EDITOR’S NOTE: Col. Tony Lackey ’61 has been around Citadel Athletics since the mid-1950s and provides a weekly blog on some of the sports highlights that he recalls.
By Col. Tony Lackey ‘61
As told to Andy Solomon
The Citadel certainly possesses several football rivals and many point to VMI and Furman as our primary ones. I concur, but dearly love playing against the Paladins because of the in-state location.
There was a time we played Furman regularly in the last game of the season and it was usually our Homecoming game, and in 1973 – Coach Bobby Ross’s first year – such was almost the case although we hosted and lost to Davidson a week later. The Paladins, our Homecoming opponent that year, came into Johnson Hagood Stadium on Nov. 10. Furman arrived undefeated, and we were much better than our final 3-8 overall mark (1-6 in the Southern Conference).
Coach Ross and Furman coach Art Baker – who would later coach the Bulldogs from 1978-82 – were both good friends and football rivals. With their competitiveness, they used to battle each other on the tennis courts during the old Southern Conference Football Rousers and would end up facing each other in the finals. Marathon battles, as I recall, and I believe that Coach Ross won more.
The coaches’ aggressive personalities possibly carried over to the Corps of Cadets and several Cadets labeled themselves “Furman Raiders.” These guys invaded the Furman campus in the middle of the week and they got caught. For their failed efforts, they received 60 demerits and 120 tours (and were fortunate to get only that).
Furman, as I said, was undefeated and featured a terrific quarterback in David Whitehurst, who later played for the Green Bay Packers. Whitehurst’s son played at Clemson and later in the NFL.
We had very little depth and, as it often occurs, we were banged up with injuries. But we had Andrew Johnson, truly one of the most gifted running backs I’ve ever seen.
As the football team’s TAC Officer at the time, I was on the field for pregame warm-ups and I recall that two Furman assistant coaches approached Coach Ross after our warm-ups and asked if the Paladins could wear their purple jerseys (they were supposed to have worn white as we were in blue).
Coach Ross told the assistant coaches, in essence, that “You can wear skirts, if you want.” (Furman ended up wearing their white jerseys.)
Several players overheard the conversation, had a laugh, but it kind of inspired them.
Furman kicked off and we had a return to about the 40-yard line or so. On the first play from scrimmage – or maybe the second – Johnson ran about 60 yards for a touchdown and Johnson Hagood Stadium went crazy. I think he finished with three touchdowns on the day.
We took an early lead but Furman came back strong to tie it up. Again, Johnson was dynamic and finished with 172 yards on the game as we ended with an unexpected 26-21 upset victory.
With it being Homecoming and playing Furman, the stadium erupted after the cannon blasted for the final time.
I remember that The State newspaper’s Herman Helms was at the game and he was so impressed with Johnson that he referred to the future Hall of Famer as “a little Jim Brown,” as in the Cleveland Browns’ dominating rusher.
Every time I think of Andrew Johnson, I also think of Coach Rusty Hamilton, who recruited Johnson out of Savannah, but that is also another story for another day.
Not only did I believe that it was one of the best wins in the terrific Citadel-Furman rivalry, but I remember that Gen. (George) Seignious, who was our president then, called it a “very special win.”
Again, I was glad that we played Furman on Homecoming, and happier that we won. But Andrew Johnson once again stole the show.