Days of Glory

The yellow school bus rolled into the oncoming December darkness, headed toward Abilene, carrying with it a cargo of teen-age boys who just hours earlier had been celebrating the rewards of an undefeated junior varsity football season. Our prize had been a trip to Dallas and the historic old Cotton Bowl, there to witness the 1957 Class AAAA semifinals.

Now, however, a despondent quiet accompanied the swaying rhythm of the joyless ride. Except for occasional whispers, it was a return made in somber silence.

For most of us--sophomore members of the Abilene High School football program--a dream of glory had died. The chance to one day have our names associated with an achievement unmatched in schoolboy history had been stolen away by Highland Park and a swift, lethal halfback named Jack Collins. They had been victorious that day, earning the right to advance to the state finals where they would meet and defeat Port Arthur High for the state championship.

Abilene, on the other hand, was finished for the year. And so was a record-setting string of 49 consecutive victories.

It had begun in October 1954 and had lasted through three straight state titles until that 1957 day in Dallas. Time magazine had deemed it an accomplishment worthy of note. Sports Illustrated came to town to do a story that called Abilene High an athletic dynasty. All pretty heady stuff for 16- and 17-year-old boys growing up in a dusty, dry-bed West Texas town. In the mid-'50s, the Abilene Eagles, coached by the famed Charles (Chuck) Moser, were the team all others in the state were measured against.

As sophomore jayvee players, we had inherited the drudgery of performing as the scout team for our elders, weekly emulating plays of the next week's opponent. It was the painful and hardly glamorous price to be paid. Yet we were assured that the next season the cheers of thousands would be for us. Seniors would depart, making room for us to play our parts in the continuation of the never-before-accomplished string of victories. Time and S.I. would be writing about us. Sellout crowds would come out to see us play for yet another state championship. It was a dream few who ever reported for high school football practice ever dared dream, one that died that crisp Saturday in the Cotton Bowl. We collectively cursed Jack Collins and privately ached for our lost opportunity.

The passage of time, we would eventually learn, is great balm. Now, 44 years after that cold and quiet bus ride, it is not the loss that is best remembered by aging alumni and ex-jocks. It is instead the glory of the victories and the enduring kinships that they forged.

And, most recently, the knowledge that a new group of youngsters--in another town and another time--have begun to experience a warm and special thrill few will ever know.

On an early November Friday filled with wild and electric anticipation, the 62-year-old visitor--still trim and athletic-looking--walked to the center of the Celina High School gymnasium amid a thunder of applause. One generation of Texas sports history was being introduced to another.

In a matter of hours, the Celina Bobcats would make a short bus ride over to Valley View in hopes of winning their 50th consecutive football game. If successful, the defending Class AA champions would eclipse the state record established by Abilene High.

Glynn Gregory, once a schoolboy All-American and considered the finest running back of his era, had played a major role in the establishment of the mark that had stood for more than four decades. "I sincerely hope you break it tonight," the development officer for Dallas' Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children told the young Bobcats. "Believe me, it is something you will enjoy and remember for many years to come."

He paused, smiled and added: "And one day, hopefully, you'll also have the opportunity to visit with another team and wish them well as they attempt to break your record."

The former SMU and early-day Dallas Cowboys standout visited with fans and parents, then joined them at the game, cheering as Celina rolled to a 40-7 victory that erased him and his former teammates from the record book.

For the young athletes, Gregory says, it is just the beginning of something they will cherish for the remainder of their lives. The winning streak, of course, will one day end, just as Abilene's did. But the memories and the camaraderie, he promised, will last a lifetime.

"There is nothing in the language that properly describes the bond that developed among those who played back then," he says. And it is a bond that remains strong to this day. Though now scattered throughout the nation--doctors, lawyers, stockbrokers--those who played a role in the 49 victories and three consecutive state championships stay in touch. Last year, in a retrospective inspired by the arrival of the new millennium, The Dallas Morning News judged them the Texas high school football "Team of the Century." The designation, recalls former All-State lineman and current Dallas investor Sam Caudle, was nice for a simple reason: "Hey," he says, "it provided a good excuse to get together and spend some time talking about the good old days.

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Carlton Stowers
Contact: Carlton Stowers