And considering the vast and storied history of Rossville football, that’s saying a lot.
That team, which captured the Class AA state championship 50 years ago, wasn’t the first Rossville team to win a state football title. That honor went to Coach Glenn Wade’s 1954 squad, who went 11-0-1 and beat Savannah (38-0) for the state crown in Macon. Wade’s team shared the title with LaGrange in 1955, tying the Grangers (14-14) in the championship game to finish the year 10-1-2.
Back in an era when only four teams in each classification made the state playoffs, the Bulldogs lost in the semifinals in 1958 and 1960, and advanced to the finals in 1959 and 1961, only to finish runner-up to Jesup and Waycross, respectively.
But then 1962 rolled around, and many around the state believed that the big blue milltown Bulldogs, coached by Frank Fabris, were the best Class AA team in the state, and Rossville spent that season proving the pundits correct.
Beginning the year ranked as the No. 1 team by the Associated Press and the Atlanta Constitution, Rossville clicked off 13 straight wins to become the first and only Bulldog team to finish a season unbeaten and untied. That season was capped by a dominant 28-6 title game victory over North Clayton in front of nearly 10,000 joyous at old Memorial Field.
The team gave up just 25 points during the 10-game regular season, while pitching six shutouts, and only a meaningless, final-minute touchdown by North Clayton prevented Rossville from shutting out both their state playoff opponents.
The team also became a favor of the local and state media, who described the Bulldogs as “an action-loving football giant”, “burly and brutal”, and “incredibly aggressive” in their stories.
But while the Bulldogs did possess a significant size advantage over most of its opponents that season, that wasn’t the only factor that made Rossville such a formidable foe.
“I think it was three things,” said quarterback Paul Painter, one of more than a dozen players from the 1962 team who were recognized prior to Ridgeland’s Homecoming game this past Friday night. “We had unbelievable coaches who demanded excellence from us. We had an incredible bunch of players, and you usually don’t see that many talented players assembled in a small town in the same year like we did that season. And finally, we had a great tradition and great fan support.”
Paul Weaver, who played at end as a senior that season, said the team’s chemistry was forged years earlier.
“We played a lot of years together and really just grew up together,” he said. “Most of us starting playing football together for Rossville Junior High School, and that cohesion and camaraderie that lasted throughout high school.”
“That chemistry we had meant a lot,” said offensive tackle Jerry Atkins. “We enjoyed playing together, and we still enjoying getting together. We don’t get to see each other as often these days, but we still have a good time when we do.”
Doug Forrester, one of the team’s managers that season, said that everyone associated with the Bulldogs felt like part of the team.
“They were all wonderful fellows, and we all just got along so well,” he said. “There was no big “I’s” and little “you’s”. Even us managers felt like we were part of the team.”
Lynn Murdock served as an assistant coach under Fabris during that historic season, along with Ben Boulware, Jim McDaniel, and David McInturf. He said the Bulldogs came into the 1962 season “on a mission”.
“After that loss in the (1961) finals, this group just dedicated themselves to going all the way that next season,” he said. “We were able to move the ball rather well, but we had a really good defense. We had some tough games that year, especially with Cedartown.”
Rossville battled the other group of Bulldogs twice that year. After winning 7-6 in a regular season game, the two met again for the region title.
Rossville scored late to take a 21-19 lead, but Cedartown would drive for the potential game-winner in the waning seconds. However, out of timeouts, the clock ran out on Cedartown at the Rossville 5-yard line.
“Beating Cedartown twice was a big memory of that season,” said end Leroy Jones. “They were a really good ball team, and we all knew whoever won that region championship game between us and them was going to go on and win state.”
Of course, state championship teams usually go hand-in-hand with top caliber players, and Rossville had more than its share.
Tackle Sherold Walker was named All-State and the Class AA Lineman of the Year, while center Bill Hull and junior halfback Doug Flury joined Walker as first team All-State picks. In addition, the three, along with Painter, were named to the All-City Team.
“I had good linemen,” explained “Furious” Flury, who received All-American Honorable Mention honors that season. “They all had big hearts, and when ball was snapped, I just followed them. It was a pretty easy job.”
Doyle Thomas said the team was simply loaded with phenomenal athletes.
“I ran track back then and I was clocked in the 100 (yards) at 10.2 (seconds),” he said. “But there were still about five or six guys that could outrun me. That’s the kind of team we put on the field. We just had a lot of athletes. Great, great athletes.”
However, the Bulldogs still needed a general to bring it all together, and Murdock said that Fabris was the man for the job.
“Frank was a great coach and a great motivator,” Murdock added. “He just did an outstanding job of putting the team together and getting them to work together. We had several good years during that time, including a couple more times when we played for the state championship, but it sure nice to finally win that one.”
A half-century has now passed since Rossville completed their historic gridiron season, but for the men that lived it, the bonds of friendship have remained to this day, as have the memories of days gone by.
“What I remember were running 100-yard wind sprints twice every day,” said Troy Dawson. “I didn’t care much for them, but they taught me a lot. The coaches we had were big influences in my life. I was able to tell both Coach Fabris and (Assistant) Coach (Ben) Boulware both before they passed how much they meant to me, and I’ll never forget them. The closeness of these guys is something you never outlive. Those years were some of the best of my life.”
Scott Herpst is Sports Editor of the Walker County Messenger.