CollectingAlabama.com is excited to have received on consignment this super rare commemorative football celebrating the University of Alabama head football coach, Paul “Bear” Bryant’s 315th win. With this win, Coach Bryant passed Amos Alonzo Stagg and became the winningest coach in big time college football history! Coach Bryant’s record breaking win came in the 1981 Iron Bowl against archrival Auburn and this ball is one of the rarest items produced to celebrate this magnificent feat. Only 200 or so were produced! The artist is Don Barnes, a Tuscaloosa graphic artist, who produced several editions of these footballs celebrating the University of Alabama football team and Coach Bryant achievements through the years. Each of Don Barnes commemorative footballs is hand painted and lettered. No two are alike. This football is signed by Coach Bryant, the team and coaching staff. Unfortunately the signatures have faded and Coach Bryant’s is almost unrecognizable. The paint is very bright with some cracking to the surface.  Read more below for a history of these footballs and the artist, Don Barnes. Buy the football now or feel free to make an offer on this truly one of a kind Alabama Football collectible! And to top off this already spectacular item, the consigner is a Country Music Star! A signed certificate from the owner will be included.    This item can be seen by appointment only. Call today 205-490-5963.

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Commemorative Footballs by Tuscaloosa Artist Don Barnes Featuring Paul “Bear” Bryant and The University of Alabama Championship Football Teams


     Not much is known about these footballs outside of Tuscaloosa and The University of Alabama so we did a little research and are offering this short article to shed some light on the artist and these high quality and highly collectible footballs. Unfortunately, Don Barnes passed away in 2010 but his legacy lives on in his work. We would like to thank Susan Barnes and John Barnes for their gracious help in this project. Our sincere hope is to convey in this article our appreciation for Mr. Barnes immense talent and his importance to the University of Alabama family. The collecting community is surely blessed with Don Barnes work.

The Artist

     John “Don” Donahue Barnes was born in Jackson, Alabama on September 22, 1931 and grew up in Montgomery. He attended Sidney Lanier High School then went on to Auburn University.  He was an Art major and a member of Alpha Tau Omega. After college, he served his country in the U.S. Air Force then returned to Montgomery where he met and married Susan Strickland.


      Here is how the Barnes’ came to Tuscaloosa in the words of Don’s son John.


…he met my mother Sue and soon thereafter, they moved to Tuscaloosa. My grandfather owned the Alabama Book Store and helped set Dad up in an art supply store (Art Supply, Inc.) that opened around 1961. It was just around the corner from the book store and was next to Pug’s Cafeteria. The store stayed open until around 1970. Eventually, he couldn’t compete with the larger discount stores also selling art supplies, so he shifted his focus solely to graphic art.”


     Don Barnes was very successful as a commercial artist well before he produced his first commemorative football. His inaugural footballs were made to celebrate the success of Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant and the 1973 University of Alabama football team which was named the UPI National Champions.

      In addition to the footballs, he did countless commissioned works of art and did a great deal of hand lettering for awards, certificates, etc. He did a huge number of certificates and awards for the Alumni Association and the Chamber of Commerce.

     The scope of and appreciation for his talent is summed up in this quote from his obituary notice from Tuscaloosa Memorial Park and Chapel.


    “Don was well-known as one of the most sought-after freelance artists in Tuscaloosa. He was one of the last of a vanishing breed of freehand commercial artists. His invitations and other commissioned graphic work remain his treasured legacy. His original artwork hangs in numerous homes and businesses in the Tuscaloosa area. His artistic talents may have only been surpassed by his quick, dry, and sometimes sardonic wit.”

The Footballs

     In 1973 Don Barnes began producing footballs for Willie Meadows, the equipment manager for the Crimson Tide football team. Mr. Meadows provided the footballs with the players and coaches signatures and Don Barnes would do the artwork. Although Coach Bryant’s signature is on most of the footballs, it must be noted that Don Barnes had little direct contact with him during the making of the footballs. The Barnes’ and Coach and Mrs. Bryant met socially at their country club and public functions. Don was closer to Mrs. Bryant.

      The first footballs were done to commemorate the Tide’s National Championship team of 1973. The exact number of footballs produced is not known. The number of footballs gradually increased each year through the 1978 and 1979 seasons. It is believed that about 100 or so were made directly for the football program each year then numerous ones were made for private individuals lucky enough to have a football signed by Coach Bryant and/or the team.

     During the decade of the 1970s, The University of Alabama Crimson Tide football teams dominated and Coach Bryant’s place in college football history was well established even before he broke Amos Alonzo Stagg’s record for most wins in 1981. Bear’s 315th win that year was eagerly anticipated by fans all over the country and the fact that it came over Auburn was very symbolic. A larger number of footballs were produced by Don Barnes to commemorate the 315th win. Once again, the exact number is not known but it is estimated that in excess of 200 were produced. Examples of the commemorative Bear Bryant 315th Win footballs are in the Smithsonian and The College Football Hall of Fame in South Bend, Indiana. One was also presented to President Ronald Reagan.

     After Coach Bryant’s death and Willie Meadows retirement, Mr. Barnes didn’t do many more commemorative footballs. At that point, the Athletics Department started going to stock artwork which allowed them to keep the production in-house. He did do a few to commemorate the 1992 Alabama championship football season. At this time there is no listing of all the different commemorative footballs Don Barnes did and very few photographs of his work. It is our desire to locate examples of the different footballs and photograph them for posterity. Until that time we recommend you visit The Paul “Bear” Bryant Museum located at 300 Paul W. Bryant Drive in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. http://www.bryantmuseum.com/

Don Barnes Commemorative Footballs in The Paul “Bear” Bryant Museum

     The Paul “Bear” Bryant Museum is the perfect place to find several fine examples of Don Barnes football art. Examples on display at the museum include footballs commemorating Coach Bryant’s 250th, 314th, 315th and 323rd and last win. Mr. Barnes has illustrated each ball with Coach Bryant’s signature hounds tooth hat and the team schedule with won-loss record as well as the Bowl game with opponent and score. One of Don Barnes’ footballs commemorating Coach Bryant’s final game is the center piece of the Bear Bryant legacy display at the museum. Below is a photo of the display.

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     Here are some photos of other Barnes commemorative footballs on display at the museum.

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Collecting Commemorative University of Alabama Footballs by Don Barnes

     It must be noted that each of these commemorative footballs were painted one at a time and although they look the same, each one is an individual work of art. Each is hand lettered in oil and acrylic and it is estimated that each ball took 30-45 minutes to complete. Mr. Barnes would treat each painted panel with Workable Fixatif, a clear finish to prevent smearing. Most but not all of the footballs are signed by the artist. Signed examples are printed at lower right “Artist-Don Barnes” and “Artist-Don Barnes-Tuscaloosa”.  The footballs have 4 panels. One panel contains Don Barnes art. One has Coach Bryant’s signature. If a football had the signatures of the coaching staff and team members they would be found on the other 2 panels. Some examples show other coach’s signature on the Coach Bryant panel. No two footballs from any year are the same. There will always be a difference not only in the artwork but on the number of signatures. A number of footballs have only Coach Bryant’s signature. All the signatures on these footballs are faded to one degree or another. Regrettably, Coach Bryant’s signature is usually the one most faded. Many, like the one offered for sale on this website, are almost unrecognizable. This is due to the nature of the footballs. All of these early footballs were regulation leather footballs used by the team. Unlike signature balls of today, these footballs were meant to be used only on the field. The football’s un-treated surface and the fact that most of the signatures were done with a ball point pen, it is no wonder the signatures do not last. It is recommended that the footballs be protected from direct sunlight although fading will probably occur even if the balls are stored in a closet. It is important to keep the footballs stored in a climate controlled area to reduce signature fading and cracking to the artwork. Trying to restore or enhance the signatures is not recommended. Experts believe any restoration of the signatures will reduce the football’s value. It is more important to have a Don Barnes football with faded Bear Bryant signature than to have one where the signature has been traced over and possibly altered. 

     As far as value, I have not found any record of these footballs being sold and very few have been offered for sale on the open market. When asked, most owners say their football is not for sale at any price. Most collectors of Alabama football memorabilia have never seen one outside of Tuscaloosa and the Bryant Museum so when they find one it is just their nature to have to have it. A business owner in Birmingham stated he had his football on display in his office and repeatedly turned down offers to buy it. This was in the mid 1980’s. He turned down $3000 then decided to take the ball home before someone made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. A couple of Don Barnes/Bear Bryant footballs have been offered for sale on internet auction sites with asking prices from $6000 to just under $10,000. Again, no record of an actual sale has been found. Considering that only around 100 were produced per year with a maximum of 200-300 for Bear’s 315th win makes the Don Barnes commemorative footballs a very rare and desirable piece and a must for the serious University of Alabama football collector. For these reasons, CollectingAlabama.com has determined that a real value cannot be placed on the footballs because of the lack of data available. Perhaps this article and the listing of our commemorative football will be the start of an ongoing conversation on these footballs and their importance to the Alabama football collecting family.

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