John Shearer: Thoughts About McCallie State Championship And 50th Anniversary Of College ‘Game Of Century’

Friday, December 6, 2019 - by John Shearer

McCallie School won its second state football championship Thursday night, and congratulations are certainly in order.


I watched most of the game – while being surprised how few people I talked with realized it was going to be shown live on MyNetworkTV/WFLI – and was quite impressed.


The Blue Tornado looked strong at nearly every position, and they dominated Montgomery Bell Academy.

The key offensively to me seemed to be the option attack of quarterback DeAngelo Hardy running to the outside and pitching or turning upfield himself.


It was not the major part of their offense, like it used to be at Georgia Tech under Paul Johnson, but it was quite effective when used sparingly. And the senior Hardy was tough to stop, no matter what plays they ran.


Some Baylor School fans were hoping Baylor and McCallie could have met in the state championship game for the first time ever if Baylor had been able to get past MBA in the first round after beating the Nashville school three weeks earlier.


But I saw the regular season Baylor-McCallie game and watched McCallie’s offense continue to make key plays when needed, and I am not sure if Baylor would have done any better the second time around after watching the game.


So, hats off to McCallie. The TV announcers – including Mike Keith of the Tennessee Titans -- pointed out the famous alumni, such as Ted Turner, Howard Baker and Jon Meacham, who had gone to McCallie, and headmaster Lee Burns was interviewed at halftime. The announcers also made note of the large contingent of McCallie students and fans who went to Cookeville.


So, it was – yes – a ‘red’ letter day for the Big Blue. Even coach Ralph Potter got a little emotional when interviewed at the end of the game.


I had watched Coach Potter closely since he was the head coach of Baylor from 1994-96. He went to the third round of the playoffs his last two years when public and private schools were still on a more even level and played each other in the postseason.


I was thinking that he was going to be at Baylor a long time and lead them to many great seasons, but then the surprising news came that he was thinking about going to his alma mater of McCallie as coach.


Being perhaps more emotionally attached as a sports fan to my teams and former schools at the time than I am these days, I wrote him not one, but two, letters over those few weeks encouraging him to stay at Baylor.


But he ended up going to McCallie, and, of course, leading them to many successful seasons, even with a five-year absence when he was the coach of Brentwood Academy. And now he has enjoyed his second state championship, and is definitely cemented as one of Chattanooga’s great coaches.


I had a chance to interview Coach Potter last year, and a link to the story I wrote is here:


While very polite and respectful to people, he does not seem to be naturally charismatic. I used to occasionally interview the successful Maryville High School coach George Quarles, and he seemed to have that natural way of ingratiating himself to people.


But Coach Potter, whom I also enjoy talking with on rare occasions, has warmed himself to the McCallie community with his positive coaching style and results. And everyone who pulls for the Big Blue was able to reap the rewards of those skills Thursday night.


* * * * *


This Dec. 6 marks the 50th anniversary of a memorable game and one that stands out in my mind because I was just a 10-year-old fascinated with college football and, like many other youngsters, dreaming of one day playing at that level.


It was the original “game of the century” between No. 1-ranked Texas and No. 2-ranked Arkansas.


When ABC officials rescheduled that game for that late, they figured both would be good, but they did not realize they would both be Nos. 1 and 2. Ohio State had been doing well but had been upset over Thanksgving weekend by Michigan and fledgling coach Bo Schembechler in Ann Arbor.


Tennessee had also been ahead of Arkansas until well into the season.


But as the football gods would have it, Texas and Arkansas were the two top teams in the country when they met at the end of the season. As a result, the contest was dubbed “game of the century” because of the quality matchup and because 1969 was the 100th anniversary of formal intercollegiate football games.


The game was played at Fayetteville in the days when it did not have any upper deck and seated about 47,000. But more than half the TV sets in America were tuned into the game. And President Richard Nixon even attended the game, having to fly over from Fort Smith in Marine One because of no nearby airport. The Rev. Billy Graham also gave the pregame prayer.


I had temporarily become an Arkansas fan after seeing them upset my Georgia Bulldogs in the Sugar Bowl the year before, and I considered Razorback quarterback Bill Montgomery one of my heroes at the time along with receiver Chuck Dicus.


As a result, I naturally cheered for them in this game. I actually had to go to some kind of children’s choir practice at Red Bank United Methodist Church to get ready for a program we were doing the next day, I think, so I missed the first half.

The game – which featured coaching legends Frank Broyles of Arkansas and Darrell Royal of Texas -- had started a little after noon Central time due to the fact the stadium did not have lights.

I was excited when I got home from the choir practice, turned on the TV and saw that Arkansas was ahead 7-0 at the half. They went ahead 14-0 in the third quarter on a pass from Bill Montgomery to the sure-handed receiver Chuck Dicus, so I was feeling good.


However, the storyline of this game had yet to be written, and Texas was about to enjoy a comeback for the ages and be a main reason why the game would be considered memorable.


With the now-deceased quarterback James Street operating the then-new wishbone triple option offense. Texas scored in the fourth quarter and, in an admirable strategy not really employed by teams today, decided to go for two points then rather than wait for the potential second touchdown.


They converted and trailed only 14-8. The drama began to grow, with Chris Schenkel of ABC doing his first-class announcing style in a smooth voice that sounded more like that of a Las Vegas entertainer than a typically masculine-sounding football commentator.


Arkansas still drove deep into Texas’ territory with a chance to possibly put the game away, but Bill Montgomery threw an interception. As a result, Texas was able to come back and score to go ahead 15-14 late in the fourth quarter.


The winning drive had been set up by a gutsy fourth-down call inside Texas territory, when James Street threw a long pass to Cotton Speyrer, and he made a circus catch in a crowd.


It was perhaps one of the most memorable wins ever for Texas, and I remember feeling a little disappointed for a few days. They later went on to beat Notre Dame in a close game in the Cotton Bowl and were national champions, although undefeated Penn State had also thought it was good enough to be No. 1.


I did cheer again for Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl a few weeks later, but they disappointed again by losing in somewhat of an upset to Ole Miss and quarterback Archie Manning, who was on top of his game that day.


But the memory of the enjoyment of watching the Arkansas-Texas game as a starstruck 10-year-old has stayed with me all these years of watching so many other games.


And last year, I received quite a blessing when I decided to do a story on the 50th anniversary of the Sugar Bowl game between Georgia and Arkansas. I was able to reach both Mr. Montgomery and Mr. Dicus of Arkansas easily with the help of the Arkansas sports information office, and I had delightful telephone conversations with both of them on the morning of Christmas Eve.


They both graciously and politely answered my questions and conversed with me, and Mr. Montgomery even sent me a heartfelt email at my prompt looking back on getting to play on college football’s biggest stage.


After the conversations and correspondences, I felt as though I had come full circle and finally got to experience a satisfying reward for pulling for that 1969 Razorback team after experiencing the disappointing late-season losses.


* * * * *


To see the 2018 story with the interviews with Bill Montgomery and Chuck Dicus, who also recalled the 1969 Texas-Arkansas game, read here.


* * * * *



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