1975 instant classic still worthy of discussion

BILL MARTIN
The last time Rockdale and Cameron butted heads and weren’t pinned up in the same corral was in 1975.

Coincidently, Friday night will mark the 35th anniversary of the 1975 donnybrook between Rockdale and Cameron which is considered the greatest game in the series— Battle of the Bell or no.

People on both sides of the river still discuss the game with great reverence

After the smoke cleared and the bodies were unpiled, the Yoemen crawled away with a controversial 22-19 victory.

It was the second game of the season. Rockdale was coming off one of its biggest wins in histor y over Copperas Cove 61-0. The Yoemen had tackled Taylor 27-6.

The game featured a veritable who’s who of both Rockdale and Cameron athletics.

Four players who participated in that game are being inducted into the Rockdale Sports Hall of Honor in November.

Additionally, four players in that game—two from Rockdale and two from Cameron teamed up at Texas A&I to win a national championship a few years later.

Rockdale’s Martin Stroman is bottled up by Cameron’s Dennis Hollas (30) and Brian Wilkerson (44) in the 1975 Battle of the Bell. Rockdale’s Martin Stroman is bottled up by Cameron’s Dennis Hollas (30) and Brian Wilkerson (44) in the 1975 Battle of the Bell. It was witnessed by the largest crowd to ever watch the Battle of the Bell.

Six-thousand fans showed up at 3,500-seat Yoe Field, standing three deep around the fence and a dozen deep in the endzones.

“I can’t remember a thing about it,” joked former Tiger assistant Lew Simmonds. “No, really, it was probably as exciting a game as I have ever been a part of. Two of the best teams in the state playing a great football game.

“I can still remember them standing for what seemed like ten-deep around the fences.”

“I remember walking on the field and there was a giant R burned into the grass at the 50-yard line,” said All-State linebacker Randy Morgan. “Doyle Moore and I just went over and stood in it and looked up in the stands. It fired us up—no pun intended.”

“The Bell, the nerves, the excitement, the preparation, the pride, the competition, the trash talking,” said Ray Locklin, who started both ways for the Tigers in the game and had a 70-yard touchdown called back. “Your family, friends, town and school that you did not want to let down.”

“The hair still stands up on the back of my neck as I think about the Cameron game,” said Rockdale All-State defensive back Odis Mack. “I had friends in Cameron who were great athletes—Jafus White, Ronnie Bennett, Michael White—but all that friendship went out the window at game time.”

“I remember like it was yesterday,” said Rockdale quarterback Martin Stroman. “I remember the interception to end our chances. I remember the burned R on the field.”

“Great memories of what is the epitome of Friday night lights in Texas,” said Cameron’s Joe Smitherman, a twoway All-State performer for the Yoemen, who later played at Texas A&M. “Now I have a son that gets to experience the same. I hope his memories are as fond as mine.”

Smitherman’s sophomore son Josh will start at right tackle Friday.

Did he or didn’t he?

A lot of the remembrances revolve around something that didn’t even happen—or did it?

In the polarizing play, the Tigers faced fourth-and-10 from the Yoe 11-yard line, trailing 14-13 right before the end of the first half.

Stroman—the slithery Rockdale quarterback—dialed his own number and tightroped down the right sideline and dove for the pylon with two defenders and an official in tow on top of him.

The official jumped up and tossed his hat down to mark Stroman’s progress, which landed far left to where the ball—still cradled in Stroman’s right hand—had landed.

A measurement of the mark proved short. Yoemen ball.

You’ll never convince any Rockdale fan he didn’t score—or any Cameron fan that he did.

“Stroman faked the veer and went around the corner and as he was tackled he fell across the corner pylon, shoulders first, knees up,” Morgan said. “They put the ball on the 1 1/2 yard line and gave it to Cameron, no touchdown. We lose. They rocked our bus when we left town.”

The Tigers capitalized on a Jafus White (105 rushing yards) fumble to take a 19-14 lead in the third quarter on a Stroman to Don Wesley 21-yard hookup on fourth down.

Joey Mondrick crashed over from the two with 5:42 remaining in the game to seal the win 22-19 after a successful twopoint conversion by Yoe quarterback Michael White.

“Our coaches apologized to us in the dressing room afterwards because of the officiating,” Morgan said. “They were very upset. I looked over at Stroman and he had his head down and was red all over.

“He played as hard as I’ve ever seen anyone play and got pretty beat up.”

Stroman finished with 103 yards rushing on 23 carries and his four completions went for 93 yards, thus cementing his legendary status in Tiger football history.

“I still think Martin scored,” Simmonds said

“At the time, I thought I did (score),” Stroman said. “I thought I hit the pylon.”

That argument has gone on for decades and probably won’t subside anytime soon, especially on this side of the river.

Talent pool

As mentioned before, the talent reservoir on the field was unprecedented—probably perpetuating the high quality of the game.

“I do remember thinking neither team will ever have more outstanding athletes on the field than those on the field that night,” said Simmonds. “ I was and am very proud to have been a part of that very special evening.”

“I thought Cameron was the best looking team that I had ever seen walk on the field,” said Rockdale head coach Fred Johnson. “I coached quite a while after I left Rockdale and I never got on a field with a team that looked that good.”

“From the winning team standpoint, that game had to rank among my all-time high school favorites,” Smitherman said. “It was a war from start to finish. It capped a career with Rockdale in which my senior class never lost the bell, the final in a streak of five wins for the Yoemen.

“Of course, the very next year, Rockdale took the bell and went on to win a state title.”

Behind Smitherman and 6- foot-10, 225-pound tight end Ronnie “Big John” Bennett, the Yoemen out muscled the Tigers by nearly 60 pounds a man.

“Our offensive line had guys like Fred Cates, Frank Juarez, Lloyd Davidson and Keith Debault to name a few who were undersized but always played like supermen,” said Mack, who started both ways, had a 52- yard touchdown reception, a fumble recovery, an interception and 102 yards worth of kickoff returns. Whenever I hear the saying ‘it’s not the size of the dog in the fight but the size of the fight in the dog,’ I think about those guys.”

Mack’s touchdown against Jafus White came on the second play of the game after a Cameron fumble.

“There was dead silence on the Cameron side,” Mack said.

Immovable objects

Two players in particular left a lasting impression on Smitherman.

“The most prominent memories I have are of Ray Locklin and Martin Stroman,” Smitherman said. “I met Locklin at the line of scrimmage on a dive play, and we literally stood each other up. It was like he and I both hit a brick wall. We stood straight up at the line.”

Both Smitherman and Locklin checked in at 225 pounds.

“I thought for sure I had stopped him cold,” said Smitherman. “However he managed to escape my grasp, slide to his right and then ran for a first down. I think it was the drive that put the Tigers up 19-14 late.

“I also had one clean shot at Stroman who had to be one of the most elusive quarterbacks in the state. He had been faking a hand off and rolling outside all night.

“This time, I was blitzing and the play was unfolding just as it had several times that night. So I set my sights on blind siding his roll out.

“I guess he had a sixth sense but with his back to me, instead of rolling he tucked the ball and went inside, leaving me all alone in the backfield.”

“I say all this to say that nothing, absolutely, nothing, compares to the Rockdale-Cameron football game,” said Mack, who played at Rice. “You can go one and 10 for the season, but if you do, that win had better be over Cameron.”


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2010-09-09 digital edition



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