Walter Lewis walked into Bear Bryant's office on Jan. 24, 1983 to apologize.
Alabama's junior quarterback felt terrible about what he had done four weeks earlier during a 21-15 victory in the Liberty Bowl.
"Coach Bryant and I had a confrontation in his last game against Illinois, and I was disrespectful to him on the sidelines," Lewis said. "There was a decision he wanted to make, and I didn't like it. And it was the first time I'd ever been disrespectful to him."
Paul “Bear” Bryant (left) prepares for a game while speaking to Charles O. Finley.
So on that day in late January, Lewis entered the legendary coach's office and said: "I'm sorry for disrespecting you."
"No sweat," the coach told Lewis, understanding that, in the heat of battle, competitive people sometimes lose their cool.
Two days later, Bear Bryant died at the age of 69.
Arguably the most beloved, respected coach in college football history, Bryant had retired following the 1982 season, but his post-football life lasted only four weeks.
"When he died it was unbelievable," Lewis said. "Him retiring and then all of a sudden passing away a month later, that was just totally unheard of.
"I was in disbelief."
So was the entire state of Alabama.
"Everyone was stunned," Lewis said. "Most of the homes in Alabama, everybody was just so emotional and was in total shock."
It's been 27 years since Bryant's passing, but his legend remains throughout Alabama. When Penn State visits the Crimson Tide on Saturday, it will play in the stadium named after the coach and former university president George Hutchenson Denny.
No matter how long he's gone, the man in the houndstooth hat will never be forgotten by adoring fans in Alabama.
"He is still beloved," Lewis said.
Nittany Lion fans, probably more than any fan base in any sport, can relate to the passion Alabama faithful have always and will always feel for their coach. Joe Paterno commands that kind of respect and adoration, and amazingly, he's still coaching at age 83.
It has been suggested by many people over the years -- including by Lou Holtz in a recent interview with the Mirror -- that Paterno continues to coach because he's afraid the same thing that happened to Bryant will happen to him. He will retire and, with nothing to keep him occupied, he will die shortly thereafter.
We can only hope history doesn't repeat itself from one college icon to another.
Paterno never figured out a way to solve Bryant and Alabama on the field, going 0-4, but frequently over the years he has discussed his admiration for "The Bear."
The feeling was mutual when Bryant was alive.
"Coach Bryant had the utmost respect for Joe Paterno about how he handled his team," Lewis said.
"Joe Paterno is a class man," he added. "He has a lot of class. I had an opportunity to play against him in '81 and '82 and '83, and I see Joe Paterno as a monumental person, as well. He's done a lot of the same things at Penn State as Coach Bryant has done."
Lewis was the starting quarterback when Alabama handed Penn State a stinging 42-21 defeat at Birmingham in week five in 1982, Bryant's last season. The Lions were ranked No. 3 and 'Bama No. 4, but even with that loss, PSU rebounded and went on to win its first national championship with a win over Georgia in the Sugar Bowl.
Alabama had prevented Penn State from winning a national title in 1978 with a 14-7 Sugar Bowl win, and in early October of 1982, it appeared that Bryant and the Tide had dashed Paterno's chances once again.
Lewis tells a fascinating story about his team's preparation leading up to that 1982 showdown. He calls it "the tie game."
"There's a story behind that game that people don't know," Lewis said. "Coach Bryant, that whole week we were practicing, we hadn't played anybody and were ranked [in the top five]. But the coaches were very tight, and that made us tight as players. The whole week, you couldn't laugh, you couldn't kid around. Everybody was just so tight.
"Coach Bryant did something that actually loosened us up."
He always told the players to make sure and wear a tie on Fridays when going to a game, but on this particular week ...
"That day he didn't say a word, and that was a big deal for us," Lewis said. "Every player was running off the field, and some of them said to me, 'Walter, what are you going to wear?' I told them I'm just going to wear a polo shirt and a pair of slacks."
Of the 85 players on the team, about 75 ended up going without a tie. And nothing was said by Bryant.
"But the next morning, we went to our pregame meal," Lewis said. "Coach Bryant just walked in and said, 'I want you, you, you and everybody in this room to have a tie. If you don't have one, go get one for the team meeting.'"
Alabama's players were in a panic. Most of them didn't bring a tie on the hour-long drive from Tuscaloosa to Birmingham, so they were scrambling to find one.
"I called back to Tuscaloosa and asked some people to bring a tie so I could get back to the meeting," Lewis said.
Players were borrowing ties from waiters at the hotel, but ultimately, some 40 players couldn't attend the meeting because they didn't have one.
The whole thing, Lewis believes, was a stroke of genius by Bryant.
"That totally diverted our attention away from the game," he said. "And that's why we won, 42-21. I'm telling you, it was masterful in terms of what he did. He didn't say anything about it, but I knew in the back of his mind he knew exactly what he was doing on Friday.
"He knew the heartbeat. Even at the age of 69, he knew the heartbeat of the team, and he knew how to push the buttons in order to get you to do what you need to do to perform well on Saturday."
Alabama struggled the rest of the 1982 regular season and finished 7-4, then sent Bryant off with a victory in the Liberty Bowl.
Penn State and Alabama haven't met since 1990, and this year marks the first season of a home-and-home series. The Crimson Tide will visit Happy Valley on Sept. 10 next year.
"It's a great rivalry with Penn State," said Lewis, who's now a financial analyst in Birmingham.
"The people of Penn State, we really enjoyed going there to play. They were very hospitable and gracious to us and respectful. It was just great going up there and playing in that venue and then having then come down here to play."
Cory Giger is the host of "Sports Central" from 4 to 6 p.m. daily on ESPN Radio 1430 WVAM. He can be reached at 949-7031 or firstname.lastname@example.org.