02 August 2008
We're sad to report that John Mark Stallings
the son of former University of Alabama football coach Gene Stallings
passed away this morning at the Stallings home in Texas.
John Mark was a very visible presence in the Alabama football program during his father's tenure at Alabama from 1990 to 1996. He was seemingly at every practice, being driven around in a golf cart by Coach Stallings'
personal assistant Cedric Burns
. And he didn't miss games. Many Bama fans have tearfully remembered the image of John Mark celebrating with his mother during the closing moments of Alabama's 34-13 victory over Miami in the Super Dome when Alabama won its last National Championship.
For those people that had the opportunity to know him, the memories aren't on that grand of a scale, but rather in the small personal moments. It didn't matter if you were someone that John Mark knew well, or someone that he saw only once or twice a week. If you were an Alabama fan, that was good enough for him. If you made eye contact, the next thing you would see is John Mark making a bee-line straight for you. A giant hug and a giant "Roll Tide!" would follow. And if you were fortunate enough to know him well, usually an expression of love would follow.
That moment in the Super Dome was not just a demonstration of Johnny's love for Alabama football, but more so a visual representation of John Mark's relationship with his father. There are thousands of stories of the different things that Gene and John Mark did together. Gene even wrote a book
about their relationship.
But all you really need to know about their relationship is that John Mark had his own office at the Alabama football office, and it was right next to his father's. Gene Stallings, a normally very stoic and demanding man could not and would not stand for being away from his son for an entire work day. Despite the day to day demands on the head football coach at the University of Alabama, there was always time during Coach's busy day for John Mark... always.
John Mark was 46 years old, defying the odds his entire life. In 1962 the diagnosis of Down's Syndrome
was a diagnosis that meant a very short life. Only 20% of patients diagnosed with Down's Syndrome live past the age of 30. That number drops to 8% after 40, and only 2% after 50.
This is a loss that can not be accurately explained to someone outside of the Alabama family. The loss of the son of a former coach would likely be newsworthy at any place where college football is popular, especially if that coach was as loved as Gene Stallings. But for Alabama fans this is not noteworthy. It is heart breaking.
Our thoughts are with Gene, Ruth Ann & the entire Stallings family.
Below is the statement from the University of Alabama.
John Mark Stallings, son of former University of Alabama head football coach Gene Stallings, died early Saturday morning. John Mark, who was born with Down syndrome and suffered from health problems related to a congenital heart defect, was 46.
"I've known John Mark Stallings his entire life," said Mal Moore, Director of Athletics at the University of Alabama. "I want to extend my deepest sympathy to Coach Stallings, Ruth Ann and the entire Stallings family. For someone who never played or coached a game, I think John Mark may have touched more Alabama fans than any other person ever did. I would like to thank the Stallings family for sharing their love for John Mark with all of us."
John Mark's story, detailed by his father in the book, "Another Season", served as an inspiration to millions. The University of Alabama football equipment room was formally dedicated as the "John Mark Stallings Equipment Room" on December 8, 2005. John Mark's courage and attitude had a positive impact on all who knew him. He also deeply affected Coach Stallings' perception of football, and the coach's approach on the field.
"I had a whole lot less tolerance for the gifted and a whole lot more tolerance for the guy that wasn't quite as gifted," Gene Stallings told a reporter in January of 2008. "With Johnny, I saw him struggle to walk, struggle to kick a ball, struggle to do everything that he did. So, I had a little tolerance for the guys that had to struggle. If you had talent and didn't lay it on the line, I didn't have much tolerance for you. The less talented guy can't play on Saturdays. But he can get you ready to play on Saturdays. I wanted the guys who played on Saturday to have an appreciation for that guy who got them there."
Funeral arrangements for John Mark Stallings are pending.