Tigers celebrate 50th anniversary of perfect season

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 6, 2005

They practically ran through every team they faced.

The closest a team came to even challenging the 1955 Greenville Tiger football team came in the last game of the season.

In fact it difference between imperfection and perfection was one play on an extra-point attempt.

Enterprise scored its second touchdown with Greenville leading 13-12. The Tigers would need a stop to keep their hopes of a perfect season alive.

"I remember that play so well," said Earnest Dean, who was a junior end at the time. "They decided to run away from (Douglas Flowers), so Noble Brown hit him first, and then Gordon Nix hit him. Curtis Cook fell down on his knees and tripped the guy. He fell forward right in my lap, so I knew we had him because I was a foot or two inside the goal line."

Greenville came away with a13-12 victory that day to cap the school's first unbeaten and untied season in its history.

That was 50 years ago.

Now that team of 25 players will reunite Friday and Saturday to remember the good old days.

The 1955 Tigers will be honored Friday night at Greenville's game with Carroll-Ozark. The team then will have a picnic Saturday afternoon before having a banquet at the Greenville Country Club Saturday night.

"They were tough as nails, and they all loved to play ball," said Dean, who is now in his late 60s.

The Tigers were coached by the late Luke Whetstone and Hubert Grantham.

The success of the Greenville players from that perfect team went beyond just the high school ranks.

Team members Bobby Wasden and Nix went on to play at Auburn University, while Flowers played at the University of Georgia.

"We didn't have a weak link on that team," Dean said.

Five of the players from that perfect squad went on to become successful high school coaches. Wasden coached at Georgiana and later revived the Prattville program. Terry Burt led Elmore County High to three state championships. Burt was later inducted into the Alabama High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame.

Julius Head coached for years at Ariton before becoming Fort Dale Academy's first head football coach. Nathan Porterfield led McKenzie to state prominence for year, while Larry Newton became the first head football coach at Davidson High in Mobile.

After finishing the season 10-0, Greenville was named co-champions of the South Alabama Conference with Elba.

And team members like Gene Autrey said he still wonders which team would have been better had they played.

"There will always be that question," he said. "We believe we could have beaten them. But I'm sure they feel the same way."

Greenville was named state champions by the Birmingham News.

"To be named a state champion was real special," Autrey said.

So how would the unbeaten Tigers compare with Greenville's past state championship teams in 1987 and 1994?

"That would be hard to say," Dean said. "These guys, in our time, would stack up against anybody."

And the Tigers of 1955 didn't have the sophisticated weights or programs to go through to prepare for a season. There was no off-season workouts.

For most of the players work wasn't complete after practice. Most would return home to get in the fields to bale hay or pick cotton.

"I hauled hay in the summer before the fall season," said Autrey, who is 67. "My family had a farm in the Liberty community, so we had to get enough hay to feed our cows through the winter. So if you could endure the heat of the summer baling hay, then you were in pretty good physical condition for fall practice. There wasn't an ounce of fat on any of those boys."