John Shearer: Remembering Harry Phillips’ Days As Star Central Quarterback

Thursday, October 28, 2021 - by John Shearer
Harry Phillips
Harry Phillips

Since his death on Monday at the age of 77, many people are recalling Harry Phillips Jr.’s days both as a standout Central High quarterback and athlete and his years as school administrator, including at Tyner High School.
Charles Sedman, a member of the Central Class of 1963 when the school was on Dodds Avenue and was a state football power under coach E.B. “Red” Etter, forwarded some memories of Mr. Phillips’ days leading Central in 1962 to its only perfect season to date.
He recalled that Mr. Phillips was unable to play in 1961, but he came back to lead the Purple Pounders in 1962.
“In my opinion the 1961 football team may have been Central’s most talented ever, but Harry was the only quarterback with any experience, and he had it in spades,” Mr.

Sedman said in an email. “Harry had entered Central in the seventh grade, playing football from the outset, so by fall 1961, he was in many respects a sixth-year senior.”
However, Mr. Phillips had gotten married that summer and had to sit out a semester, which, unfortunately was supposed to have been his senior year at quarterback, Mr. Sedman recalled. 
That was unfortunate, he said, because Central was loaded with about 20 college prospects on the roster, but no experience at QB with Harry gone. 
“Their state championship (in the days before playoffs) was lost in a 13-7 game to Bradley Central, the eventual state champion with future Alabama star Steve Sloan at quarterback,” he said, adding that Mr. Phillips’ passing and running would have made a huge difference.
“The 1962 team similarly had little experience at QB, until Harry came back to finish his last semester that fall and led Central to their only undefeated and untied season. 
“(Future Florida and South Carolina coach) Steve Spurrier can attest, as in the season opener at Johnson City (Science Hill), he completed more passes to Harry (one) than he did his own players (none). Zero for 15 passing with two picks,” he continued. “Phillips also was responsible for several passes batted down as well as one fumble recovery. 
“And so it went for the remaining 10 games. Without Phillips we would have been like the ‘61 team, with likely some heartbreaking losses in close games.”
Mr. Sedman also passed along a memory of an incident during a game of that 1962 season under the headline of “The Touchdown That Never Was.”
Below is his remembrance of that incident as he wrote it: 
The fourth game of Chattanooga Central’s 1962 football season was a home contest at Chamberlain Field with the Kingsport Dobyns-Bennett Indians. A fierce tussle was anticipated, (and everyone was) fully expecting Kingsport to be in full revenge mode a year after their top-rated squad had been upset 7-6 in front of their fans by Central. 
Moreover, Central’s players were a bit chippy after being severely chastised by Coach E.B. Etter for juvenile behavior, punctuated by a post-practice, extra-wind-sprint session the day before. 
Central overcame a shaky start, with several offensive miscues, but by midway of the second quarter led 14-0 and were driving for a third touchdown, when the officiating went haywire.  Central quarterback Harry Phillips called an audible quarterback option, where the QB fakes the ball to the fullback slanting off tackle, then keeps the ball with the options of cutting upfield inside the end, sweeping around the end, or pitching it to the trailing halfback. 
The play went to perfection as Phillips faked the handoff to fullback Tommy Turner, hid the ball behind his left side, and circled the end, continuing down the left sideline toward certain paydirt. Except, as he approached the goal line with no Kingsport player in sight, a whistle blew the play dead.
Somehow, the referee whistleblower had not seen Phillips keep the ball and assumed that the pile of Kingsport players on top of Turner, when unstacked, would reveal Turner clenching the football.  
A scene reminiscent of an old Keystone Cops silent movie ensued, with striped shirts sorting through the pile, frisking players as they pulled them up, frantically looking for the elusive pigskin. So, they were totally flummoxed when Phillips trotted back upfield from the end zone and handed the ball to one of the officials, while the others looked on with horror.
The following is a fictionalized account based on actual events and eyewitness observations as the referees conferred after the play:
Head official: “OK who blew the d*** whistle?”  (Silence) “Did anyone see that the runner didn’t actually have a ball when he was tackled?” (Silence) OK, we need to spot the ball where it was when the whistle blew. Where was the real ball carrier when the whistle blew?” (Silence) “Does anybody have a rule book? (Muted snickering) “Not funny, guys! We’re in deep shipping lanes here, and our boat is leaking! All we need now is for Coach Etter to come over and ask how things are going, and..Oh Jesus, Hi, Coach Etter!”
A referee’s recurring nightmare is how to explain, cover up, or correct a blown call. Another more problematic nightmare, though, was where to place the ball for the next play (rules say the ball should be placed where it was when the errant whistle sounded, stopping play, but no one in a striped shirt had any idea where Harry Phillips was as the ref tooted). While the referees huddled along Central’s sideline, their greatest challenge was evolving next to them - how to placate Coach E.B. “Red” Etter, who was, by then, living up to his nickname.
After a very long delay and discussions with both coaches, the officials seized upon a novel solution, deciding that the play never actually happened. (In golf it’s called a “do-over” or Mulligan.) They placed the ball at the original line of scrimmage and gave Central back the down. Etter was redder with that solution, which was well outside the rules book.  It ended up costing Central at least 4 points, as they had to settle for a field goal afterwards, just before halftime. 
The outcome wasn’t changed significantly, as Central won 38-7, but Harry Phillips’ stats for the game, season, and career are less one touchdown and about 50 yards rushing due to the blunder.
The following Monday, Coach Etter ran that play over and over on film, and several factors (other than insomnia and/or dementia) help explain the officials’ fumble:
1) Central’s left tackle Charlie Glenn put a “smother block” on the defensive end, causing a visual problem for players and referees alike; i.e., all that could be seen from the defensive side was a 235-pound wide body shoving a much smaller player into the defensive tackle and linebacker, causing a huge traffic jam.
2) Behind that traffic jam, Tommy Turner carried out the fake to perfection, hunching over to hide the area in his mid-section where the ball could have been seen, then spinning and fighting off tacklers as the pile grew. 
3) Phillips never showed the ball to the defense; even the defensive back coming up thought Phillips was a blocker and side-stepped him on his way to the pile, as Phillips ran by with the ball tucked behind his hip.
4) Kingsport’s players were complicit in fooling the officials, by the entire team’s piling on Turner. The refs were thus convinced that surely all 11 players wouldn’t be deceived by Phillips’ trickery, even though 5 or 6 officials might, and apparently were.
(It was) possibly the best-executed “no-play” in the annals of Chattanooga Central football. Central was punished for performing too well. The refs actually benefited most from the Mulligan that erased their abominable faux pas, while Kingsport was rewarded handsomely for being incompetent. Nothing like we were all taught in school and home, but maybe preparing us for reality after high school.
For once in history, the Indians caught a break from a governing body.
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Here is the obituary on Harry Phillips Jr.:
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Charles Sedman can be reached via email at

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