Former Hamilton County General Sessions Court Judge Ron Durby stands with his wife Vicka near his judicial portrait during a portrait hanging ceremony on Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013, at the City-County Courts Building in Chattanooga, Tenn. Judge Durby was a former Alabama football player in addition to his duties as Sessions Court Judge.

Ron and Vicka Durby will spend Saturday afternoon the same way they've spent almost every Saturday afternoon that follows Thanksgiving since Ron was a starting tackle for Bear Bryant's Alabama football teams in the early 1960s. They'll have their eyes glued to the Iron Bowl between the Crimson Tide and the Auburn Tigers.

"Coach Bryant hated Auburn," said Durby last week from the couple's longtime home in Harrison. "Nothing good about Auburn was ever said at the University of Alabama. You knew when you played Auburn you were going to have a bad, bad week of practice."

Unlike Saturday, when No.3 Bama must travel to unranked AU — the two schools have alternated campus sites since 1989 — the Iron Bowl was played in Birmingham's Legion Field in those days, hence the name, since B'ham was known for its steel mills and often referred to as the "Pittsburgh of the South."

Durby's last Iron Bowl as a player in late November of 1964 was also the first Bama-Auburn game to be televised nationally. With Joe Namath at quarterback, Ray Perkins making a couple of spectacular catches and Ray Ogden returning the second-half kickoff 107 yards, the Tide overcame a 7-6 halftime deficit to win 21-14 and complete a 10-0 regular season before 68,000 at an evenly divided Legion Field.

Fifty-seven years later, Durby still sometimes wears the ring he won for the Tide's national championship that season and says of Namath, "He was a great guy, a regular guy. He was kind of cocky, but he needed to be to be the quarterback. And what an athlete. He was bigger than I was and fast as could be before he hurt his knees."

Durby recalled hurting his knee one time and continuing to play for fear he'd lose his starting job.

"I think I walked with a limp for a year," he chuckled.

Durby will tell you that he and his teammates on the offensive line who blocked for Namath, "Were a bunch of nobodies. I was just lucky to be there."

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But Al Browning's memory of Durby in his fine book "I Remember Paul 'Bear' Bryant" tells a far different story regarding the 185-pounder, referring to the Memphis native as a "pretty stout tackle who could play offense and defense and rush the quarterback."

He was so well thought of by Bryant, according to the book, that three years after his final season, the Tide struggling in its 1967 opener against Florida State, Bryant yelled to his assistants "get Ron Durby in the game!"

When future Auburn coach Pat Dye informed Bryant that Durby had graduated three years earlier, the Bear reportedly replied, "I don't care if he's graduated. Get him in the game!"

It is Chattanooga's gain that Durby's game ultimately became the law — he was a graduate assistant for three years on Bill Battle's Tennessee staffs while attending law school — which led him to first become a Chancery Court judge, then a Sessions Court judge for more than 25 years total.

On the occasion of his retirement in 2012 due to health reasons, Judge Clarence Shattuck said of Durby's time on the bench: "He was sensitive to the needs of others, he was always trying to help people and maybe keep people from getting into further trouble."

For Ron and Vicka it all started during their eighth grade year at Memphis Treadwell. She'd moved there from Arkansas in the winter of 1956. They've pretty much been together ever since, eventually raising two children — Mark and Machelle — and now enjoying four grandchildren and one great grandchild.

"Coach Bryant didn't like married players," Durby recalled. "When I told him we were getting married, he scratched me off the roster for a time."

Added Vicka, "I was more scared of Coach Bryant than Ron was."

But it all worked out perfectly until the final snap of his career in the Orange Bowl against Texas.

"We were on the goal line," Vicka explained. "Joe (Namath) went right over Ron into the end zone. When Joe got up, Ron was right under him. But the refs said Texas stopped him. One of the headlines in the papers the next day was 'Steers fell on Alabama.' But if there'd been instant replay back then, we would have won. Pictures showed we scored."

Durby even has one career catch to his credit, though Vicka didn't believe it at the time.

"I was listening to the game on the radio," she said, "And they said 'Namath throws to Durby for the first down. ' I thought these guys don't know what they're talking about. Ron's a tackle. He never catches the ball."

Said Ron, "It was a tackle eligible play. Only catch of my career."

Everything changes. Durby's memory is not always as good these days as he'd like it to be. The married dorm the couple lived in while he was still with the Tide eventually "Got blown up for a Burt Reynolds movie," according to Vicka.

Even Bryant's magnificent legacy now shares space at the Capstone with current coach Nick Saban, who's won the same number of national championships at Alabama as Bryant's six with the program. Saban won his first at LSU to own seven total.

"From what I know, I'd say they're twins," said Durby when asked to compare the two coaching giants. "But that might be an insult to Saban. I just know Coach Bryant was one of a kind. He was a good man. A tough ol' man. They talk about him being a teddy bear when he got older. I never saw that side of him. He demanded your best because he always gave you his best."

Those in Chattanooga who've known Durby the past five decades would surely say the same about him.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at