Friday, April 27, 2012

Dr. Hunt delivered for Byrd

     In 1963 and 1964, Gene Hunt was the "other" quarterback in the Byrd-Woodlawn football rivalry.
     Which isn't fair to say because Hunt also was the winning quarterback in those games.
Byrd: The old-Line school.
      But Trey Prather of Woodlawn was the big name, and in 1964 was the Class AAA All-State QB in Louisiana and a prime LSU recruit.
      Gene Hunt had to settle for leading the team that ruined Woodlawn's perfect record. Which was fine with him.
       He won no all-star honors and wouldn't play college football. But for toughness and leadership and willing his team to victory, there were few quarterbacks better in the '60s in Shreveport-Bossier than Gene Hunt. Anyone who could beat Trey Prather twice had to be good.
Woodlawn: In 1960, it was the new frontier.
      All these years I'd wondered what became of him; friends told me he was a doctor. Finally found him; he is now Dr. Gene Hunt, an OB-GYN in Dallas for nearly three decades. Called him, and as we talked, the memories came back. Beating Woodlawn was a big deal.
         "It was our finest moment," he said of the '64 game. "It was the 'Game of the Year,' they were unbeaten, we were good, and we knew it was going to be for the [District 1-AAA] championship. ... And I was selected as player of the week [by The Shreveport Times] after that game."
        As if Byrd needed any motivation -- I know we didn't -- a letter was posted on the bulletin board in the Byrd dressing room.
      "This was supposed to be from someone supporting Woodlawn," Hunt said, laughing. "It said we were pantywaist, I was lame and 'Jogger' (Johnson, running back) was nothing. That was a deal we never forgot."
       Somehow, I suspect that letter came from Nicky Lester, Byrd's defensive line/linebackers coach and chief motivator in those years. But, heck, coach Jerry Adams was known to write the same type letter at Woodlawn.
        Woodlawn-Byrd was an almost instant football rivalry after Woodlawn opened in the fall of 1960. Beginning in 1961 through the end of the decade, the matchup at State Fair Stadium drew at least 20,000 fans each year -- by far, the biggest crowds of the season in North Louisiana.
         It was the game we at Woodlawn thought about every day of the year, the one win we wanted more than any. We would have to wait six long years. We heard "Good Night, Knights" much too often.
         The differences in the schools were part of the rivalry.
        C.E. Byrd was the old school; many of its students were from the affluent parts of town, kids whose parents were doctors, lawyers, businessmen, white-collar people, Shreveport's civic leaders. The school -- "The City of Byrd" -- had a great tradition of excellence, in academics and in athletics.
      Everyone, every school wanted to beat Byrd
      My Woodlawn friends are not going to want to read this: Byrd was a great school.
     But so was Woodlawn. We were the new school, the city's first public high school to open since Fair Park in 1932. We had a beautiful sparkling facility in Sherwood Park, out in southwest Shreveport. We were much like Fair Park; most of our kids were from working-class homes, the "other side of the tracks" from Byrd.
      We had some kids with money and we had a bunch of smart kids. We had a togetherness, a spirit, we thought was unmatched. It would only grow through the '60s.
      But to begin with, we had no athletic tradition, and for the first part of the '60s, in football, as Jerry Byrd used to say, "All Byrd had to do was roll those purple helmets out there ..."
       In successive years, Byrd beat Woodlawn 52-6, 26-0, 10-0, 14-7, 14-7. The 1961 Woodlawn team -- "The Team Named Desire" -- followed a winless season with a Cinderella-type season that produced a totally surprising district championship. But Byrd spoiled the Knights' 6-0 start with that 26-0 rout before the first of those 20,000-plus crowds.
       The next three games were all defensive battles. Each time, Byrd -- with its depth and its size (it was always one of the biggest teams anyone would play) -- wore down the smaller Woodlawn teams.
       Unlike Prather, Hunt was not much of a passer. Didn't need to be; Byrd mostly kept the ball on the ground, using its big offensive line and backs and its "Student Body Sweep" to pound on opposing defenses.
        Hunt was often part of that sweep as a lead blocker. If you saw a Woodlawn QB blocking anyone, it was probably a broken play. But what Gene could do was make plays with his feet, and against Woodlawn, he made some critical runs in the '63 and '64 games.
        The Byrd defense, meanwhile, stopped Woodlawn's running game just enough every year and kept the pressure on the QBs to disrupt what usually was an effective passing game. In two years, Prather managed one TD against Byrd -- on a pass of about 60 yards to Gerald Burnett right down the middle of the field late in the '64 game. By then, Byrd had a 14-0 lead.
        Gene remembers that he'd never had a conversation with Trey until the summer before their senior year. "I knew he was a bootleg passer, and he was good," Gene said, all these years later. "I respected the heck out of him; I knew he was a good athlete in several sports."
        They finally met because Palais Royal, a department store in Shreveport-Bossier, created an advertising/PR campaign featuring the local high school quarterbacks. So Gene, Trey and Jimmy Gilbert of Bossier were to meet on a Saturday for photos and to receive slacks and shirts to wear in store appearances that summer and fall.
       "I didn't want to do it," Gene recalled. "We had been taught that those guys were the enemy. ... I wanted not to like him [Trey], but he -- and those other guys -- were such good guys."
        The series domination turned in 1965. A Woodlawn team that had struggled for three weeks found itself against Byrd, which was having a down year. Terry Bradshaw, Tommy Spinks and their teammates did little wrong, and the 39-0 victory was the long-awaited one. That game ball, with the details written on it, is displayed in coach Lee Hedges' living room today.
      That Woodlawn team went on to the state championship game.
      Woodlawn won the next four meetings, too, none of them close, and won or shared district championship five years in a row. Byrd declined, with new Captain Shreve opening in 1967 and taking some of its students.
       There's a nice postscript. Gene Hunt went to Baylor to begin his college education in pre-med. He didn't play football, but after his freshman year, he missed playing. He went to Baylor coach John Bridgers to ask for a chance to try out in spring training.
       Baylor had one of the best passing games in the South, along with Florida State. Baylor had recruited Prather and Bradshaw, who would have fit well into that offense. Hunt knew he'd have a lot to learn.
      "Coach Bridgers knew who I was because they [Baylor] had recruited in Shreveport," Gene said. "But he knew I wasn't a passer. Still, he encouraged me to get in shape and come out."
     Wanting a quick education in the passing game, Gene called Lee Hedges, who by this time in early 1966 had left Woodlawn to join Coach Joe Aillet's staff at Louisiana Tech as an offensive assistant.
      "He [Hedges] invited me to come to Ruston to talk," Gene said. "Went over there and he talked to me for an hour, an hour and a half. He went over the technique involved in throwing the ball; he talked about the timing between the quarterback and the receivers, the precise routes and the delivery of the pass; three- and seven-step drops ... all these things that we didn't have at all at Byrd. We were just rough and tough; our pass routes were simple.
      "I'm sitting listening to him, and I'm thinking if we'd had some precision like this, if I'd had this guy coaching me, I might've done something as a passer."
       Hunt didn't stay with football, but continued on the path to a medical career. In about 1987, he was a resident doctor at a Dallas hospital when he was reminded of another ex-Woodlawn great.
     "One of my fellow doctors came in and said, 'Terry Bradshaw is here; his wife is about to have their first baby,' he recalled. "He said, "I know you played football in Shreveport; you probably know him. You should go say hello.' "
     Gene had been a speaker at a church function at which Bradshaw was singing with the choir years before, but they hadn't talked. But he had never met him. Bradshaw, by now an NFL analyst on TV, was at the hospital with the legendary Verne Lundquist, his first broadcast partner at CBS.
      "I'm ashamed to tell this," Hunt said, "but the old Woodlawn-Byrd thing came up. I couldn't do it; I couldn't go talk to him. I never did go out there."
     But there's a nice postscript. Some years later, Gene Hunt was in Washington, D.C., for a doctors' conference. He wanted to see the Vietnam Memorial Wall, and did.
     "There was only one name on there I wanted to see -- Trey Prather," he said. "That was a guy I knew; that was a guy I played against."              


No comments:

Post a Comment