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Ode to the Case: Baylor Football in the 1950's

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In the midst of unprecedented success on the football field and the imminent opening of shiny new McLane stadium, it is fitting to take a walk down memory lane to remember the good times (and some not so good times) from Baylor’s 64 years at Floyd Casey Stadium. This multi-part series looks at Baylor football through the eyes of a fan who was in the stands for the first game, the last game and all in between.

[Ed. Note: This is part 2 of the Ode to The Case series that began yesterday, penned by Grin & Bear It and his father, who was at The Case from the beginning. If you haven't had the chance, check out the first section here. The series will be taking a break over the weekend, with the next segment landing on Monday. Enjoy!]

Football in the 1950's

I attended the first football game at Baylor Stadium on September 30, 1950; I was nine years old.  Baylor played Houston and won without the stadium even completed. Large sections of the stadium were still under construction and were roped off.  We sat on the east side and at some point during the game a ball came into the stands.  A teenager pounced on the ball and passed it about halfway up the stands to an accomplice.  The accomplice then turned and passed it to another at the very top of the stadium and the ball was then dropped to the ground presumably to the fourth member of their band of thieves.  Before anyone really knew what was happening all three of the in-stadium boys made a run for it and another ball had to be found by the officials.  It was a very funny scene, probably never repeated since.

At all games in the early ‘50's, Baylor had their mascot on the sidelines.  I am not talking about Bruiser the costumed human; I am talking about a full-grown bear on the sidelines at the games. Only later did Baylor switch to having cubs at the games, but at the time the bears were big and they looked mean. There were always two student handlers on each bear and at times they fought mightily to keep the bear under control.  The bears had on thick leather collars with chains attached to them.  The handlers had to be very vigilant to maintain control and for the most part they were successful.  After the game the handlers would parade the bear around the infield of the stadium for the fans to see.  Later in that inaugural season at Baylor Stadium, I attended the Baylor vs. Texas game. Texas won and I was disappointed.  I have particularly disliked losing to Texas throughout the years and unfortunately saw that happen quite a few times.  The thing that stands out the most was the lady in front of me had a big bag of peanuts and they sure looked good. She offered me some but even though I wanted some, I politely declined her offer.  I am not sure why, I just did not feel like I should take them.

Some of the outstanding players of the time were: Cotton Davidson, Larry Isbell, Jerry Coody, Del Shofner, and L.G. "Long Gone" Dupre.  I saw them all play and wished we could have had them in the late ‘90's and early 2000's.  Baylor would have certainly won a few more games.

I saw Baylor play SMU at the Cotton Bowl In '54 with SMU ranked 11th in the country.  Baylor emerged victorious on the outstanding play of Del Shofner, who almost singlehandedly won the game.  He intercepted a pass and returned it for a touchdown, he ran the ball, was the punter, and lined up on many plays as a receiver. That sort of thing would never happen these days.  L.G. was just a solid all-around running back and so was Jerry Coody.  In the SMU game, Coody was assigned the seemingly impossible task of blocking Tiny Goss.  Despite his name, Tiny was an enormous defensive tackle. Even though Coody was a much smaller running back he was up to the challenge.  When to dust had settled Tiny went to the bench less some teeth. No one wore facemasks back then and dental rearrangement was somewhat common.

By the ‘55 season I was a freshman in high school and our football coach, a Baylor grad, would get a school bus and take our football team into Waco for every home game.  End zone tickets were 75 cents and we always sat on the concrete stairs in the north end zone.  During the '55 season we watched #1 ranked Maryland come to Waco and win 20-6, but it was a hard fought affair.  That was the end of the George Sauer era and Sam Boyd, a Baylor letterman and a 1938 All American became the new coach beginning in ‘56. Coach Boyd won 9 games that year and went to the Sugar Bowl and beat Tennessee who was at the time the #2 team in the nation.  It was a great Baylor victory and would definitely rank as one of the top Baylor football moments of history.  The game was marred by a fight on the field that resulted in a Tennessee player leaving the field with cleat marks on his face and an official apology given to the injured player after the game.  Details were never really found out but there was a big stink over it.

The ‘57 season had only 3 victories, but I still attended every home game.  Where could you spend a mere 75 cents and have that much fun?  By the ‘58 season the wheels were coming off for Sam Boyd with the Texas A&M game providing the final straw.  A&M was the 6th game of the season and Baylor was 3-2.  A&M took the opening kickoff and Charlie Milstead ran it back for touchdown.  That was the only score that A&M had for the first 3 quarters and going into the 4th quarter Baylor lead 27-7.  After a monumental 4th quarter collapse Baylor ultimately lost 33-27.  Although Boyd finished out the season, all the talk was that the A&M game was his last.  The Sam Boyd era saw some very good players. Examples include Larry Hickman, Buddy Humphrey who was just a hard nose little QB, Jerry Marcantell, Bill Glass who was an All American in ‘56, Charley Bradshaw, Clyde Ledbetter and Paul Dickson to name a few.  Another player with great promise as a QB was Doyle Traylor, but he never played up to initial expectations after he broke his leg in practice.

John Bridgers was the new coach beginning in ‘59. He had a whole host of good players including Ronnie Bull and Jim Evans at RB, Bobby Ply and Ronnie Stanley at QB, Bill Hicks at center and Herb Atkins at guard. Atkins was short but extremely strong and let no one push him around. By the '59 season, I was a freshman at Baylor.  I always wore a suit or sports coat with tie to all the games and had moved to much higher quality seats in the student section from the north end zone seats that I was accustomed to.  Freshman sat in the card section and during the game we would hold up cards that would make into some sort to message or slogan that could be read from the west side.  At times people would intentionally hold up the wrong card, but the messages were usually legible to our parents and alumni on the West side of the stadium.

That season, Baylor beat Texas Tech in Waco and that was the only home game we won.  Baylor lost the homecoming game to TCU which was of particular importance to all of us freshmen.  Tradition held that all freshmen wear their slime caps at all times until the homecoming game.  Homecoming at that time was always played against either TCU or A&M.  Upon victory, the slime caps could be retired.  If Baylor lost their homecoming game, the caps had to be worn until the Thanksgiving break. Although tradition mandated otherwise, many of the slime caps, including my own, had long since been in the closet by the homecoming game.  That year Baylor had a tough schedule and ended up playing 5 top 25 teams, including #1 LSU, #3 Texas, and #4 USC. Sadly, they lost each game.

Next Up:  Ode to the Case - Baylor Football in the 1960's