After years of being snubbed, the late Ed Salem will join the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame this week. The long, simmering feud between Alabama and Auburn officially ended on Dec. 4, 1948. The game, played at Birmingham’s Legion Field, would come to be known as the Iron Bowl.
The renewal, after a 41-year sabbatical, was a one-man show.
Alabama’s Ed Salem ran, passed and kicked his way for 31 of the Crimson Tide’s points in a 55-0 rout, perhaps the all-time best one-man performance in one of college football’s greatest rivalries.
“He’d tell you, ‘I had a great game in ’48, but no one remembers that because I missed the extra point that would have tied the game in ’49,’ ” said Salem’s son, Jimbo. Actually, fans remember much more today.
Salem, named one of the 50 greatest players in Crimson Tide football history during the 1992 centennial celebration, will be inducted posthumously into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame on Saturday evening.
He will join the Class of 2010, which features Reita Clanton, Howard Cross, Robert Horry, Bobby Johns,Ronald McKinnon, George “Mule” Suttles and Ben Tamburello.
To some of the people who watched Salem, the honor is long overdue.
“He was a great athlete,” said longtime Birmingham Post-Herald Sports Editor Bill Lumpkin. “He played at Ramsay High and I covered him. He was a great running back and a good baseball pitcher, too.
“It’s a mystery to me why Ed isn’t already in there. Ed was mystified, too. And there was only one reason Ed could give for it.”
Salem, a successful businessman after his football career in the NFL and CFL, found financial success with a chain of drive-in restaurants bearing his name and bowling alleys throughout Metro Birmingham. When another NFL player suggested there was business to be made by organizing trips out of Birmingham to take customers to the casinos of Atlantic City, Salem discovered another revenue stream.
But in Birmingham, buckle of the Bible Belt, the gambling junkets didn’t go over well with everyone.
“That’s how we started in that business,” said Ann Salem, his widow. “Some people are narrow-minded and think that’s not a business, but it was.”
According to Ann and Jimbo, Ed Salem accompanied clients on the trips but wasn’t a gambler himself. Yet that association may have tainted his name as he moved on and off the hall of fame ballot over the years.
There may have been other reasons. The Alabama Sports Hall of Fame came of age soon after Bear Bryant had established a dynasty in Tuscaloosa, and many of the accolades have gone to Tide players who starred under the coaching legend.
“The truth is, back in the ’60s and ’70s, you had more recognizable names than his,” Jimbo Salem said.
But Lumpkin still believes the reason Salem wasn’t inducted until now was the association with gambling.
“I know people on (the voting committee) who wouldn’t vote for him because of that, yet they went on his junkets,” Lumpkin said.
Playing both ways at Alabama, Salem led the Tide in passing three seasons, in rushing for one season and in scoring for two. As a senior in 1950, he added punt returns to his resume.
While his best game was the 1948 Iron Bowl, when he passed for three touchdowns, ran for another, kicked seven extra points and played safety, Salem earned All-American status his final collegiate season while playing quarterback, defensive back and kicker.
His professional career included five interceptions as a Washington Redskins rookie defensive back in 1951, and later on he kicked a Canadian Football League record 53-yard field goal for the Montreal Alouettes.
Salem passed away on Dec. 20, 2001, long before his election to the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame was announced.
“In some ways, it’s 40 years too late,” Ann Salem said. “But all my sons are excited. I think it’s wonderful. I just wish he was here to see this.”
And, if she could only talk to him one last time, Ann’s words to him would be to the point.
“I’d tell him, ‘You finally made it.’ ”
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