Back (and a fine one) to 1956 Refrigerator Bowl
I n the mid-1950s, there wasn’t the proliferation of college football “bowl” games that we have today. You could probably count the ones for small colleges on one hand and maybe have a digit or two left over.
Recently, in a column I mentioned then-Sam Houston State Teachers College (SHSTC) (9-0) playing in the Refrigerator Bowl in Evansville, Ind.
This brought a letter from a member of that team, Edward “Eddie” Grubbs of Silsbee, a freshman quarterback for that group. Eddie had seen my column in The Rockdale Reporter.
In 1956, I was a full time sophomore student and full time sports publicity director for SHSTC. At age 19, I got to take my first airplane flight and to leave the state of Texas for the first time.
It was also my first bowl game. There may have been ot her firsts for this small-town boy but for the column’s purposes, we’ll deal with these three. Sam Houston (the Bearkats) flew out of Bryan (the nearest “big” airport to Huntsville) on a twoprop plane.
The aircraft held the team, coaches, some school officials, the cheerleaders and a few fans who could afford the fare. One of the fans on the flight, a Huntsville businessman, was inebriated when we boarded Friday and was in the same condition when we flew back to Texas after the Saturday game, won by Sam Houston 27-13 over 7-2 Middle Tennessee State (MTS).
Upon our arrival in Evansville, the plane was met by two representatives of the bowl sponsor, and SHSTC line coach Mance Park and I were whisked away to a TV station for an interview.
On the way, I was provided a couple of local papers, which established MTS as a 13-point favorite. During the TV station’s sports show, Coach Park and I were interviewed. Typical of coaches, Park expressed the standard line of “we’re just lucky to be selected and happy to be here.”
On the other hand, teen me didn’t know any better than to spout Sam Houston’s impressive statistics, including the fact that six running backs could run the 100-yard dash in 10 seconds flat or better.
The next morning, Evansville papers had the Bearkats as a seven-point favorite. Sam Houston head coach Paul “Red” Pierce was a bit upset with me. Most coaches don’t like to be favored because it raises fans’ and alumni expectations.
But, back to Friday night. There was a giant dinner-dance at a coliseum in Evansville, celebrating the bowl game. There was a sizable contingent of MTS representatives there but the Sam Houston cheerleaders, a couple of fans and I were the Bearkat “bowl party.”
The three Bearkat male cheerleaders quickly departed to check out the social-scape of Evansville, so it was left to a couple of fans, the three female cheerleaders and me to uphold Sam Houston honor.
I felt obligated to see to the protection of the remaining cheerleaders. The aforementioned inebriated Huntsville businessman (let’s call him Jack) was at the table, holding forth, peeling 20s and 50s off his bankroll, buying rounds of drinks and handing out cash. Since I appeared to be the “escort” of all three female cheerleaders, the businessman kept poking money in my pockets, and praising my “way with women.” Boy, was he fooled. I was a glorified chaperone but I went home with $200 more than I had when we left Huntsville.
We did a little dancing and generally enjoyed the bash but leave it to Jack to pull the capper for the evening.
There was a woman singer with the band, who was good-sized and had a strong voice, a la Ethel Merman, and she wore a dress daring for that day and time. It was strapless and backless all the way down to just above her derriere.
Jack sat next to me, to his left, and had “Ethel” on his right, his arm draped around her shoulders. Once in a while, he’d rub his hand across her back and say, “That’s a !@#$ fine back, lots of it, but a !@#$ fine back.”
By golly, he was suave and debonair. And, that was my introduction to The Big Time.