Right before Christmas, I thought I had finally finished my lengthy series of stories on the 1977 state runner-up Baylor School football team of which I was a member.
In connection with the 40th anniversary, I had tried to cover the memorable season through research, interviews, and a few personal reminiscences.
But I was disappointed that I could not reach Ronnie Skinner, the Christian Brothers High School quarterback, who caught the winning end-around pass that stunned Baylor in the closing minutes of the state championship game.
I had put in a call to CBHS a few days before the holidays trying to reach him, and the school had forwarded the message.
But I had disappointedly not heard back by the time I sent what I thought was my final story.
However, last week, I received a call on my cell phone with a Memphis area code, and as soon I answered it, he said, “This is Ronnie Skinner.”
He had not yet seen the previous articles and just assumed I was a reporter doing a general story about the game or season, but as soon as I told him I had played at Baylor that year, he let out a big laugh.
And in a congenial manner, he kindly reminisced about those days of long ago.
“It was a one in a million play,” he recalled.
He said that his team had actually practiced the play – which had been drawn up by assistant Jack Moran -- only once several weeks before.
“One time in practice at the end we ran it,” said Mr. Skinner. “I go out for a pass and (end) Mike Pruett threw it. I got tripped up and I fell flat on my face.”
Unfortunately for Baylor, the pass worked a little better when the time came to run it in a game.
In the CBHS-Baylor state championship game at the Liberty Bowl in Memphis on Dec. 2, 1977, Baylor had gone ahead 19-14 with less than four minutes left. But CBHS began driving the ball and was at the 25-yard line when head coach Tom Nix and his assistants decided to run the play.
“Coach Moran brought up the play and we didn’t have any other solutions,” Mr. Skinner recalled.
As he remembered, end Mike Pruett lined up on the left side and came around for a reverse after Mr. Skinner had faked a dive play to a back.
“The play was designed for me to drift out to the flat,” Mr. Skinner said. “I got out there and was going and going and kept going.”
Mr. Skinner saw that Baylor was putting good pressure on his end, so he kept moving down the field. And then he saw the ball coming toward him down near the left sideline close to the goal with Baylor defenders not far from him.
“It was an absolutely perfect pass,” he recalled. “It was as if everything was in slow motion. Everything got real big and I could see the ball coming down. I could see the Baylor guys all around and the ball came in perfectly.”
He was able to catch the ball, but the play was not over yet.
“I was almost out of bounds, and I took one step into the end zone,” he said.
As a result, CBHS took a 22-19 lead in front of its delirious and wildly cheering fans. The team then prevented Baylor from scoring in the closing seconds and captured the state championship.
It would become one of the most famous plays in Tennessee high school football history, and Mr. Skinner became the toast of Bluff City that night.
In the recent telephone interview, Mr. Skinner was quick to credit the whole team, saying, “That was a bunch that didn’t have any quit in them.”
Much like the Baylor team that year, CBHS had squeaked out several close victories over the course of the year. In fact, he said a top CBHS player, Steve Wigley, had hurt his knee, but he was able to come back as a kicker and kicked a field goal late in the regular season to propel the Purple Wave to a victory over Memphis Wooddale and a spot in the playoffs.
He also said the winning play against Baylor was kind of ironic because coach Nix rarely threw the ball.
“Coach Nix was old school,” he said. “He only threw the ball when he couldn’t run it. Only at CBHS would a quarterback under coach Nix be better known for catching the ball than throwing it.”
The following summer, Mr. Skinner was selected as the Tennessee recipient of the Hertz No. 1 Award for what was described as the top achievement by a high school athlete during the school year.
While in New York for the event, he got to meet such people as former New York Yankees pitcher Whitey Ford and football star O.J. Simpson. At the time, Mr. Simpson was still one of the country’s most popular athletes, and his serious criminal and legal problems were years ahead of him.
“I had dinner with him at the Waldorf Astoria,” said Mr. Skinner, who said he had never been to New York before. “He was super, just one of the guys.”
Mr. Skinner was also a standout baseball pitcher, but developed arm and shoulder problems later his senior year. He did not get drafted by a pro baseball team, so he signed a football scholarship with Ole Miss and then had surgery.
Unfortunately, he later had to have further surgery while playing at Ole Miss and was unable to be effective as a quarterback or play much.
He did play baseball his junior year at Ole Miss in 1981 and lettered.
“I had a very undistinguished collegiate career,” he said.
Since then, he has gone on to work in medical sales and sales management for 30 years and is currently with a division of Stryker.
He got married and had two sons and a daughter. And in 2006, his son, John Michael Skinner, was on the CBHS team that played Baylor in the state baseball tournament, he said.
1977 Baylor defensive player Ryan Crimmins recalled in the previous story talking with Mr. Skinner and hashing over that game while at the baseball game.
Mr. Skinner said he remembered at least two Baylor male parents and their wives talking with him after realizing he was the quarterback who had beaten them years before.
“I remember one of the wives said, ‘My husband has been cussing you for years,’ ” Mr. Skinner jokingly recalled.
When Christian Brothers played Montgomery Bell Academy this past Nov. 17 in Memphis in the semifinals of the Division II state football playoffs, a 40th anniversary reunion of the 1977 CBHS team was hastily pulled together.
“We had a reception at the school and we walked out with the team,” he said. “To my great surprise, we had a phenomenal turnout. We had around 40 there.”
CBHS lost to MBA, 14-7, the same score by which MBA had beaten Baylor the week before.
Among the former CBHS players at the reunion was end Mike Pruett, who threw the game-winning pass to Mr. Skinner. Today, Dr. Pruett is a physician practicing internal medicine. One of Dr. Pruett’s sons, Luke, was tragically killed in an automobile accident in 2010 in the Germantown area.
According to a news report found online, the 16-year-old student at Evangelical Christian School was spending the night at a friend’s home, and they decided for fun to drive a car on an unfinished highway. To their surprise, the road ran into a ditch and the car in which the young Pruett was a passenger flipped.
Mr. Skinner said the team members in recent days have also had to mourn the death of 1977 CBHS assistant football coach George Pratt.
But in looking back at the memorable game against Baylor in 1977, it brings nothing but joyous thoughts, he added.
“It was a special night,” he said.
And for me and my Baylor teammates, it was as well, despite the loss.
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To see the previous stories in this series, read here.