The origin of the mascot dates back to 1930. On October 8, a sportswriter wrote about the previous weekend's Alabama-Ole Miss football game. The writer, using the flair for the dramatic common in sportswriting at the time, wrote that an anonymous fan yelled out "Hold your horses, the elephants are coming!" upon hearing the rumble of the first team coming on the field. The name stuck throughout what became a national championship season and beyond.
Melford Espey, Jr., then a student, was the first to wear an elephant head costume to portray the Crimson Tide's mascot in the early 1960s. Espey later became a university administrator and Coach Paul "Bear" Bryant asked him to take responsibility when student groups asked to resurrect the costumed mascot in the late 1970s.
The "Big Al" mascot officially debuted at the 1980 Sugar Bowl, when the 1979 Alabama Crimson Tide football team beat the Arkansas Razorbacks. Student Hugh Dye earned the honor to bring "Big Al" back to life in New Orleans, followed by Kent Howard and Maury Smith to kickoff the inaugural 1980 season and roam the sidelines. "Big Al" celebrated his first year with Bear Bryant's 300th win against Kentucky and a win against Baylor in the 1981 Cotton Bowl. Since then, the mascot has been a fan favorite for the Tide fans. As the Crimson Tide does not have a logo on their helmets or uniforms, Big Al's likeness appears on much of the merchandise.
Big Al was the idea of University of Alabama student Walt Tart. He was meeting with the homecoming chairman Ann Paige in 1979 as they were trying to come up with something different for the homecoming parade. Walt was able to get a tank from his friend Tony Gaines, the Marine recruiter on campus. He told Ann that several of the schools in the SEC had mascot costumes and the University of Alabama should get one as well. After contacting the University of Kentucky and a few other schools, Walt was able to discover that their mascots were designed and constructed by Disney. He contacted Disney and got a price for the design and construction of the elephant costume. Since the funding for the mascot costume would come from the athletic department, Walt and Ann set up a meeting with Paul "Bear" Bryant as he was not only the football coach, but also the athletic director. As Walt and Ann sat outside The Coach's office, Walt told Ann that they had to be very professional in their presentation and not to ask for his autograph...she agreed. When they explained why there were there, Coach Bryant teased them about having an elephant on the field and the mess it would make. They assured him that it was just a person in an elephant costume and not a real one...the Coach gave a big grin and said he knew all along. He said he thought elephants were very smart, but a little slow. The Coach talked about growing up in Arkansas and the fun he had as a child. And how much he enjoyed coaching football at the University of Alabama. Over all, the meeting went very well as Coach Bryant said they could have the funds for the elephant costume. Meeting The Coach was a great experience that both students would never forget. As they were leaving the Coach's office Ann asked if she could have his autograph...Walt said "me too!" He was gracious enough to give them both autographs.
Big Al was named by student vote. At the time of the vote, there was a popular DJ on campus by the name of Al Brown, who DJ'd many of the largest campus parties, including those hosted by members of the football team. As a result of DJ Al's popularity, a campaign was started on campus to name the mascot after him, and that campaign succeeded at the polls.