Behr: Good football never goes out of style
I can be annoying in the press box. A team will be facing a fourth-and-8 from around the 50-yard line and I’ll be suggesting to anybody who will listen to quick-kick the ball.
Hey, Wofford coach Mike Ayers kept Appalachian State bottled up inside its own 10-yard line during the first half of a Terriers victory in 2007 by quick-kicking three times.
I’m just saying.
Anyway, I’ve tried to learn as much about the old American Football League as I can. I don’t have a reason. It just interests me.
I like listening to the interviews of the players from that era. Football was starting to become more sophisticated, and yet not the computer video game that it can be today.
It was the same for me this week when I was listening to the guys from the 1962 state AA Region 3 championship team from Appalachian High School.
They were interesting, not only in relieving the games, but the landmarks in Boone that I had to use my imagination to recreate.
All I had was a yearbook, some players who were on that team, and a wild imagination to go by. I pictured them playing in the newly constructed Conrad Stadium in their blue and white uniforms destroying another opponent. I even pictured me wearing one of those press hats and a wrinkled white shirt and disheveled black tie up in the press box.
There’s an image to forget.
I saw them in those long-sleeved uniforms, maybe in a rainstorm, running out of the Fullhouse T formation that teams ran back then. I saw Bob Matheson, arguably the best prep football player (Danny Triplett from the 1978 Watauga state 3-A championship team is the other best player from this county, from what I’ve been told. Eric Breitenstein also deserves to be mentioned with the top Watauga County players.) just breaking tackles from his fullback position, and breaking running backs from his linebacker position.
I would hate to tackle or block that guy.
And I picture Jack Groce, who was Bill Walsh before there was a Bill Walsh. His style wasn’t to grab facemasks, kick players in the butt and yell at them until folks in Tennessee told him to quiet down.
Instead, the players told me that he simply believed in using his player’s brains and superior conditioning to win games.
The respect he earned, and still owns from his players, is obvious.
“Jack Groce was just a genius when it came to preparing his teams to play,” said Chuck Blanton, who was a junior receiver on the ’62 team. “I tell you what, everybody who played under Jack Groce benefits to this day from that type of conditioning. I think we all enjoy pretty good health from being put into that shape. Personally I feel that way.”
Groce had his teams feeling like they could play in the NFL. He sent Matheson to the NFL after a stop at Duke.
“I just can really say enough about Jack Groce as a coach,” said Wayne Clawson, who was a junior linebacker on the team. “He had a leadership quality. We were all convinced that he just knew precisely what to do and when to do it. I don’t know if he did or not, but he had me convinced.”
The feeling of respect is mutual. Groce got the players to work hard, and the players took pride in knowing if they did what their coach said, they’d be successful.
It’s not always automatic. Kids are kids. Some will walk through the fire to win a football game. Some won’t. It’s just the way it is.
Appalachian’s kids were firewalkers.
“It was more of the kids that we had than the type of offense or defense we ran, or the coaching they got,” Groce said. “They were just an outstanding group of people.”
It always helps to have smart players. It does a coach no good to teach a scheme to a group of players who can’t grasp the concept, or execute it on the field.
That wasn’t a problem with the 1962 team, according to Groce.
“If any one thing separates this team from other teams, it’s the fact that we had a group of good students,” Groce said. “We had smart kids. To me, they would always catch on fast to what we were trying to do and that made the difference.”
The team will be recognized tonight at Watauga’s homecoming game against South Caldwell, which begins at 7:30 p.m. They’ll have a reunion today before the game, and then get together again after the game tonight.
They’ll remember the wins. They’ll remember playing all of their games on the road in 1961 while Conrad Stadium was being built.
Just send me the game film of the 1962 season and I’ll be good to go — for a long time.