by Louis Vodopya
It was the fall of the year, in
more ways than one. In 1950, Peabody Demonstration School fielded its
last football team, with a squad of 14 hardy souls. It was written up in
the Nashville Banner with a picture of Coach Tommy (Fig) Newton kneeling
on the field, supposedly discussing the upcoming season with the seven
lettermen shown with him. He was more likely praying for more players.
The great coach, Joe Shapiro, had deserted Peabody for West High two
years before. He had apparently seen the handwriting on the wall and
dropped us in Newtons lap. We were saddled with an 11 game losing streak
to start the 1950 season. We couldn’t do any worse. Oh, yeah?
The lettermen were (future Judge) John Nixon, Ronnie Snell, Buddy Marugg,
Sammie Shannon, Ed Davis, Bill Litterer, and Jimmy Cox. The other
players were Sophmores Julian Zander, Arville Wheeler, and Gareth
Griffin and Freshmen Scotty Sudduth, Bernie Quinn, Jim Wright, and me,
Louis Vodopya. We later picked up ‘Muscles’ Morris, a strapping 6 foot
tall, 123 pound, glue fingered end. I was listed in the paper as a 133
pound fullback. I weighed about 153. Newton had listed us all about 20
pounds below our actual weight. This was supposed to psych out our
opponents when they actually saw our brawny bodies. That struck me as
being as effective as a herd of elephants, (our opponents), expecting to
play agains’t a herd of monkeys and then encountering a herd of
wildebeest. So what.
But we were well dressed wildebeest. We had brand new nylon jerseys and
pants in a two tone blue similar to the Tennessee Titans of today. If
they’d known that, I’m sure they would have picked other colors.
Coach Newton had an absolutely gorgeous red headed wife named Bunny. She
came to practically all our practices. It occurred to me years later
that this was probably another of his psychological ploys. He knew that
none of us would get fed up and quit with Bunny on the sidelines.
Whatever Newton lacked in football expertise, he more than made up for
with cunning and guile.
As far as football talent was concerned, Wheeler could have been a
competent college quarterback and Jim Wright could have been a pro. The
rest of us were just there, sacrificing our bodies for the cause. We
were all on the field for the whole game. There were no offensive or
defensive players in those days and with that squad. We all swung both
ways, so to speak, except Wheeler. We couldn’t afford to lose our only
quarterback. That would have left it up to me and I could fling a
football 80 yards, to whoever was there. But as to handing it off to
someone else, I was all fumble fingers.
Our first scrimmage day of practice, (7 agains’t 7), John Nixon and I
were both knocked out of a play, on the first play. He turned to me, on
the ground, and said, ‘Do you think we’re overtrained?’ That absolutely
carried me through the season. He used to say, ‘What do we have to lose?
Nobody expects anything of us. Let’s just have fun.’ I learned to take
the season with a grain of salt.
Nixon also kept our opponents off guard with one activity that went on
all season. He was left end and Bill Litterer, his best friend off the
field, was left tackle. Litterer was a moose who could destroy a whole
line if he was a mind to but he was basically a peaceful sort. Nixon
frequently spent the whole game literally kicking Litterer in the butt,
and screaming at him, to make him mad so he’d do damage to the other
team. It usually worked.
We played Howard the first game, with Jason Papuchis, an all state
guard, leading a TSSAA contender. We got away clean, only losing 46 to
0, with no life threatening injuries.
Our second game was Bellevue, with Charley Johnson, an all state running
back. He only ran over me once in our 47 to 0 loss. That was the one
time I got in front of him. I scrupulously avoided him after that.
Our third game was agains’t an unknown team, since they were from the
far country, Hendersonville. They had, so we were told, a 230 pound
bullback, (no, that’s not misspelled). I still carry an ache in my right
kidney, where he ran over my back. I thought I was at Pamplona. We kept
it close, 40 to 7.
Then, behold and lo, we broke the losing streak. We won a game. Joelton
was in their first year of football and they showed up at PDS on
homecoming. Now, homecoming in those days was truly a homecoming for us
since we had played the first three games on the road. We did have the
best looking cheerleaders in the state, if not the world, and no one
wanted to lose in front of them. Dorothy Ghertner was Miss
Nashville High School, and was my love at the time. Karrene Payne was
Miss Peabody and was Ronnie Snells lady love, later to become his wife.
Genette Sain was a natural beauty who later became the wife of Jack
Norman Jr. the lawyer. We couldn’t fail, not in front of the crowd of,
maybe 30, on our flat slat stands. Our honor was at stake.
In the first quarter, a play had ended but Jimmy Cox was still in
destroy mode, squatted down with both elbows up, looking for somebody to
hit. Some Joelton player came by him on the way back to the huddle. Cox
sensed him there, turned around, and gave him an elbow in the nose that
ruined his pristine looks for all time. They carried him off the field
and the steam went smack out of the whole Joelton team. We won 19 to 0.
Then we had a home reversal. We lost to Duncan 28 to 0 in their last
year on the planet. Their quarterback, I forget his name, was one of the
best in the city and he gave us a lesson. Cumberland then beat us 6 to
0, in my worst game, in a driving rainstorm. I begged for the ball and
must have run it 30 - 35 times. I couldn’t break free or I could have
outrun anybody on the field. I was actually crying at the end of the
game for having let everybody down, or maybe it was the rain running
down my face.
Then we took a serious step backwards. Antioch was only in its 2nd or
3rd year of football when they came to Tiger Colisseum. I call our field
that because the Colisseum was where they threw the Christians to the
lions, wasn’t it? They devoured us 66 to 6. I remember nothing about
that game since I was knocked silly in the first quarter and was
mercifully spared the memory of the rest of it.
Our last game was a comedy, or tragedy, of errors. We played at Ashland
City in a cow pasture. That is to say it was a converted cow pasture.
They had converted it by putting up goal posts. You had to watch where
They were a small team, even by our standards, but they were country
boys and were tough. I was a defensive halfback and I couldn’t even see
them over the line of scrimmage when they lined up. But I could feel
them when they hit me. We had to battle the whole game. Buddy Marugg
broke his helmet, bashing it agains’t one of them, so he played the
whole second half without one. He was proud of his hard head.
We were down to 12 players even though we had recruited 2 walk-ons for
the last game. Chang Moon Bek was a Korean exchange student and he
wanted to learn American football so we signed him up. Can you imagine
playing ball with a Korean while the Korean War was raging away? This
was 1950. We never gave it a thought. He sacrificed his body. On his
first play, he broke his collarbone.
Jerry Klein was not exactly an athlete, but he was witty. He posed the
theory that maybe these little opponents were aliens, because they were
so unearthly tough. I can remember running down the field beside him on
a kickoff and glancing over at his uniform. All the same as mine, except
for the calf length Argyle socks.
Late in the game, Gareth Griffin broke his leg, so we were down to 10
players. We finished the game that way. Ed Davis, a 220 pound tackle,
converted from halfback, was converted back to give us more bulk in our
running game. He ran for 3 touchdowns, probably more out of fear that
We won the game, 22 to 14. I have no idea how we came up with that score
since there were no 2 point conversions then. Seems like we both had
safetys and they missed their extra points. Anyway, we won the game,
numerically. We walked or limped off the field, carrying our wounded.
Ashland Citys team was all still standing, though not very tall, and
Peabody fielded a team the next year, but they were not considered the
last team. Very few of us from 1950 were on it. It was considered some
kind of intramural team. They lost the first game, I forget to who, 60
to 6. They also dropped the second, 66 to 0. Then they bottomed off a
perfect record with a 71 to 0 loss, and football was over at Peabody.
The (in)famous 1950 fourteen man squad went down in history, literally.
Hey, remember, at least we had 2 wins, one of them Peabody's last
official game, and we all lived.