Looking back at ’70s wins

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 4, 2011

Lex Short makes a pass during his days as an Andalusia Bulldogs quarterback. | Courtesy photo

If Lex Short could offer advice to Andalusia’s Bulldogs as they enter tonight’s match-up against Elmore County, he’d tell them two things.

“Don’t take anybody for granted,” he said.

And he’d also tell this season’s undefeated Bulldogs to enjoy their success.

“Enjoy it as much as you can,” he said. “Because before you know it, you’ll be talking to a newspaper lady about when you played 30 years ago.”

It was 33 years ago, to be exact, that Andalusia last had an undefeated regular season. Short, then a junior, was the quarterback.

“It’s hard to believe it’s been that long since we had an undefeated year,” he said.

Like many former AHS players who were part of the Bulldogs’ 1970s run that included two state championships and a 58-game, regular-season winning streak, Short doesn’t miss many Andalusia ballgames. In a way, he thinks, those players feel a connection.

“We know what kind of effort it takes,” he said.

This year’s team plays really hard and gives a lot of effort, he said.

“They don’t take plays off,” he said. “They play hard every play, which is what it takes. I’m a big fan of this team.”

The veteran of the Bulldogs’ most successful era said there were many keys to success.

“That was a time in Andalusia, for whatever reason, we had a run of really good football players,” he said. “We had two who went on to play lineman at Alabama, one played lineman at Chattanooga; a tight end had the opportunity to play at Auburn but chose golf, instead; and a second who had an opportunity at Auburn decided he didn’t want to play football anymore.”

In 1977, “Our defense, in 14 games, gave up 76 points,” Short said. “We were scoring 34 points a game.

“It’s still a record of some sort,” he said. “We went almost six full seasons without a regular-season loss.”

It was an era that began one foggy, cold night in Elba in November of 1972, when Andalusia lost.

Don Sharpe came home to Andalusia as head coach in 1973, and the legend began: For almost six straight years, the Bulldogs were undefeated in regular-season play.

One of the first things Sharpe did was put a weight-training program in place, which wasn’t done nearly as much then as now.

A favorite anecdote of many players from that era is about Sharpe’s arrival in 1973 and his discussion with the team about weightlifting.

One of the players asked if he had to participate, too, because he could already pick up all the weights the Bulldogs had.

Of course, the equipment improved.

Sharpe motivated the team to get stronger in the weight room, Short recalled.

“He had T-shirts for the 350-pound bench club,” he said. “It’s not rocket science. If you’re stronger, it’s a factor.”

In 1973, the Bulldogs were 13-1 overall, falling in the state championship finals at Legion Field in Birmingham.

In 1974, AHS had another undefeated regular season, and lost in the second round of state playoffs to Atmore and Lou Ikner.

In 1975, the Bulldogs made it to the state championship and lost on the road to Athens.

In 1976, Athens came to Andalusia for the finals. The teams tied – there was no rule for overtime – and were named co-champions.

In 1977, the last perfect season, the Bulldogs defeated Walter Weber at Oxford, 14-0, and won the championship.

Winning was just expected, Short said.

“We went into the season wondering who we would play in the playoffs,” he said.

There were 115 young men out for football that year at Andalusia High School.

“Success breeds success,” Short said. “When you’re winning, everybody wants to play.”

That success helped Sharpe develop depth on the field, and helped the coaches hold players accountable.

“Sharpe did what great coaches do,” Short said. “No matter who you were, you knew you were expendable. In 1976, for instance, Sharpe kicked off three starters who were great players then.

“One later almost made it with the San Francisco 49ers,” Short said. “You had to do what you had to do.”

In 1977, he recalled, “our line was heavier than Troy State’s.”

And the pressure was incredible.

“You couldn’t enjoy playing the game because you spent so much time worrying about losing,” he said.

With the years of success came an expectation that the streak would continue – by coaches, fans and former players.

“It was their streak, too, and they wanted it to continue.”

He said he didn’t appreciate the experience then as much as he does with three decades of perspective.

“You were so worried about losing, you couldn’t really enjoy winning,” he said. “That’s just the way it was back then. Everybody wanted to win. We expected to win. That confidence helps you.”

That team had a bit of a mystique, too.

“There was no rah-rah,” Short said. “We were not emotional after touchdowns. It was just what was supposed to happen, and that became part of our mystique.”

That mystique – and the streak – ended on Oct. 28, 1978, when the Bulldogs fell at Elba, 34-19.

Being a part of something like that era gives players a special bond, he said.

“When you live through it, it’s the closest thing to being in battle together without actually going to war,” he said. “You’ll always be friends with those guys you did those things with.”

The experience taught him and others life lessons, he said.

“If something is worth something, it’s worth working for,” he said. “Nobody is going to give you anything. And confidence goes a long way.”

Still, with the perspective now in place, he encourages today’s Bulldogs to relish the success.

“It will mean more and more to them over the years,” he said.