This column ran in The Lebanon Democrat, October 20, 2015. It remains one of my favorite stories.
SAN DIEGO – If this story has been told here before, I apologize, but if it was here, it appeared a long time ago, and my filing system, such as it is, shows no mention.
Over a decade ago, my friend Jimmy Gamble sent me a letter containing an old sports article. I scanned the story and emailed it to a number of people. Marty Linville, one of my Friday morning golf buddies, responded. Marty, who played football at Pittsburg State in Kansas (the Gorillas won the NCAA Division II championship in 2011, added a play-by-play description of one touchdown. I believe that email exchange is the only time I wrote about this incident.
Regardless, it is a great story and good for my ego.
Jimmy Gamble, who sent the original letter is now retired from the defense industry and lives in Huntsville. He became my close friend when his family moved to Lebanon in 1956. His father Barney became one of the most respected and longest termed principals in Lebanon.
Jimmy and I played football and basketball together from our first year at Lebanon Junior High School until graduating from Castle Heights in 1962. We went to church together and ran around town in his used Renault Dauphine, one of the earliest models. In our final years at Heights, Jimmy and I dreamed of getting football scholarships to Michigan together. Of course, it was a pipe dream. Jimmy and I played our last football with the 1962 Mid-South Champion Tigers.
There were some low spots in the middle, but we started and finished on high notes. Our first team’s success is well documented. The 1956 Lebanon Junior High Colts ran the table for an 8-0 season in 1956 when Jimmy and I were subs and seventh graders.
We finished on the 1961 Mid-South champion Castle Heights Tigers, with a 6-2 record. One of those losses was 6-0 to Furman (Va.) Junior College, ranked the number four junior college in the country.
One of our successful seasons has been mostly overlooked. In our eighth grade year, the Colts posted a 7-1 record with a lone loss to Pulaski. That game was the first football contest we lost, the only one in our two years of junior high school. I don’t remember the score, but I do remember being devastated. I didn’t think it was possible to lose until then. I cried on the way back to our dressing room.
Jimmy’s letter included a clipping that made the loss, almost a half-century earlier, less painful. The Democrat article described our Colts win over Shelbyville, 27-6. The game was played on a Thursday evening at Alumni Memorial Field, now the site of Sellars Funeral Home that was Lebanon High’s home field until the school moved across town to Harding Drive.
That game was a high point for me. I scored my only touchdown in six years of playing organized football. I remember my feelings quite well. I was excited but sad because my father was in Atlanta at a Pontiac meeting and missed it. Little did I realize, he would never get the opportunity to see me score again (Ironically five years later at Heights, my mother missed the only home run I hit, and my father told her it made them even).
But the article Jimmy sent revealed I had not only scored a touchdown, I set a record for yards covered on a punt return for a score, at any level of the sport.
After describing how Shelbyville scored on a “Statue of Liberty” play towards the end of the first half to narrow our lead to 13-6, the narration captures my record run:
“Early in the second half, Shelbyville punted and Jimmy Jewell returned the kick 447 yards to a touchdown.”
No one, no one, I boast, has ever run FOUR HUNDRED AND FORTY SEVEN yards on a punt return except me. My friend Marty described the run as a twisting, cutting back, reversing the field, slashing, stiff-arming run of Homeric proportion.
Alas, I must confess, the Democrat had a slip up. The “447” yards described as my zenith in any sport was the product of a typo. An extra four had slipped from the linotype machine. My record was not a record. My only touchdown was only a 47-yard return, good but certainly not heroic.