Exactly 50 years later, players and fans from both sides relive the titanic clash between football powerhouses Murphy and Vigor.
Text by Hanlon Walsh
ABOVE Captains Kenny Middlebrooks (#25) and Jackie Naron (#52) for Vigor meet Murphy Captains Don Page (#13) and Terry Page (#40) at midfield for the coin toss. “There was just a lot of competition between the schools, ” Don Page recalls. “Vigor was kind of like the bad boys in Prichard, on the other side of the tracks. It was just a good, competitive rivalry.”
“It was just a case of two fine teams knocking heads, ” summarized the Mobile Register, “and one of them coming up with a clear head and a victory.” The much-anticipated contest between No. 2 ranked Vigor and No. 4 ranked Murphy would later be referred to as “The Game” by many of those on the field and in the stands that Friday night in October of 1965.
Back then, Murphy’s students mainly came from Midtown, Spring Hill, Oakdale and down the Bay. Vigor’s students came from the more blue-collar areas of Prichard, Chickasaw and other North Mobile communities. (It was a time near the end of segregated schools in Mobile. Two years earlier in 1963, Murphy was the first Alabama public school to be integrated since Reconstruction.) Beginning in the late 1950s, the rivalry intensified on the gridiron, and Vigor held a slight 6-4-1 edge over Murphy during the previous 11 years.
MIKE FITZHUGH, MURPHY: The Murphy-Vigor games were always extremely competitive. In that era, both schools had great reputations in terms of winning seasons. On a micro scale, it was kind of like Auburn-Alabama back then.
ERIC YANCE, VIGOR: It was good competition from junior high school all the way up. We knew those guys very well. I never recall any unsportsmanlike conduct between the teams, which was kind of unusual for those times.
BARBARA ANDERSON HEAD, CHEERLEADER, VIGOR: We were both such big schools back then and adversaries all of the time. They (Murphy) were our biggest rival. It was an amazing time.
LARRY MCPHERSON, VIGOR: We played against a lot of them in junior high school. Those guys were on the other side of the tracks. They were on the upper side, and we were on the lower side.
MOYE SANDERS, MURPHY: Murphy and Vigor had been archrivals for as long as I could remember. I’m not sure who was favored more, but they (Vigor) were awfully cocky.
JIMMIE NEWELL, MURPHY: Our team wasn’t as highly touted with big name players like Vigor; we just gelled really well together. They would probably tell you they had a much better team, but I would disagree. I think they were overrated.
MURPHY TEAM ROSTER
Source: 1965 Murphy
In the era before the playoff system was created, rankings were the paramount measure of a team’s success. Each game could truly make or break the rest of a team’s season. On this particular occasion, both teams went in undefeated, raising the stakes of this rivalry game to unprecedented heights. “Go early, ” the newspaper suggested. “A lot of old-time football fans predict an all-time record crowd.”
Two weeks earlier, about 30, 000 turned out to see Bear Bryant’s Crimson Tide, fresh off a National Championship season, in Ladd Stadium against Tulane. Roughly the same amount would turn out for this game, nearly doubling the stadium’s previous attendance record for high school ball. Murphy fans filled the west side stands, while Vigor took the east.
SCOTT HUNTER, VIGOR: The stadium filled up at around 32, 000 and they ran out of paper tickets. There were likely many more people there.
DON PAGE, MURPHY: I had relatives that drove over from across the Bay to see the game. They thought they could get there right at game time, but they ended up sitting in the end zone. Nobody anticipated it to be what it was. That was the biggest crowd I ever played in front of.
MIKE SHOWS, VIGOR: There were lots of college scouts at that game. Sportswriters from all over the state came to see it. It was something to come out underneath the stadium and see 30, 000 fans.
MIKE FITZHUGH, MURPHY: As I remember, a normal game with two big schools would be around 5, 000. We didn’t quite understand, until we got into the stadium, exactly how big of an occasion this would actually be.
ERIC YANCE, VIGOR: That night, when we came out, there were already 20, 000 people in the stands for the pre-game warm-up. It was kind of eerie to tell you the truth.
JOCKO POTTS, MURPHY: I was so nervous I was almost numb. Their first offensive play, Scott Hunter threw a down and out to the guy I was supposed to be guarding one-on-one. I think it was Woodie Head. I was probably five yards off him when he caught it and when I went up to try to tackle him, I completely whiffed. Didn’t touch him. I slid on my face right up to our sideline right in front of (head coach) Lefty (Anderson), who bent down and made some pointed comments regarding my play. After that, I kind of got over the nerves.
WOODIE HEAD, VIGOR: When we jogged out to warm up, I was petrified. There were so many people, and it was so loud. It was like nothing I had ever seen before.
BARBARA ANDERSON HEAD, CHEERLEADER, VIGOR: The crowd was really loud and wild. Because the game was so big, the crowd really got into cheering with us. It was just a really exciting time.
ABOVE LEFT “Quarterback Scott Hunter, who was one of the leading schoolboy passers in the nation last year as the quarterback for the Vigor Wolves, is enjoying an even better season during this, his senior year, ” read the Mobile Register on the morning of the game. “A ‘most wanted’ prospect by a large number of universities throughout the South and other parts of the country, the 6-foot, 200-pounder will be leading his Vigor mates into battle here tonight against Murphy High’s Panthers.”
ABOVE RIGHT “When we were leaving the locker room, I was at the front (#65, pictured), and all you could see was the end zone. It was already filled to the top before the game had even started.” – Jimmie Newell, Murphy
VIGOR TEAM ROSTER
Source: 1965 Vigorama Yearbook
The game featured Vigor’s high-powered offense against a hard-nosed Murphy defense. Vigor QB Scott Hunter led the Wolves’ offense, which had been averaging more than 37 points per game. Murphy, meanwhile, had given up just seven points to date, pitching shutouts in three of their four games.
With the score knotted at 0-0 as time wound down in the first half, Hunter flashed that arm that would eventually take him to the NFL via Tuscaloosa. He completed six straight passes in less than a minute, the final one a four-yard strike to future Auburn wide-out Mike Shows. Halftime: Vigor – 6, Murphy – 0.
MIKE FITZHUGH, MURPHY: People were expecting a lot of offense, and it turned into just the opposite. It was pretty hard-fought in the trenches. Both defenses did very well.
BILLY SALTER, VIGOR: Coach Yancey (Vigor) was so detailed. Everyone knew exactly what they had to do, down to the minute. There was absolutely no time wasted.
MOYE SANDERS, MURPHY: Our coaches had the right game plan and knew we were going to win. Even when Vigor scored the first touchdown, they stayed confident the entire time.
WOODIE HEAD, VIGOR: One thing that impressed me about Coach Yancey was he was so organized. Everything he did was so precise. I still use a lot of his methods in my coaching career.
JIMMIE NEWELL, MURPHY: We had all types of defenses prepared. We knew when and where they were going to throw, when they were going to run. We kept them pretty much bottled up all night. It was a college level of preparation by Coach Anderson.
“Page paraded the Panthers down the field in six plays following the second half kick-off. The drive went 62 yards, and Page capped it with a 10-yard bootleg sprint around right end. Mike Aycock booted the extra point to put Murphy ahead 7-6.
Murphy clinched the victory with an 11-play, 69-yard drive late in the fourth quarter. Alternate quarterback Jocko Potts took over the drive at Vigor’s 30 and carried the Panthers on in with a 16-yard scoring pitch to halfback Phillip Gilchrist with 2:18 left. Aycock booted the 14th point.” — Mobile Register, Saturday, October 9, 1965
SCOTT HUNTER, VIGOR: They had a good game plan. We fell into playing their game plan instead of sticking with ours. The thing I learned from that game was that it wasn’t always the best team that was going to go out and win. It was the team with the best plan.
DON PAGE, MURPHY: We had an outstanding game plan. What all the coaches figured out was their weakest positions were their defensive ends. That was their Achilles heel.
WOODIE HEAD, VIGOR: Murphy killed us on bootleg plays. They ran a lot of those plays and won the game.
MIKE SHOWS, VIGOR: They throttled us defensively. It’s easy for a team to put something down on paper but difficult to execute that plan, and they executed it well.
JOCKO POTTS, MURPHY: Lefty just did a great job, especially with our defense. They had been stomping everyone they played and running up big scores. For us to hold them to no completions and no points in the second half was amazing. We just had a bunch of very good players on defense. No really great players but everybody was pretty damn good.
GENE LINDSEY, MURPHY: We stared in Scott Hunter’s face all night long. Our defense shut him down.
ABOVE LEFT “Halfback Mike Shows takes in a 10-yard pass from quarterback Scott Hunter, starting the Wolves’ quick touchdown strike in the second quarter … Murphy’s end Bubba Vaughan brings down Shows as Moye Sanders moves over to help out.” – Mobile Register, Saturday, October 9, 1965.
ABOVE RIGHT “Murphy’s Red Letter Day!, ” proclaimed The Mohian, Murphy’s yearbook. “The victory was the fifth in a row for Coach Lefty Anderson’s Panthers, whose fans were chanting, “We’re number 1!”
That night spoke volumes about the commanding presence held by prep football in Mobile at the time. It was also an early indication of the area’s penchant for developing gridiron talent, as many of these players would continue their football careers in college and even the pros.
While the result was significant itself, even more significant was the bigger picture. It was a game that will forever be inked in the history of Ernest F. Ladd Memorial Stadium; a game that represented the pinnacle of prep football at the time and showcased one of Mobile’s all-time greatest high school rivalries.
SCOTT HUNTER, VIGOR: I’ve often said, throughout all of my high school, college and NFL career, the one game I would really like to replay is the Vigor-Murphy game that year.
MIKE FITZHUGH, MURPHY: Overall, it was just one of those rare occasions where both teams really gave it all they had. People still ask you about it over the years. It was a special thing to be a part of.
CHUCK ANDERSON, SON OF MURPHY HEAD COACH LEFTY ANDERSON: It was one of the coolest things we had ever seen. It was a great event to be a part of, and just a really great time for football in Mobile.
BILLY SALTER, VIGOR: The whole experience was so exciting. People who didn’t even like football or didn’t know much about it got involved. It was such a big highlight for football in Mobile.
JOCKO POTTS, MURPHY: After the game, when we were back on the bus to go back to Murphy, a huge crowd was there, and men were just handing us money through the windows. Nothing huge, or anything like that, but some guy gave me a 20, which was a lot to me. I don’t know if they had won money betting on the game or if they were just happy we won.
WOODIE HEAD, VIGOR: It was a memory you’ll never forget for the rest of your life.
JIMMIE NEWELL, MURPHY: It was unfortunate that someone had to lose that game.
GENE LINDSEY, MURPHY: It was truly one of the best ballgames ever played in the City of Mobile.
Statistics Scoring Summary
VIGOR MURPHY Vigor 0 6 0 0 — 6
First downs 8 13 Murphy 0 0 7 7 — 14
Yards rushing 57 230
Yards passing 96 21 V — Shows 4 pass from Hunter (kick failed)
Passes 10 – 22 2 – 6 M — D. Page 10 run (Aycock kick)
Passes intercepted by 0 2 M — Gilchrist 16 pass from Potts (Aycock kick)
Punts 5 – 41.6 7 – 27 A — 30, 101
Fumbles lost 1 0
Yards penalized 20 15
Online only! More recollections from “The Game”
WOODIE HEAD, VIGOR
Back in the 60s, that was probably the best rivalry in Mobile County. It was kind of like the iron bowl back then. Everybody looked forward to that game.
MIKE SHOWS, VIGOR
Many of us had gotten to be really good friends during the summer after our junior season. We practiced and worked out together, and had gained a lot of respect and admiration for each other. That made the loss even more difficult.
Both Coach Anderson and Coach Yancey were just outstanding football coaches.
BILLY SALTER, FORMER VIGOR ASSISTANT COACH
It was a cross-town rivalry. They were both such big, popular schools of the day. It was a lot like the Alabama Auburn game.
We certainly didn’t bring our “A” game that night.
It was a spectacular event. My mom and dad came over. They showed up like everyone else thinking it would be regular crowd, and they didn’t get in until halftime.
BEN GLOVER, FORMER MURPHY ASSISTANT COACH
It was a huge rivalry and always brought large crowds. They (Vigor) had a good ball club, no question.
Coach Anderson was a man that I had a lot of respect for. I didn’t realize how little I knew until I worked under him. People would follow him to Hades and back, he was that kind of leader. He was tough, but he was fair. He demanded a lot out of his players and his assistants. He was certainly a no-nonsense kind of guy. He wasn’t fancy in his coaching style. He just stuck with the fundamentals.
ERIC YANCE, VIGOR
We scored first, missed the extra point. Then Murphy scored twice. Jocko Potts threw the final touchdown and that put the nail in our coffin.
The ride home on the bus after that game was so quiet with frowns and tears on everyone’s face including the coaches. I don’t think anyone said a word while we were taking a shower. I do not recall a punishment practice the next day, however the next week's practice was not for the faint of heart.
MIKE FITZHUGH, MURPHY
Both coaches were outstanding. They were, without question, two of the best coaches around at the time.
GENE LINDSEY, MURPHY
Coach Anderson was one of the finest coaches in the Southeast and just a really good man when it came down to it.
We packed the house at 31, 000. I had no idea how big of a turnout it was going to be. When we walked out on the field, we were kind of in awe at the whole experience.
DON PAGE, MURPHY
To have the coaching staff that we did was really just a step up from high school football. They killed us on the practice field. It was like a dust bowl, you were covered in black dirt.
That game had a lot to do with how my future football playing career ended up.
ROBERT SHAW, FORMER MURPHY ASSISTANT COACH
Lefty was a great coach. He knew football, he know how to coach football, and he knew how to teach football. I learned a whole lot about it from him.
We had never seen anything like it for a high school game. We had really good crowds every year, but that was the one that topped them all. I can still picture all the fans there. It was a tremendous ball game.
MOYE SANDERS, MURPHY
Coach Anderson was a great coach who had such a strong influence on all of us. He wasn’t very big, but mean as a snake when he wanted to be. He was tough, and knew what he was doing when it came to football.
We set the national high school game record attendance that day. We filled that stadium to the brim.
JIMMIE NEWELL, MURPHY
Lefty’s eye for detail was just incredible. He should’ve been a major college coach – he was just brilliant. You could tell we were much better coached than any other team in the area. He was a man that inspired me and a man that I love, but still mean as hell when he wanted to be.
I remember when we were leaving the locker room. I was at the front, and all you could see was the end zone. I looked up, and it was already filled to the top before the game had even started.
CHUCK ANDERSON, SON OF MURPHY HEAD COACH LEFTY ANDERSON
As a son of Murphy’s head coach, I remember seeing the 30, 000 fans and everything else and just being blown away.
TOM MATTHEWS, VIGOR
I’ve never seen that many people in my life at a football game. Even the end zones were full.
JOCKO POTTS, MURPHY
When we were on the field for the first warm-ups, the crowd was big, but when we came back out for the coin toss and the game itself, we looked up and the stadium looked completely full. We were shocked, or I was, anyway.
I thought Newell had the biggest game for us on defense, along with our other linebacker Gene Lindsey and our defensive backs. Jimmie made some very big plays on big third downs. One I remember in particular was when Hunter couldn’t find anyone open and tried to run for the first down. Jimmy came out of nowhere to get him before he got there, and then had some choice words for him. One big thing we were worried about was if Hunter would run the ball. He almost never did—he was strictly a drop back passer, and a great one for high school at that time—and our defensive plan counted on him not running.
I remember weird things. That night after the game and after whatever we did after the game, Newell and I ended up at the Krystal on Government Street, near Ann Street. I think a car wash is there now, catty-corner from Griffith Shell. I remember Mr. Bud Abercrombie, who was manager at the Country Club came in wearing a tux, or tails, something like that. He had been to a party at the CC, and was in a great mood, telling us what a great time he had. I remember he kinda swooned and said, “I could have danced all night.” It’s the only time I believe I’ve ever heard anybody say that that wasn’t in a play at the time. He didn’t even know there was a game that night.
Text by Hanlon Walsh