Friday Oct. 10, 1969. 50 years ago yesterday. Yes, a half century. A damp day in Sidney that some of us will never forget.
The day began with a 7:30 a.m. “spirit march” led by the cheerleaders and all-boy marching band through the halls of Sidney High School, this time including faculty and staff. I can still see Janice Shedd waving her school flag and Glenna Fogt playing her kazoo as the social studies department was well represented. This was part of the buildup to the 8 p.m. kickoff of Lima Shawnee’s football visit to Julia Lamb Stadium. This was no ordinary day, the second of three straight years the Indians and Yellow Jackets matched perfect ledgers at midseason as members of the Miami Valley League.
I was Sidney’s rookie kicker and figured prominently in the flow, range of emotions, and ultimate outcome of what would become our 16th consecutive victory with 14 more to follow. This is a first person account of a 15-year old who was thrust onto an amazing stage in front of about 6,000 fans on the banks of the Great Miami River at the former downtown Sidney High School that is now a city playground/park. The Sidney and Lima newspapers along with two from Dayton covered the titanic clash. Sidney and Lima both delivered “live” radio.
Our natural rival was then and still remains Piqua. Bellefontaine was also an intense league relationship but Shawnee was a great matchup with Sidney in virtually every MVL sport including and especially football.
Our warmup was decent and we returned to the trackside fieldhouse “dungeon” that we called home on game nights. Head coach Dave Haines final thoughts were followed by an impassioned message from assistant coach Frank Focht who knew how to light a fire in a pregame locker room. After our team prayer Haines then raised the garage door and we entered the track for the national anthem and introductions before we ran into the band and Block ‘S’ human funnel through the north goal post and onto the field. Our fight song, cannon, siren, and overflow crowd escalated the emotion.
The game’s first seven minutes had been scoreless when tailback John Wiggins ran 92 yards for a Sidney touchdown. As he headed south past our bench, our head coach began to run and leap behind the senior speedster who was returning from lingering leg injuries. Haines put a single finger in the air to dispatch the kicking unit to add a seventh point. I nailed it but a penalty forced another try which was wide right as another penalty was declined. We led 6-0.
This was to be a night with lots of rushing and little passing. Wiggins would go on to run for over 200 yards but would be slightly exceeded by Shawnee’s Dale Wheeler who would tally a seven yard TD run early in the second period. The conversion pass was incomplete as the Indians did not kick extra points or field goals. Game tied 6-6.
Later in the second frame we drove to their six yard line with “fourth and goal” when my 23 yard field goal from the left hash was pulled left. Roughing the kicker took the ball to the three and I was sure the offense would return to seek a touchdown but the coach stayed with me. The second attempt was shorter but the angle was more severe on the old narrower goal post. There was little margin for error. My second try was also pulled left and the visitors took over.
When I returned to the bench I got nothing but support from my teammates and coaches. The halftime score was knotted at six. Personally I felt alright and anxious for another opportunity.
The halftime locker room was intense but not panicked. Veteran players set the tone. I recall junior linebacker Dave Leistner playing a major leadership role as I thought to myself, “There’s our captain for next year.” Coach Haines approached me with encouragement, “Be ready Davey. We’re going to need you.”
The only score of the third quarter was a four yard plunge by Shawnee fullback Dick Freeland with 2:31 left. Though Wheeler had a 45 yard scamper during the 70 yard scoring march, we stopped his two point conversion attempt at the one yard line and that play would loom large as we sought to continue the winning streak in an era when games could end in ties. We were behind after three 12-6 but there was a clear path to victory for the home team.
The Jackets gained offensive momentum early in the final stanza with a penetration to the 12 yard line. We ran out of downs but had turned field position to our favor. They punted and we took over at our 30. We had “first and ten” at the Indians 49 when a throwback pass to the tight end was called to keep the drive moving. Ideally we’d get a few first downs and score to take the lead with little time left. Instead, Bruce Williams aerial to Tim Zorn went the distance for the tying score with 4:59 remaining.
“After the catch I expected to get blasted by the safety,” Zorn has recounted numerous times over the years. “When that didn’t happen I headed to the sideline and then turned upfield toward the Chow House (visitors concession stand) on the south goal line.”
Coach Haines again raised his right index finger to send my unit into action. I was confident. Bob Osborne snapped, Mike Flanagan held, the line blocked, and I kicked for a 13-12 lead. Time to celebrate? Hardly. Too much time left.
Bob, Mike, and I would be side by side on the kickoff and we got emphatic instructions from our coach. “Bobby, squib it away from Wheeler,” ordered the tenth year mentor. That’s what happened and the visitors began around their own 30, some 70 yards from a win. They drove all the way to a first down at our 11 yard line when we called time out with 1:28 left.
I was standing nearby when defensive captain Osborne conferred with his boss before the decisive sequence. “Give it all you’ve got for four plays or the streak ends,” Haines told the versatile junior who would relay the message to the others. Three running plays netted one yard and everything then hinged on “fourth and nine” from the ten. A pass to the right corner of the end zone fell incomplete and the place went nuts.
27 ticks remained and Shawnee had only a single time out. Victory formation. Williams took a pair of kneel-down snaps and the final seconds counted down to the win. I actually recall the traditional handshakes more than the immediate hooplah. Our opponents had given it their all as tears flowed on many war painted faces. In these difficult moments the team from south Lima personified sportsmanship. Personally I was both excited and relieved, and was pleased that the final five minutes produced multiple heroes including an entire defensive unit.
We reassembled in the delirious dungeon where our coach thanked our defense for that final stand. Then it was outside and up the steps to the bus that would take us from Lane Avenue, through downtown, and back to the high school. We sang our usual tunes “House of the Rising Sun” and “Where Oh Where Are You Tonight” with great energy and volume. When driver Jim McCracken flipped his left turn signal to enter SHS from Campbell Road it was time for an emphatic rendition of our fight song that ended each victorious journey. We were back to where the spirit march had started a special day about 15 hours earlier. The Homecoming dance and more celebrations would follow in the cafeteria at the other end of the school.
Though I’ve thought about that night thousands of times, this is the first time I’ve commemorated the exact date of the 1969 Shawnee game. The golden anniversary seemed like a good time for something small yet special before the full 30 and 0 reunion next Labor Day weekend. I contacted Tim Zorn in Toledo and asked if he’d like to meet for lunch and he enthusiastically agreed. With him was the ceremonial game ball from his fine two-way performance (tight end and linebacker) against the Indians. He’d noticed that I hadn’t signed it back in 1969 and asked me to rectify that which I was thrilled to do. Yes, the ball still holds air.
Tim was a fabulous teammate and remains so to this day. The guy who threw him the legendary pass died in a 1974 car crash so we remembered Bruce Williams. A number of the players and coaches from that era have left us including defensive tackle Doug Spillers who passed away earlier this week. We lost Dave Haines about 18 months ago. I had the honor of leading our team prayer at his funeral. I still know every word.
Back in the mid-1960’s a famous Beatles song proclaimed, “I get by with a little help from my friends.” On 10/10/69 a young kicker got by “with a lot of help from his friends.” My teammates put me in a position to bounce back and help us get a big win, and for that I remain eternally grateful.
Next week: 70 years aho: A rocky start to the 1949 school year in Sidney.
Sports Extra appears each Friday. Dave Ross is a 44-year media member, local sports historian and the senior member of the OHSAA Media Advisory Committee.