The use of an elephant to represent Alabama's football program is a tradition that dates to the October 4, 1930 game between Alabama and the University of Mississippi. Atlanta Journal writer Everett Strupper quoted a fan yelling "Here come the elephants" as the team rumbled onto the field. The "Red Elephants"' popularity grew through the season, which ended with a Rose Bowl victory over Washington State and a national championship.
One account of the 1930 Rose Bowl trip has it that Rosenberger's store provided luggage tags to all the members of the team emblazoned with their red elephant logo, further securing the elephant image to the team.
Various cheers, songs and illustrations kept the elephant image alive. Actual elephants marched with the University's homecoming parades in the 1940s and 50s. In the early 1960s, then-student Melford Espey became the first to wear an elephant head costume to portray the Crimson Tide's mascot during games. Nevertheless, the mascot remained unofficial until 1979. When the elephant was officially adopted as a Alabama's mascot, Coach Paul "Bear" Bryant invited Espey, then an administrator at the university, to resurrect the costumed character.
The costumed "Big Al" mascot was debuted in the 1979 Sugar Bowl, when the Tide beat Penn State for the national championship. He was named by student vote. Various names were put before the student body, who were allowed to complete ballots at the Student Union and SUPe Store. "Big Al", was also the name of a 'well-known about campus' member of the University of Alabama Rugby Football club, Alfred Lee Brown. Brown was known as the "DJ" for the club's after-match parties. When the members of the Rugby Club saw that "Big Al" was among the selections, they lobbied the attendees of the club's somewhat infamous parties to come to the Student Union and vote for that name.
- "Espey was one of UA’s most loyal alumni" (March 12, 2010) Tuscaloosa News