The University of Alabama has been home to some of the most accomplished people in United States history since its doors opened in 1831.
A great deal of star athletes have repped the Crimson, like Bear Bryant, Derrick Thomas, Kelly Kretschman and any of the many All-Americans developed by Nick Saban. The Alabama Crimson Tide, after all, are the kings of the Southeastern Conference.
It’s not just football players that has made Alabama one of the most historic and notable colleges in the country. The long list of famous people that have stepped foot on campus in Tuscaloosa and yelled “Roll Tide!” include NCAA football coaches, Heisman Trophy winners, MLB and NBA players, ESPN analysts, New York Times writers, best-selling authors, an award-winning actress, a TV talk show host, a NASA astronaut, a governor of Alabama, a First Lady of the United States and the most infamous scam artist in U.S. history.
Think you can name some of the top 20 most famous and notable alumni in Alabama history? Some, like Broadway Joe Namath, are obvious (and deserve to be in the College Football Hall of Fame). Others, not so much. See how many you can come up with before reading on.
Here are 20 of the most famous (and infamous) University of Alabama alumni.
20 Famous University of Alabama Alumni
20. Mel Allen
Allen is best known for being “The Voice of the Yankees” throughout the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. Before he began calling play-by-play for the New York Yankees, the Birmingham native was working Alabama football games as the public address and play-by-play announcer. Allen graduated from Alabama’s law school in 1937.
19. Winston Groom
The guy who wrote “Forrest Gump”? Yep, he was built by ‘Bama. Groom became a successful novelist and fiction writer but first attended Alabama in the 1960s. He wrote “Forrest Gump” in 1986, but it didn’t become a best-seller until a decade later when the film adaptation was a hit.
Yeah, Forrest Gump was actually a book.
18. Sela Ward
A graduate in 1977, Ward was Alabama’s homecoming queen, a cheerleader and sorority member. The Emmy Award-winning actress has starred in TV shows like “Sisters,” “Once and Again,” “House” and “CSI: NY and FBI.”
17. Shaun Alexander
One of the best running backs of the 2000s, Alexander racked up 3,565 rushing yards at Alabama. Only Derrick Henry and Najee Harris have more in school history. The Kentucky native went on to star for the Seattle Seahawks, where he won the NFL MVP award in 2005 after rushing for 1,880 yards and scoring 28 touchdowns.
16. Jimmy Wales
Thank Wales for helping you write your essays in school. He was a co-founder of Wikipedia, one of the most visited websites in the world. Born in Hunstville, Alabama, Wales earned a bachelor’s degree in finance from Auburn and then a master’s degree from Alabama.
15. Julio Jones
Arguably the greatest wide receiver in the NFL, the Atlanta Falcons wideout first rose to stardom at Alabama. He headed for Tuscaloosa after excelling on the Foley High School football team in Foley, Alabama. He terrorized schools like Tennessee, Texas A&M, LSU and Auburn and ranks fourth on Alabama’s all-time receiving yards list and, like No. 10 on this list, was a big part of Alabama’s 2009 national title team.
14. Joe Scarborough
You can find Scarborough on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” the morning show he co-hosts alongside wife Mika Brzezinski. A former Florida congressman, Scarborough studied history at the University of Alabama before getting his law degree at the University of Florida. He served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995-2001, and in 2011 he was named one of the Time 100 most influential people in the world.
13. Justin Thomas
At 28, Thomas is one of golf’s most promising players. He topped the Official World Golf Ranking in May 2018 and is still one of the top 10 golfers in the sport. The 2017 PGA Championship winner first excelled at Alabama, where as a freshman in 2012 he won the Haskins Award for most outstanding collegiate golfer and a national championship in 2013.
12. Bart Starr
You might as well call Starr “Mr. Super Bowl.” He not only won the first two Super Bowls ever as a member of the Green Bay Packers but was named the game’s MVP in each. The quarterback led Alabama’s offense from 1952-55 and was inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977.
11. Derrick Thomas
Thomas died tragically following a bad car accident when he was just 33, but he’ll always be remember as one of the best linebackers to ever play football.
He is Alabama’s all-time sack leader (52) and posted an incredible 27 sacks in 1988 alone. Thomas went on to rack up 126.5 more sacks for the Kansas City Chiefs in the NFL and was posthumously inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and College Football Hall of Fame.
10. Mark Ingram
In all of Alabama’s successful years on the gridiron, they had never featured a Heisman Trophy winner until 2009. That’s when running back Mark Ingram became the first to do so in addition to helping the Tide defeat Texas in the BCS National Championship game. The first round NFL draft pick has enjoyed a nice career in the NFL as well.
9. Hugo Black
Black is best known for serving as an associate justice of the United States Supreme Court, a position he served from 1937 until his death in 1971. He graduated from Alabama’s law school in 1906 and began his own practice. Controversy surrounded Black for his involvement in the Ku Klux Klan before serving as an Alabama senator in 1927.
8. Bobby Bowden
Bowden is Florida State football’s winningest head coach, having manned the program from 1976-2009. The FSU legend was born in Birmingham, Alabama and played quarterback for the Crimson Tide. His time in Tuscaloosa didn’t last long, and he transferred to Howard College (now known as Samford University). He passed away in 2021 at the age of 91.
7. Dabo Swinney
You know him now as Nick Saban’s biggest threat, but did you know he played wide receiver for the Crimson Tide from 1990-92? He caught just seven passes for 81 yards in three seasons but he did win a national championship in 1992. He went on to win a few more at Clemson.
6. Jeff Sessions
Sessions was thrusted into the national spotlight when he served as the U.S. attorney general under President Donald Trump from 2017-18. Known for his array of conservative views, Sessions was accused of having contact with Russian officials during the 2016 presidential election. Born in Selma, Alabama, he attended Huntingdon College and then Alabama for law school.
5. Harper Lee
Renown for her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Lee was born and raised in the Yellowhammer State. She took law classes at Alabama in the 1940s and wrote for the school newspaper but never finished her degree. “To Kill a Mockingbird” was published in 1960 and has sold an estimated 40 million copies since.
4. Bear Bryant
Does Paul “Bear” Bryant really need any explaining? The legendary coach played defensive end for the Tide and won a national championship in 1934. He’d go on to win six national championships over his illustrious 25-year coaching stint for Alabama. He also proved just how badass he was when he turned down the Arkansas head coaching job to join the Navy.
3. Lady Bird Johnson
Claudia Johnson, AKA Lady Bird Johnson, became the First Lady of the United States when husband Lyndon B. Johnson took over the Oval Office in 1963. Born in Karnack, Texas, Lady Bird enrolled at Alabama in the summer of 1928 but never returned in the fall. Instead, she headed for the University of Texas, where she finished her degree.
2. Bernie Madoff
Madoff orchestrated the largest financial fraud in U.S history and in 2009 was sentenced to 150 years in prison for his elaborate Ponzi scheme. What most don’t know is he attended Alabama for a year and joined the Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity. He transferred to Hofstra University and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in political science before working on Wall Street.
1. Joe Namath
Before he was Broadway Joe, Namath was the starting quarterback for the Crimson Tide. He won a national championship in 1964 and went on to win a Super Bowl with the New York Jets in 1968. The media and cultural icon was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985. He might not have bled Crimson like alumnus Bear Bryant, but no one could pull off a fur coat or work a room like Broadway Joe.
This post was originally published on September 25, 2019.