Tuesdays with Tony: Col. Lackey Recalls A Thriller Against Memphis State in 1958

JHS 1958

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

Today I want to reflect on the 1958 football season.  It wasn’t necessarily a great season as we finished with a 4-6 overall record (2-3 in the Southern Conference).  We were playing with many of the young players that Coach John Sauer and his top assistant, Al Davis (yes, THAT Al Davis), had recruited.

However, this was Coach Eddie Teague’s second season at The Citadel, and we got off to a horrible start as we lost our first three games (to Newberry and Davidson at Johnson Hagood Stadium and at Wofford).  Our next game was at Memphis State.

Memphis was coming off a close loss or even a tie game against their rival, Ole Miss, who was ranked nationally.  It was also Memphis’s Homecoming game, and they were supposed to beat us handily and in front of a huge crowd.

The Memphis coach was the legendary Billy “Spook” Murphy, who visited with Coach Teague prior to the game.  Coach Murphy informed Coach Teague that it would probably be best if The Citadel’s buses were moved to a secluded parking area near the end zone so the team could leave right after the game, implying that we would get whipped and would want to leave as soon as possible.

Well, assistant coach Pride Ratteree, one of the all-time favorite assistants ever to coach at The Citadel, overheard this conversation and he really got upset to the point that assistant coach Hank Witt had to restrain him by grabbing him and pulling him away.

This fired up the Bulldogs.

I don’t recall the specifics, but Memphis led for most of the game until the last 3-to-4 minutes when Britt Knox caught a pass from I believe Jerry Nettles, who was making his first career start.   We eventually won the game, 28-26, in what was one of the biggest upsets in the nation that week.

Later that season, Homecoming rolled around and VMI came to Charleston.  Now VMI was on a 19-game non-losing streak having tied Penn State earlier.  That tie put the Keydets on the front of Sports Illustrated.

Yep, the Sports Illustrated curse looms on the horizon.

Our starting quarterback, Hall of Famer Bobby Schwarze, was injured as was Nettles, so our third-string quarterback, Dick Guererri, a veteran student from Geneva, NY, filled in.  VMI had fumbled a lot and I’m sure that our defense had a lot to do with it.  But we won the game, 14-6, and there was much celebration in town because it was also Homecoming.

Citadel Media Guide 1958

That was also the game in which tennis player Jim Jeffrey and his pals “kidnapped” the mascot that WCBD-TV (then-called WUSN) had on their front yard, which was an elephant named “Suzie Q.”  But that’s another story for another day.

Still with the ’58 season and right after the VMI win, we played the University of Georgia in Athens.  Those Bulldogs were coached by Wally Butts, and he scheduled us as a tune-up for their annual battle with Georgia Tech.

That Georgia team featured quite a few standout athletes that eventually had successful NFL (or coaching) careers that included Charlie Britt (Rams), Bobby Walden (Steelers), Jimmy Orr (Colts), Pat Dye (Auburn) and a young quarterback named Fran Tarkenton (Vikings).  Needless to say, they were loaded.

And after our beating VMI, Georgia was more than ready for us.

It was a hot, November day (Nov. 22) in Athens and we had about 500 cadets there for the contest.  I remember that Bobby Crouch of Salisbury, NC was the only freshman to start (I believe that Paul Maguire was hurt), and he caught a touchdown pass that was called back.

Coach Butts, toward the end of the game, re-inserted his starters to which Coach Teague yelled to him from across the field, “What are you doing?  Do you think we’re going to stage a serious comeback?”

Back then (and possibly still), UGA had a bell that they rung after the game and the number of times they rang the bell reflected the number of points they scored.  Well, they won the game, 76-0, but our cadets weren’t going to let them ring that bell.

Many of those 500 cadets returned to the bus to secure the hanger that their jackets were on (remember, it was a hot day).  Using their hangers, the cadets wired that bell where it couldn’t ring.  However, their band – truly one of the best in the South – got the last laugh as they played “76 Trombones” afterwards.

But what I remember most about that 1958 team was that it was the foundation for the successes that our 1960 and ’61 teams were to later enjoy as they won the Tangerine Bowl and Southern Conference title in back-to-back years.

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