THE BOYS OF ‘62
J ohn F. Kennedy was president, “The Beverly Hillbillies” was television’s hottest program and Marilyn Monroe had just died.
\Alcoa was celebrating its 10th anniversary in Rockdale. Narrow ties and crew cuts were “in,” along with pillbox hats, made popular by First Lady Jackie Kennedy.
Construction on the World Trade Center wouldn’t start for another decade.
It was 1962, the second most important year in Rockdale football history as a motivated team of Tigers, coached by the legendary Ray Birchfield, came out of nowhere and ignited a football fever that washed over Rockdale like a Gulf Coast hurricane.
Those 1962 Tigers reached the Class 2A state finals, coming from behind in two of their playoff games and pulling off a stunning upset in a third.
Fourteen years later another Tiger team would win the state title. The difference between Fred Johnson’s 1976 state champs and Birchfield’s 1962 runners-up was simple.
Everybody knew the ‘76 Tigers were going to be good. The ‘62 team was the most pleasant surprise in school history.
When 45 Tigers reported to summer two-a-days in August there wasn’t much talk of post-season possibilities, let alone of a state finalist.
Rockdale had never won a post-season football game and had captured only one outright district title in its long grid history. The 1961 team finished an unimpressive 5-5.
But there were seeds of gold (blue and gold, actually) to be found that summer at Tigerland. Thirteen lettermen returned from a 1961 team that had lost only one district game and finished second to undefeated Hearne. (Only one team advanced to post season play.)
And the 1961 Tiger B-team—that’s what junior varsities were called then—was 9-0-1.
\Birchfield’s “by-the-book” offense featured halfback Ronny Menn’s legs and QB Dickie Summers’ arm but it was Birchfield’s defense that carried RHS to glory.
His 6-2 defense featured “tandem” linebackers L. B. Kubiak and Richard Sullivan beginning each play stacked one behind the other. The Tiger line would “loop left” or “loop right,” keep the blockers off the linebackers and “Sully” and “Kube” would find the ball carrier.
Rockdale opened strong with a 19-9 win over Giddings and a 52-6 mauling of Taylor. Menn, who also kicked extra points, ran wild. After three games he was District 19AA’s scoring leader with 29 points, 11 more than teammate Ronnie Brannon.
Then disaster struck.
Rockdale rolled over Elgin 36-8 in the season’s third week but Menn broke his ankle late in the first quarter. (He had already scored 2 TDs in the game).
The doctors’ verdict was that the Tiger star would be out for eight weeks. In all the years RHS had played football up to 1962 that would have been the end of Menn’s football season.
Rockdale’s offense wasn’t the same after the injury. The focus shifted to Summers’ passing and RHS survived Marlin 14-8. Summers’ 2-point PAT pass to Mike Sowers was the difference in an 8-7 cliffhanger over Brenham.
Rockdale was 5-0. Defending loop champ Hearne was the opponent to open 19AA play.
And Big Blue came up short. Hearne blocked a Tiger punt for the game’s only score in a 6-0 Eagle victory. It was a huge disappointment.
Whatever Rockdale did in the remaining 4 games, Hearne would probably have to lose twice or RHS would sit out the post-season.
Rockdale defeated outmanned Navasota 33-8. Hearne won.
The Tigers used a 77-yard punt return by Brannon to edge Caldwell 14-6. Hearne won.
With 2 games left, Hearne was 3-0 in district play while RHS and Caldwell were 2-1. Realistically, the Eagles had to lose twice for Rockdale to win district.
Lightly-regarded A&M Consolidated dominated the stats but somehow Rockdale’s 134 yards total offense resulted in a 15-7 victory.
And last-place Navasota, which had not won a district game, upset Hearne 25-12.
Last regular season game was against old rival Cameron while Hearne had to play Caldwell, still clinging to its own playoff hopes.
A district title seemed much more possible than it had just a week previously.
It was a night to remember. Rockdale crushed Cameron 46-16. (It’s still the largest margin of victory in any “Battle of the Bell” for a Tiger team). Caldwell blanked Hearne 18-0.
Rockdale had its second district football title in school history.
But RHS wanted more. “Football Fever Spreads Like Mumps” was The Reporter’s front-page headline. Tiger fans figured it was about time Rockdale won its first-ever post-season victory.
So the ‘62 Tigers went out and did just that. Trailing Lockhart 16-14 in the fourth quarter, Summers drove RHS 70 yards on 9 plays to the goahead TD and Rockdale added another for a 29-16 victory.
Rockdale had made history.
But RHS wasn’t content with just a bi-district title. Mason was the regional foe and Rockdale wanted more. The two teams couldn’t agree on a neutral side and flipped a coin for a “home-and-home” gamble.
J. M. Moorman, Rockdale superintendent, won the coin toss and 3,500 people packed Tiger Field the next Friday.
They saw an absolute, noholds barred classic.
Mason led 14-8 late in the third quarter. Rockdale had apparently scored but a 32- yard TD pass from Summers to Ernie Wayne Laurence was called back for holding.
Rockdale’s Copie Perry intercepted a Puncher pass and returned it 59 yards inside the Mason one. Summers went over on the next snap but RHS missed the extra point and it was 14-14 going to the fourth quarter.
Summers hit Ronney Seelke for a 5-yard TD, then dialed Seelke again for the 2-point PAT.
Rockdale led 22-14 and you could hear the noise from Tiger Field halfway to Austin.
Not so fast. Puncher quarterback Terry McMillian connected with Tim Schmidt on an 18-yard TD. A 2-point PAT would tie it. Fullback Dale Gipson came up a yard short and RHS kept its 22-20 lead.
And that was it. Rockdale, who two weeks earlier had never won a post-season football game, was regional champion.
But, of course, that would be the end of the line. Big Blue’s quarterfinal foe—and Tiger fans pinched themselves routinely in early December, 1962, to be sure they really were in the quarterfinals—was Humble.
Humble wasn’t even scored on in 1962 until the season was half over. The Wildcats had routed their two playoff opponents by a combined 80-36.
An estimated crowd of 5,000 packed the old rock stadium at Huntsville to see a blowout.
And they saw one.
Rockdale blocked two Humble punts and turned them both into touchdowns. Summers hit Perry with a 53- yard TD bomb and Big Blue put the game away with an interception and subsequent TD.
The game turned early. Wayne Voskamp blocked Humble’s first punt and recovered the ball for a TD. Summers and Perry then teamed up for a 53-yard TD strike that represented more yardage by itself than the RHS ground game would get all night.
Early in the third quarter, Kubiak blocked another Humble punt and Laurence recovered at the Wildcat 4.
Kubiak got the TD from a yard out, the heavy underdog Tigers were up 21-0 and the old rock field was rocking.
Humble scratched back to get within 21-16 but Rockdale’s Jimmy Killen intercepted a Wildcat pass, returning it to the one and Summers scored from there. That’s the way it ended, 27-16.
It was the fall of the Cuban missile crisis. Rockdale would probably have noticed if a nuclear war had broken out but everything else was football.
The Reporter’s front page photo before the semifinal game with Sinton was the 1962 Tiger team photo, spread out over almost a half page.
Headline on the city council story read: “City Council Talks Drainage, Football.” (Might have been a bit more accurate if the order of topics were reversed.)
Publisher W. H. Cooke reported that a traveler had stopped during the week at a local service station, asking directions to Waco, and was told: “Take a handoff to the left at the overpass and head down the sidelines.”
Over 5,500 persons packed Seguin’s Matador Stadium for the semifinal game and the Tigers did it again, 14-0 over the Pirates.
Summers connected with Seelke on a 38-yard TD toss and dialed Perry for the 53-yard clincher, aided by Laurence’s clearing block.
Rockdale was headed to the state finals.
The headline on Editor Bill Cooke’s sports column was “Next Thing To Getting Into Heaven.”
Rockdale High School Principal Charlie Martin, who knew a thing or two about motivation, reported: “We’re just kind of keeping them (students) in class. Their minds are on football. Equations and grammar are secondary right now.”
“This team is being followed by people who haven’t seen a football game in 25 years,” Cooke noted. “Never has this town been so gripped with enthusiasm, pride and anxiety for a team.”
The ending wasn’t pretty but at least those 40-year-ago Tigers don’t have any “if only I hadn’t dropped that pass in the state finals” memories.
State final opponent Jacksboro was awesome. Jacksboro was one of only two undefeated teams in the state and had outscored its 14 opponents by a combined 550-39.
Rockdale was hurting. An intestinal flu bug swept through the Tigers during the week. Quarterback Summers was ill but played.
Big Blue lost co-captain Ronnie Brannon (bad ankle) early in the game and defensive lineman Lester Gibson separated a shoulder in the first half.
Menn had returned during the playoffs but was still nursing a sore leg and was not the factor he had been prior to his injury. In fact, several Tigers were hurt and going to Austin for treatment.
Over 9,000 people packed Arlington Memorial Stadium, not far from brand new Six Flags Over Texas, to see Jacksboro win 52-0.
And yet, not too long after the final whistle it didn’t take long for perspective to set in.
A team that appeared headed for a second place finish in district in the season’s ninth week had reached the state finals, played until four days before Christmas and ended the season at 13-2.
Forty years later there’s still only one team, the 1976 state champs, that’s done better.
The 1962 Tigers did more than that. They set an example. Sage football observers of the time wouldn’t have listed Rockdale as among Class 2A’s most talented teams that year but nobody, absolutely nobody, worked harder.
And the team reached down deep, somehow, to pick up the slack after its main offensive threat (Menn) went down just three games into the season.
There’s something to be said for motivation. Maybe one story from 1962 sums it up.
Rockdale was supposed to be just opposition for Humble in that epic quarterfinal struggle in Huntsville. Tiger fans were hoping for an upset. Tiger players had more than hope.
Within the first two minutes sophomore Wayne Voskamp blocked a Wildcat punt and recovered it for a TD.
In the wild celebration that followed, Cooke noticed linebacker Sullivan heading to the sidelines.
So fired up that he could only speak between clenched teeth, Sullivan was muttering, words that Cooke could only make out as Sullivan came closer.
“They haven’t got a chance against us, not a chance,” Sullivan grunted. “Not a prayer.”
He was right.
the road to state
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