Jason Mayfield (some of you may recognize the name from 'BAMA Magazine since he recently did the Team of the Decade story), a student assistant in Alabama's media relations office, has researched the origins of A-Day. Here is his report:
That was not always the case. Alabama scrimmaged in the 1920s during February in preparation for the next season. The spring drills would end in a game called A-Day and start a tradition continued today. The name "A-Day" came from a University celebration. The first A-Day was held April 14, 1916. The day began with a ribbon dance on the athletic field and ended with a dance at the gymnasium. In between, there were championship wrestling and boxing matches, comedy races, a track meet between The University's classes and a baseball game between the Crimson Tide and Georgia.
Henry "Hank" Crisp brought the idea of spring practices to the Alabama campus in 1921. Crisp served as an assistant to Crimson Tide Head Coach Xen Scott. Crisp played at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, now Virginia Tech, and went through spring training as a player.
There was not much evidence early on that the spring drills helped. The Crimson Tide went 5-4-2 in 1921 and 6-3-1. No A-Day, a final special scrimmage, was held. Many schools did not believe the extra time helped. Vanderbilt waited until the fall to work its team.
Alabama Head Coach Wallace Wade used spring practices in 1923 to prepare his first team. He had the first A-Day to conclude the work done in the spring of 1924. The Crimson Tide steadily improved under the system, winning its first National Championship in the 1926 Rose Bowl.
Wade said in 1926 that spring practice led to success in the fall. He said the drills were needed in the South because high school players in the North arrived at college more finished and experienced. He worked Alabama for six weeks under what he said was "makeup time."
The Crimson Tide started spring practice in 1926 on Jan. 20, just 19 days after Rose Bowl. The first practice consisted of the players reporting to the gymnasium to be outfitted. The Crimson Tide carried 22 players to the Rose Bowl, but 60 reported the next spring. Wade organized the players into four teams. The teams played each other in doubleheaders on Saturdays and two teams would combine into one and face the other two in scrimmages on Mondays and Thursdays. Fans followed the practices with interest. Over 500 students went to watch one scrimmage. The team charged admission for A-Day in 1926 to raise money for new uniforms for the Million Dollar Band. Over $700 was made.
The game had turned into an event by then. Wade put the two captains in charge of the teams and the final scrimmage was held Thursday, Feb. 18. The world's fastest sprinter at the time, Charley Paddock, came to town and raced Alabama track stars Bob Hussey and Johnny Mack Brown at halftime. Brown, a senior, caught two touchdown passes in the 1926 Rose Bowl.
Later years would bring later dates and shorter practice seasons. But the love from the early times in February carried over.