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 1961 football team, as most Citadel fans know, was the first to win a Southern Conference championship. While I graduated the previous June, I was at lieutenant in the Army that fall and stationed in Washington, D.C.
I firmly believe that the ’61 team, despite the championship trophy in their possession, was not the best Citadel team I had seen. They were a great team – perhaps not as talented as the previous two – but they had terrific cadet leadership.
Again, not to put down any other previous crew, but this ’61 group was an ideal team because of the great leadership.
Quarterback Billy Whaley, who also played third base on the baseball team, was the 1st Sergeant in R Company, which was the Honor Company for three years running. Backup quarterback Sid Mitchell was L Company Commander.
Our running backs were also leaders: Early Eastburn was the 3rd Battalion Commander and Tommy Edwards was the 2nd Battalion Commander while Belton Dykes was a Platoon Leader in N Company.
Others also held rank, including Charlie Brendle, Ed Harrington and Aubrey Reeves, to mention a few. There were a lot of cadet leaders on the team, and it showed. They were all well-known and well-liked.
I doubt that any another Citadel team has ever had the likes of that heavy and solid senior leadership.
It was, to a degree, a perfect storm of unique talent, experience and leadership, which are key ingredients for a championship team.
Further, they all had terrific careers afterwards, all becoming successful in all aspects, just like The Citadel wanted them to be and still does today.
Fashioning a 7-3 overall record (5-1 in the Southern Conference), the Bulldogs lost tough road games at Memphis State (40-0 in the opener) and at Florida State (44-8). But it was the Oct. 21 victory (9-8) over Furman at Johnson Hagood Stadium on Parents Day (and eventually the Nov. 4 win at VMI [14-8]) that sealed our first league title.
That was also the year that Furman moved to their current site in Greenville.
The Furman game, being a natural in-state rival, was naturally going to be an intense contest and if we lost, we would no longer be in the running for the championship.
That year was also the first year, as I recall, that I-26 opened, making the trip to Greenville a lot easier (but not as easy as it is today).
The Wednesday prior to the Saturday game, much of the Corps of Cadets – probably a thousand, at least – ventured on the new Interstate to raid the new Furman campus by painting things, as kids back then did. A S.C Highway Patrolman saw the hordes of Cadets heading up I-26 – evidently knowing the game was that weekend – and gave Furman a “heads up” they were en route.
Needless to say, Furman was prepared and fireworks (not the pyrotechnic type) ensued.
However, not all of the Cadets returned to campus (as some were – shall we say – detained. Those that did return, came back with their heads shaved and walked their numerous tours on Summerall Field.
As I mentioned, I was stationed in Washington at the time. I was with a buddy, Mac Burton, a Marine whom I knew from R Company. We read about the ordeal in The Washington Post, got on a DC-3 plane, and flew to Charleston on a stormy night, as I recall.
The Citadel won the game, 9-8, on a late field goal by Hall of Famer, Bill “The Toe” Gilgo.
Two weeks later, we defeated VMI for the championship.
I’ll always remember that game because of the great leadership on the team, that it was a terrific game and that not all of our Cadets were able to return from Greenville.
In hindsight, I think that the 1961 game was so big that it took the Furman-Citadel rivalry to an entirely new level.