationship became untenable.

Bryant also had a strict set of rules -- no smoking, drinking, staying out after 10 p.m. during the season. Those rules ultimately led to his departure.

Late in the season, Bryant suspended a lineman from Baltimore for breaking curfew. Byrd wanted him put back on the football team. Bryant refused, and when he found out Byrd also wanted to fire one of his assistant coaches, he decided to leave.

So Bryant accepted an offer from the University of Kentucky for $12,000 a year, and on Jan. 12, 1946, he announced that he would be leaving Maryland.

All he did at Kentucky over eight seasons was take the Cats to a level of success they have not achieved before or since. Kentucky’s only won more the eight games in a season four times in school history, two of them under Bryant.

Kentucky has a pretty significant retroactive national championship claim for the 1950 crown, as Bryant’s team beat the Oklahoma that history remembers as that messy year’s champ. But we narrowly gave Tennessee the 1950 consensus title.

Tennessee beat Kentucky, but lost to a Mississippi State that otherwise went 2-5 against FBS-equivalent teams. Unbeaten Princeton claims it, because Princeton is shameless (respect), but the Ivy League was proto-FCS by that point. Oh, and OU played a tougher schedule than the SEC teams did. What a mess! Go with Tennessee, which ended its season by beating AP No. 5 Texas in the Cotton.

If Bryant had stayed in Lexington, maybe Kentucky would have ended up challenging Alabama’s historical dominance, but we’ll never know. The reason it’s doubtful that that would have happened is also the reason why Bryant left UK in 1954 to become the coach of Texas A&M in the first place.

Because even 60 years ago, basketball ruled the roost at Kentucky.

Shortly after the 1953 season, which included a loss to the Aggies, Bryant signed a 12-year contract extension to stay on the Bluegrass. He wanted to make football the primary sport, but it became apparent that wouldn’t happen.

The story goes like this: Bryant got really pissed that he would always be second fiddle to Adolph Rupp and quit.

However, Kentucky had long been known for its prowess as a basketball powerhouse, so football still took a back seat. According to an AP release, Bryant was quoted as saying that at a joint football-basketball banquet, legendary basketball coach, Adolph Rupp, had been presented with a new Cadillac while Coach Bryant had only been given a cigarette lighter. As an apparent result Bear Bryant resigned from UK. Shortly afterwards he was approached with an offer to become the head coach at A&M.

While the cigarette lighter incident might not have really been the reason he left (and likely didn’t even happen), all that matters is that it summed up his feelings on UK.

Bryant left Lexington for College Station, which even then was known to shell out a pretty penny for a head coach.

Bryant got $15,000 from A&M in addition to 1 percent of ticket receipts.

The Aggies were a dormant program, in a spell of ineptitude after being dominant right before World War II. Bryant’s first season was preceded by the barbaric training camp in Junction, Texas, a part of college football lore thanks to books and movies celebrating the Junction Boys.

That first team was still bad, going 1-9. Bryant’s second season saw the Aggies go 9-0-1, but they were ineligible for a national title due to recruiting violations under Bryant’s watch.

After the 1957 season, “mama called.”

And you know the rest. Bryant — who’d played at Bama and coached there as an assistant — left for Tuscaloosa and became a legend.

”I left Texas A&M because my school called me,” Bryant said. “Mama called, and when Mama calls, then you just have to come running.”

He stayed and raised the program’s culture so much that he became synonymous with Alabama.

But it’s fun to think what things would have been like if he’d stayed at either Kentucky or Texas A&M, and how college football history would have changed forever if not for a mythical cigarette lighter and a phone call from mama.