Real-life 'Junction Boys' stole show

Published 6:36 am Wednesday, December 18, 2002

By By ROBERT BLANKENSHIP - Managing Editor
Televisions across the state tuned in for what was a long-awaited television event for fans of Paul "Bear" Bryant. ESPN's second attempt at making a feature focused on "The Junction Boys," the nickname given to the Texas A&M players who participated and survived the most notorious training camp in the history of college football.
The movie, titled "The Junction Boys," looks at three friends who attend the camp under their new head coach, Bryant. The boys and their new coaching staff leave College Station for the remote west Texas town of Junction. That area had been drought-ridden for several years and the camp where the players stayed was in rough shape.
The conditions of the camp were obviously tough, but the movie portrays the young players greatest antagonist as Bryant himself. Forcing them to practice in the Texas heat without water, never giving breaks, name-calling and even physical abuse.
The three players who were the focus of the film were fictional characters; however the things they went through and the abuses were supposedly actual events. Of those events, two stand out as the most controversial: Bear headbutting a player on the nose and him kicking a player who was having a heatstroke.
The author of the book, Jim Dent, originally heard of the Junction Boys from A&M player Gene Stallings. While an assistant coach with the Dallas Cowboys, Stallings spoke with Dent, who was a beat writer at The Dallas Morning News, about the camp. Dent later interviewed some of the players and wrote "The Junction Boys."
While the ESPN movie was mildly entertaining, the really good stuff came at 11 p.m. on the network's "Outside the Lines" which featured five of the players who went to Junction. Within five minutes of the round table-type discussion, the integrity and credibility of the book and movie where put to the test. Those viewing the show could almost see the wind falling out of ESPN's sail.
When asked what they "didn't recognize" from the film Stallings, who wrote the forward for "The Junction Boys," was quick to say "the language." The other members of the panel were quick to agree. This is the second time Stallings has defended Bear Bryant after a film. He was also adamant that Bear did not speak so crudely after the film "Forrest Gump."
Another panelist happened to be the basis for the scene when Bear headbutted a player for poor blocking. He said the incident happened … sort of. First, he said, it happened in a spring practice at College Station. Second, it happened when Bryant was showing him how to block. Because the players did not wear face masks, Bryant's head hit the player in his mouth. Dent's credibility was further diminished as this alleged headbutted player was listed as deceased in the book.
As for kicking the player who was having a heatstroke, it could not be confirmed nor denied. The only player who had a heatstroke was among the panel of guests, but of course he does not remember. Nobody else on the panel remembered the kicking incident. Dent maintains that several of his sources saw the kick.
While there seemed to be several embellishments made for entertainment purposes, there is no doubt that the camp deserves its title of "Ten Days in Hell." The fact that only 35 players of 111 made the bus trip back home to College Station is plenty of proof. Bryant himself always held the 1954 Aggies at the highest regard despite its losing ways. The team picture stayed on his office wall even when he moved to Tuscaloosa. He died wearing a "Junction Boy" 25-year reunion ring.