Forty years ago this week, I was an eighth-grader at Baylor School and was enjoying a treat as a football fan that I did not realize at the time was so fleeting.
After having watched as a student and fan the Baylor high school varsity team finish second in the state the year before, I was getting ready to travel aboard some buses with other students and staff to Memphis to watch the Red Raiders try to win it all in 1973.
Didn’t everybody’s team get to play in a state championship game every year, I probably thought to myself at the time, not realizing the rare opportunity.
Many years have passed since then, and Baylor has been unable to duplicate what the 1973 Red Raider football team did accomplish on that first Friday in December – winning the state in football.
In fact, only four teams from within Hamilton County have won state championships in football since then, and all since 2000, after more classifications were created – Red Bank in 2000, McCallie in 2001, Boyd-Buchanan in 2003 and Signal Mountain in 2010.
In connection with the 40th anniversary of that Baylor team, which was later voted national champion by the National Sports News Service, here is a look at that season with the help of old newspaper articles and the memories of some former players and even another classmate.
Because I was an aspiring football player who was also at an impressionable age, I looked up to these players. And to this day, I have not forgotten the jersey numbers that many of them wore, in part because I believe I attended all 13 games the team played.
Quarterback Bobby Worthington was No. 14, wingback Mike Shuford was No. 16, halfback Clay Gibson was No. 17, defensive back/punt returner Scott Price was No. 40, and running back Andy Rutledge – the great Andy Rutledge – was No. 42, etc.
Baylor already had a rich football tradition at the time through the successful teams of Coach Jim Rike and especially Humpy Heywood, who usually won 90 percent of his games.
And as recently as 1963 – 50 years ago this fall – Baylor under Jim Worthington, father of Bobby, had an undefeated and untied team that some longtime observers feel was as good as any Red Raider team that has played since, including in 1973.
But the 1973 team still holds a top spot in the hearts of the Baylor faithful because of the fact that it is the only school team to have won a state championship since the playoff system was instituted in 1969.
After some average years in which Baylor was transitioning from playing other prep schools to playing more local teams, coach E.B. “Red” Etter had begun the resurgence after arriving in 1970.
And the run to the state championship game in 1972 before losing to powerful Tennessee High of Bristol, 39-6, gave the impression that Baylor was ready for a period of success.
However, that Baylor would return to the state championship game and even win it was not a certainty when the season began, even though the Red Raiders had a number of key starters returning.
“We had lost a lot of seniors, but a lot of us were starting for the first time,” recalled Andy Stockett, a linebacker on the team. “I’m certain Coach Etter had no expectation we would be in the playoffs, much less win the state when the season started.”
However, after the first game, a 37-0 win over Kirkman on Sept. 7, it quickly became obvious that Baylor would be pretty good in 1973.
As News-Free Press sports writer Sam Woolwine wrote after the game, “Any similarity between the Baylor team of this year and the Baylor team of last year is not coincidental.”
The next week was more of the same, as Baylor beat Memphis Central, 28-0, at its own Heywood Stadium after leading only 7-0 at the half.
While the offensive production had been spread around among several players the week before, Andy Rutledge was the star in this game, picking up 181 yards on only 11 carries for a 16.5-yard rushing average.
In what was expected to be a big challenge on Sept. 21, Baylor avenged the 1972 loss to the Bobby Davis-coached City High Dynamos by building a 33-0 halftime lead and holding on for a 33-14 victory.
As sports writer Terry Hardwick documented, the stars were numerous for Baylor. Clay Gibson, Mike Shuford and Andy Rutledge all scored touchdowns, Scott Price returned several good punts, David Shrader kicked a field goal, Garry Henry had several PATs, and John Lyman blocked a punt out of the end zone for a safety.
Opening the holes for the offense, according to Mr. Hardwick, were end Tim Tucker and interior linemen David Hannah, Allen Corey, Randy Wilson, John Wooley, Mike McCartney and David Rutherford.
And standing out on defense, besides John Lyman and Scott Price, were Hal Isbell, Cal Jumper, Rusty McMahon, Frank Latimer, Van Bunch, Rob Davis, Tim Pendergrass, Jody Locklear, Mike Wallace, Jerry Wade and Andy Stockett.
Now 3-0 and already ranked No. 1 in the state in Class AAA – which was the highest classification at the time and included public as well as private schools – Baylor hosted Howard the following week, winning 29-0.
The dominance was a continuation of the other games, but the way the Red Raiders won had a new twist – the forward pass. Bobby Worthington completed 5 of 7 passes for 125 yards and two touchdowns to Mike Shuford. Scott Price, meanwhile, had a 78-yard interception return for a touchdown.
A player who later signed with Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant at Alabama and was an all-state player along with future Vanderbilt player Andy Rutledge, Mr. Price recalled recently that the 1973 squad personified team in the highest sense.
“We were slightly above average in talent, but over indexed in a willingness to do whatever was needed to be successful,” he said. “Our entire team was very unselfish and focused on their specific role.
“This allowed me and a few others who were placed in high-profile positions to be successful and garner more of the spotlight than we deserved.”
Besides determination, both Mr. Price and Andy Stockett believe that the coaches – Coach “Red” Etter, defensive coordinator Gene Etter (son of Red), Sib Evans, Fred Hubbs, Dave Longley, and Maj. Luke Worsham – were responsible for helping the team reach a top level.
“I can’t imagine any of our opponents being as prepared mentally and tactically as we were,” said Mr. Stockett, who works with Four Bridges Capital in Chattanooga. “On paper we were outgunned in height and weight by almost every team we played.
“The coaches could dissect an opponent in detail. In some cases our defensive coaches would study film so much that they could tell us which direction a play was going to be run by the changing stance of an opponent’s offensive guard.”
Added Mr. Price, “Baylor was very unique and fortunate to have quality and quantity in regards to assistant coaches. We were very well prepared and made adjustments quickly as needed.”
Mr. Stockett added that not a lot of “rah rah” or emotional locker room speeches came from the coaches – other than an occasional kick in the pants from the World War II combat veteran and beloved Maj. Worsham. The team simply had a businesslike manner.
Plenty of emotion and “rah rah” existed in the stands, however, among the Baylor students, parents and other fans enjoying the great run.
This continued on Saturday, Oct. 6, at UTC’s Chamberlain Field after the 33-15 victory over McCallie. The Blue Tornado under coach Pete Potter was showing that it could be a competitive program in town as well with a respectable performance, despite another great game by Andy Rutledge.
The following Friday, Baylor returned to its total dominance with a 54-6 victory over Riverside High after Bobby Worthington threw for three touchdown passes. The Red Raiders that year had a somewhat unusual offense in which all three Baylor running backs often lined up directly behind Worthington in a straight line.
The next Friday – Oct. 19 -- came a challenge at competitive Brainerd, which was coached by Carey Henley and featured future Middle Tennessee State University and NFL running back Mike Moore. The Rebels, as they were then known, actually became the first opponent to take a lead during the game, although Baylor came back to win 28-7.
The next week’s game at home resulted in a 42-16 win over Louisville (Ky.) Male High. Andy Rutledge scored three touchdowns in less than a half of playing time, while Mike Shuford threw a halfback TD pass to John Jacobs.
The Red Raiders then traveled to Clarksville Northwest and won 31-13, but the game did have a low point, as star Rutledge injured his leg and would be greatly slowed the rest of the season.
Although Baylor was not as good a team without him, it was still obviously pretty good, and it showed it with a 17-0 home win over Red Bank to close out the regular season on Nov. 16. With Rutledge and center Randy Wilson out and quarterback Bobby Worthington limping, running backs Mike Shuford and the diminutive Clay Gibson helped pick up the slack.
Then came the first playoff game, a 34-14 win on Nov. 23, the Friday after Thanksgiving, against Warren County and all-state quarterback Glenn Powers at Central High’s stadium off Highway 58.
The following Friday resulted in a visit to Oak Ridge High in the state semifinals. I have not forgotten getting to tour the Oak Ridge atomic museum with other younger students before the big game.
But explosive power on this day was best demonstrated by the Baylor team. However, with Rutledge still injured and sophomore and future star Jeff Aiken filling in for him, the Baylor team was still not at the strength it was earlier in the year.
But in the Oak Ridge game, one person really helped carry the load – Scott Price. The versatile athlete not only played running back for the first time all year, but he also had a 42-yard interception return for a score to help Baylor gain a 28-14 victory.
“In the end, Price was the difference,” wrote News-Free Press sports writer Larry Green.
This set up a state championship game on Dec. 7 not against No. 2 Nashville Overton as expected, but Memphis Hillcrest, which upset Overton. And the game would be played at Memphis’ Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium.
Although Baylor’s offense had received most of the headlines during the year, this would be a game for the defense in trying to stop the green-colored Vikings’ wishbone offense.
The wishbone had not really been seen much around Tennessee on the high school level at that time, but Hillcrest’s execution of it would help persuade Coach Etter to switch to it beginning in 1974.
Baylor did take a 6-0 lead in the second quarter on tight end Tim Tucker’s first touchdown reception of the year, a 6-yard pass from Bobby Worthington after Cal Jumper had recovered a fumble.
But the drive that Baylor fans will long remember occurred near the very end, and it was by Hillcrest. Following a muffed Baylor punt, Hillcrest reached the Baylor 11-yard line late and appeared to have momentum on its side, as sports writer Terry Hardwick recounted.
But the Red Raiders still had plenty of heart on their side. First Andy Stockett and then Rob Davis on the subsequent two plays pushed Hillcrest back. And then came fourth down, when quarterback Robin Daniel tried to find an open teammate.
He could not find a receiver, and Baylor became the recipient of something else – the state championship trophy.
As coach Red Etter said after the game, “Our defense rose to the occasion when it had to.”
However, headmaster Herb Barks Jr. might have summed up the feelings of most of the Baylor faithful when he told the team on that cold night, “I’ve never been prouder of a group of boys. If character is what it takes to win, you’ll win every time. Now that we’ve got this trophy, we want to keep it for the next 50 years.”
Although Baylor has been unable to gain another state championship football trophy since – despite runner-up finishes in 1977, 2010 and 2011 – it still has been able to secure the rich memories from that season.
The school’s 1974 yearbook, the Klif Klan, hinted of that when it wrote, “The 1973 Raider football team will definitely be remembered for years to come as one of the school’s most outstanding teams of all time.”
And as my fellow Baylor classmate and friend Bill Riheldaffer, who now works in the restaurant business in Arlington, Va., remarked in a recent series of email exchanges when we were reminiscing about those days of long ago, “The memories of their run to the state/national championships lives with me today like it was just yesterday.”
And it was just not because of their success on the field, he added of the group, many of whom have gone on to enjoy success in such fields as business, law and medicine.
“The seniors on this team were champions on and off the field,” he said. “They carried themselves with dignity and class, and always made you feel like a part of their success and the greater good, even as a lower school student.
“And for that reason, it was easy to pull for them.”
As one who resorts to feeling like a starry eyed eighth-grader again whenever I hear names like Andy Rutledge, Bobby Worthington, Clay Gibson, Scott Price, Mike Shuford and Rob Davis, I whole-heartedly agree.