EDITOR’S NOTE — This is part II of a two-part series about the 1966 Shawnee Football team that went undefeated and gave up just six points on the season.
Following that freak snowstorm which temporarily halted all action on November’s first Friday in Week 9 of 1966, Shawnee and Coldwater finally played on the Monday after the weekend. It took a big assist from the Coldwater Fire Department, working all Monday morning and afternoon pumping gallons and gallons of water off the surface of the Cavalier home field.
Players like Steve Archer, Bob Brumby and Russ Fruchey, who recalls being given surgical gloves to help him catch passes, remember despite the firefighters’ efforts, the field was a quagmire by game’s end. Despite all that snowmelt mud, the Indians hit their season high in offensive output, winning 21-0, their eighth shutout in nine games.
A ninth shutout and tenth win came against WBL rival Bath in the season’s final weekend, 14-0, which put the exclamation point on the season for the team with arguably the stingiest defense in Lima area schoolboy history, six points yielded in ten games.
Among the many former Indians who returned to be inducted into the Shawnee Hall of Fame on September’s second Friday, six who were seniors that fall of 1966 shared their remembrances, both of their final high-school year success and the two coaches who oversaw their efforts during their four years of high school, Jim Young and Larry Smith.
For Jeff Howison, Russ Fruchey, Tom Trump, Steve Archer, Bob Brumby and Bill Hamman, all but one, Hamman, who didn’t arrive at Shawnee until his sophomore year, remember Young, their coach back when they were freshmen.
Recalls Brumby, now a San Antonio resident, where he’s made his living in sales, “I can still hear Coach Young’s favorite saying when training got tough, ‘Those who stay will be champions.’”
Several players spoke of the interest Young took in them even when they were in junior high and the way Young and Smith, former Van Wert Cougar football teammates worked together.
Recalls Russ Fruchey, now a California resident following his retirement as a West Coast warehouse manager, “I remember Coach Smith would sometimes get me out of study hall to thread up the projector and show me some things about the defensive back I’d be going against the next game.”
As for Fruchey, quarterback Jerry McCormick’s favorite target when a pass play was dialed up, watching the game on the induction Friday against Wapakoneta really kicked his memory mode into overdrive. Fruchey recalled catching a dozen passes and a touchdown in his Wapak game 51 falls ago, a huge night for an era when most teams relied heavily on running the ball.
Those who remember Fruchey in the second half of that 1966 season may remember his wearing the only white helmet on the Indian team. Fruchey laughed when asked why his helmet was different.
“I think there was a story out there that the coaches gave me that helmet so it would be easier for Jerry [McCormick] to see me when I made my cuts, but, it was probably more the fact that I cracked my red helmet and that white one was the only one that would fit me.”
Fruchey’s fellow seniors remembered an athletic department that ran on a tight budget, so tight, there was no weight room, rather just an area under the home football field bleachers where some homemade weights were, each consisting of a couple of large Maxwell House coffee cans filled with cement connected by an iron rod.
As for the former center, Jeff Howison, who remained in the area as a teacher, administrator and coach, first at Shawnee and then at St. Marys Memorial, he feels that special season was largely crafted by worker bees.
“While we had two or three what you’d call really good athletes [the three seniors who played collegiately, Brumby, at Purdue; Archer, at Western Kentucky, and Bill Hamman, at Bluffton], the rest of us were just common kids, average athletes, but the coaches,-the assistants Larry Lewis, Tom Cornell, Bob Garretson and John Studer- and, of course, Smitty [Larry Smith], instilled in us pride and determination and a strong work ethic, lifelong traits really.”
For the now-retired physician Tom Trump, who now calls Columbus home, he remembers the game he felt was the turning point for what happened in 1966 mid-way through that abysmal 3-6-1 1965 campaign.
“I think for me the turning point was that LaPorte game our junior year. We lost something like 36-0, and I think we were so embarrassed since this type of game was so uncharacteristic of Shawnee football that we began to play better by the end of the ’65 season.”
Despite the joys that the 1966 season brought, Trump also remembers some personal disappointment.
“I hurt my back and missed the second half of the year. After all that hard work for four years, all the summer workouts and two-a-days, that was really frustrating that I couldn’t be out there with my guys.”
For Steve Archer, the former defensive and tight end, when asked what this 1966 achievement meant to him then and what it means now, he sees a sharp divide.
“At the time, despite our bad ‘65 team, after all the successes of those Jim Young teams in 1962 and ’63 and our Western Buckeye league championship in Smitty’s first year in ’64, I just thought we were doing what was expected, given how high the bar was set.
“Having said that, I think most of us here today would agree that was kind of an odd way of looking at it. Really, we only had one real football player, Brumby, and he proved that with the success he had at Purdue. The rest of us were just ordinary kids that paid attention, worked hard and were fortunate to have the best coaches in the country.”
For Archer, his epiphany regarding how much 1966 meant came about five years ago.
“I remember I’d purchased a large item at DeHaven’s, and some kid in a Shawnee football letter jacket was helping me load it. I looked at his jacket and asked him if he knew the last Shawnee football team that had gone undefeated. He said he sure did, the 1966 team. When I asked him how he knew that, he said that the 1966 team photo was still up in the locker room and that everyone tapped the photo each time they came in and out of the locker room. I think that’s when it really dawned on me that what we did actually helped to inspire others who came after us.”
For Bill Hamman, the retired adult probation officer now living in Medina, it took the former two-way lineman that 1966 season really to feel he was a part of something special.
“I was a move-in and didn’t get to Shawnee till my sophomore year, so that first year, I was kind of like fresh meat, playing very little. But, my junior year, I started playing a lot more even though, winning just three games, it wasn’t really gratifying. However, by senior year, I really felt the vibe, for sure!”
While riffling the pages of the mind, of course, amidst the recollections of games won and the great area players competed against for the gathered six, such as Wapak’s Gary Evans, St. Marys’ Tim Fortney and Celina’s Jim Otis, there was also humor and some subtle jabs at one another.
Hamman recollected one play sent in from the coaches that caused enough confusion to have both him and the other offensive guard, Mike Pettit, pulling on a sweep in opposite directions and running into one another directly behind where Howison had just snapped the ball.
When the conversation turned to their recollections of the meticulous grading of game films the ultra-organized Larry Smith and assistants would do on Saturday and Sunday prior to the team’s gathering on Sunday night to watch game film, the night each who played received a four-page handout where the player was graded on every play and received an overall grade, there was also talk of a certain color of jersey for the next week’s practice for those who graded out well and another color for those who scored poorly. Those who scored well wore the Red Devil jerseys, but those who scored poorly were destined to wear a yellow jersey with a red minus sign, a motivational tool devised by Smith, a math teacher during his school hours.
Brumby looked at Archer, an all-city selection at both defensive and tight end in 1966, and cracked, “I remember you wearing that yellow jersey often enough, we should have nicknamed you Dash!”
But amidst the humor and the recaptured camaraderie evident as those ‘66ers bonded yet again for the first time in decades, there was a common thread that ran through their articulated thoughts, their abiding respect for their coaches, especially Young and Smith.
Howison spoke for all when he said, “Although they were tough old-school coaches, we always knew they cared about us. I guess you might say we played so hard because we just didn’t want to disappoint them.”
For the consummate football player, Bob Brumby, named both the WBL’s best offensive lineman and best defensive back before heading off to the Big Ten to play for Purdue’s Jack Mollenkopf, he can still recite the litany of coaching stops and won-loss records for the two coaches from his Shawnee days- for Young, from his head coaching stops at Arizona, Purdue and Army, where he compiled a 120-71-2 won-loss record, including a 5-1 bowl record, and, for Smith, a head coach at Tulane, Arizona, Southern Cal and Missouri, a 143-126-7 won-loss record.
Never before, and certainly, more than likely, never again will there be in the Lima area two high-school coaches, especially at the same school, who combine for seven Division I collegiate head jobs and eclipse 250 career wins.
For that group of ‘66ers who came home in early September to their accolades, perhaps Brumby, the acknowledged player, summed it up best.
“I’m glad I came back for this. Hell, at my age, it’s just nice when somebody pats you on the back and says a few nice things about you!”
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima news and Our Generation’s Magazine, a freelance writer and editor and author of two books. He can be reached at email@example.com.