Tuesdays with Tony: Col. Lackey Recalls a Classic Game for the Silver Shako

The Bulldogs will look to retain the coveted Silver Shako trophy when they host VMI on Nov. 16.

The Bulldogs will look to hold onto the coveted Silver Shako trophy when they host VMI on Nov. 16.

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

Personally, I am thrilled that VMI will be returning to the Southern Conference because we always had a great rivalry with them.  But the October 25, 1975 football game in Lexington, Va., is one that I’ll always remember for several reasons.

It was Coach Bobby Ross’s third season at The Citadel and he had yet to defeat his alma mater.  We were, of course, playing for the Silver Shako and although we had great talent on that squad, we were experiencing a tough season due to an unusual number of injuries to key players.  But that’s part of the game, and we still went up there with every intention to win.

Our running back, Hall of Famer Andrew Johnson, was one of those injured (in the Colgate game five weeks earlier). Andrew was truly one of the best running backs I’ve ever seen and it was tough to play without him.  However, he traveled with us for the VMI game and his presence was simply a true inspiration for the squad.

At the motel the night before the game, the atmosphere was simply electric. The team had position and group meetings, and then they took a game-plan test based on the scouting reports.  The intensity was something above anything I had seen before. After the team had “lights out,” and the coaches were gathering for a last talk.  There was a noise coming from the swimming pool area.

Bobby Ross started his illustrious head coaching career in Charleston, leading the Bulldog football team from 1973-77.

Bobby Ross started his illustrious head coaching career in Charleston, leading the Bulldog football team from 1973-77.

It seems that one of the coaches called for Coach Ross, and he went to the pool only to discover that Andrew was trying to cut the cast off his leg in hopes of convincing the coaches and (trainer) Andy Clawson that he was ready, if they needed him. What a great wonderful heart Andrew had!

Back then, VMI was a very, very good team and extremely tough to beat in Lexington.  I recall that it was an emotional game for Coach Ross as he had many family members and friends at the game, including his father.

We had about 700 cadets of our own travel for the game, including our Regimental Band.  Regardless of the outcome, it was going to be a terrific afternoon.

Unlike they do today, VMI’s Corps of Cadets did not march onto the field pregame but circled inside the stadium on the track and filed into their seats in somewhat of a solemn, quiet ritual.

I was the football team’s TAC officer then and we were going through our regular pregame routine of warm-ups.  The visiting locker room was underneath the stands on the opposite side of the field and as we concluded our pregame warm-ups, we were heading toward our locker room.  But their Corps was still marching, solemnly, to their seats.  As it turned out, we trampled over them, wiped out a company of VMI cadets that, truthfully, caused such a stir that it later was reported in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

One player later recalled that “We kinda ran into them.”  Yeah, right!

Naturally, Coach Ross apologized profusely but in reality, we (and he) loved it.

That was only the beginning.

As noted, injuries hit us hard and we played with a reserve center, a second- or third-stringer, I don’t recall exactly.  But I remember that I was teaching Army ROTC that semester and one of VMI’s defensive linemen sent a letter to one of our offensive linemen, saying that they were looking forward to seeing us up there.  A little written intimidation, I’m certain.

The game kicked off, and it was one of those back-and-forth games as both teams emphasized the run game.  Because of that, the contest moved quickly.

With about a minute or so left in the game, we were winning, 6-3.  The Keydets had a 4th-and-goal from about our 1-yard line and instead of going for the tie, they went for the touchdown and win.

Their big running back was handed the ball and he took two steps forward. Our middle linebacker, All-American Brian Ruff, shot the gap and knocked the runner backwards.  The hit that South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney put on that Michigan runner last year in the bowl game reminded me of the tackle that Ruff put on that VMI runner.  As Ruff hit him – and the running back didn’t get up – the ball flew in the air, we recovered it, and eventually ran out the clock to win the game, 6-3.

It was a classic hit, one that everyone who was at the game will always remember.

Brian Ruff was known for his toughness and leadership on and off the field and was the first player to have his jersey (No. 51) retired.

Brian Ruff was known for his toughness and leadership on and off the field and was the first player to have his jersey (No. 51) retired.

But I can still see how excited Coach Ross was afterwards, having finally defeated his alma mater and in front of his many friends and relatives.  I later learned that Coach Ross invited his father into The Citadel’s locker room afterwards and joined in a celebration that only the players can tell about.

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