recall a little football game we played the day after Thanksgiving Day, 1962. We had to travel down to Marietta to play the Lemon Street High Hornets for the North Georgia Championship. What made this such an intriguing game was the fact that over two months earlier, Marietta had beaten us by a score of 32-6. Before we left the Lemon Street Gym that night, Mr. Cabbell said, “only one team in Georgia would beat Lemon Street this year”, asked who, Mr. Cabbell said, “us”!
Marietta went undefeated; we lost one other game, a 19-14 defeat to Decatur. In doing so, Lemon Street and Butler High won our respective Conferences. This set up the championship game between us. On Thanksgiving Day, the Green Bay Packers played the Detroit Lions in the annual Thanksgiving Day NFL Game. Green Bay was undefeated going into the game, and Detroit had a losing record. Our Assistant Football Coach was Mr. Emory Lightfoot. He was in charge of our defense. He watched the Packer/Lions game in which the Lions upset the Packers by playing, for that era, a new defense called the “gap defense.” Rather than lining the defensive linemen’s head on the offensive linemen, Detroit played off the outside shoulders of the Packer’s offensive linemen. This was very effective; Detroit bottled up Hornung and Taylor and went on to defeat Green Bay by a score of 26-14.
The next morning Mr. Lightfoot had us practice this defense for the game we were going to play that night in Marietta. It worked perfectly for us. We were able to stop Marietta’s powerful offense, led by quarterback Zelman Freeman and running back Jackie Menefee. Marietta had other potent weapons in Harold and Donald Bates, Cecil Blount, Roosevelt Phillips, his brother (Chopper), and a host of others.
In our first meeting, Marietta got their scoring started by blocking my first punt. Roosevelt Phillips burstthrough the center of our line and when Icame through with the punt,there he was slapping the ball back beyond me. We called Roosevelt Phillips “Tooth Pick” because he played the entire game with a tooth pick in his mouth. They went on to a 26-0 halftime lead. Inthe second half, we played to a 6-6 tie.
In thechampionship game, Tooth Pick again burst through the line and blocked my first punt, Lemon Street went on to score first. Although it was an away game, we had almost as many fans in the stands as they had. During our week of practice leading up to the game, Mr. Cabbell had come up with an offensive play. The play was a direct snap through Richard Wright’s legs to Roger Smith (Big Red). We had James Willie Mack (Big Doole) as a reciever. Big Doole would run to the first down stick andBig Red would arch a pass (alley oop) toBig Doole. This play worked several times in the first half. Lemon Street started cheating towards Big Doole’s side of the field.After Marietta scored, Big Red looked at Big Doole and saw a host of Hornets covering him, he then looked at me in the right flat, I was uncovered so hehit me with the pass. I was able to run the ball down to the 2 yard line before Jackie Menefee caught me (I actually passedout, fainted!). Melvin Tanner had to come in to take my place as I was stillout of iton the bench.On the next play we were called for “clipping”, at that time, a 15 yard penalty, moving the ball back to the 17. On the next play, Richard found Melvin Tannerrunning free deep in the end zone and hit himfor the touchdown. Melvin made a beautiful catch, finger tip grab. We were back in the game, Tigers 7, Hornets 6.
We traded touchdowns from then on, and wound up winning the game 19-18. Strange thing, but on every try for point after touchdown, Marietta ran the same play, an off tackle slant to Jackie Menefee. The play was run to theleft side of our defense, that’s where I played defensive end, Jerry (mybrother) played linebacker, Rogers Stephens played tackle and Big Red was the middle linebacker. We bottled the play up each time and denied them any extra points. We also had a goal line stand in the game that took the life out of the Hornets.
In looking back on that great night, several things worked out of us:
1. We were determined to beat Marietta. For five years preceeding the blow out of 1962, Lemon Street and Fair Street/Butler High games ended in ties, 13-13, 6-6, 0-0, 0-0, 0-0;
2. Our coaches did an outstanding job preparing us for this game;
3. Our community came out to support us, driving from Gainesville down to Marietta;
4. Neither team wanted to go onto the field first, the referees had to put both teams on the clock with a threat of penalty if we did not come out. When we came out, both teams hit the field at the same time, the cheers was deafening;
5. Our band was louder than Lemon Street’s Band, Mr. Camp had them fired up;
6. Mrs. Amanda Keith (Deborah’s Mother) promised to bake cakes for the team if we won!!
We did it!!!!!!!