Unbeaten North High had great depth and a versatile backfield which gained a lot of notoriety for its productivity and nickname—the Four Norsemen, a moniker created by The World-Herald’s Don Lee. Bob Churchich, Ricky Davis, Rook Taylor and Dan Miller did gridiron mayhem through the Metro Conference during the Vikings’ 9-0 season. Guard Bert Hetrick and end/linebacker Dave Krause were all-state.
10-0 Big Ten Conference Champion. Averaged 32 points per game. Head Coach: Andy Loehr.
Undefeated (8-0) and The Associated Press Class A state champion, the Minutemen allowed only one touchdown all year. The team included three all-state starters – Dallas Dyer, Monte Kiffin and Mick Tingelhoff.
By BARB BIERMAN BATIE, Lexington Clipper-Herald 09/21/2007
LEXINGTON — There was something special in the crisp fall air in 1957 — something so special that 50 years later, longtime residents still talk about the 1957 Lexington High School football team and their remarkable season.
The team was undefeated and unscored upon until their last game of the season, when North Platte scored on a screen pass in the first quarter.
People would come from surrounding towns just to see the Minutemen, and the stands were packed at every game.
Out of that team, six members went on to play college football, three of the team members played and starred for the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, and two of those went on to play and star in the NFL. One of those is still coaching in the NFL.
Area residents will have a chance to meet and reminisce with members of the 1957 team as they gather this weekend in Lexington for a reunion, which will precede their induction Sunday into the Nebraska High School Sports Hall of Fame as a Golden Anniversary Team for 2007-08.
“Our team reminded me of the movie ‘The Hoosiers,’” said Steve Smith of Toccoa, Ga., who was the starting quarterback that year. “We were only four or five boys over into Class A that year, and we played North Platte, Kearney,and Omaha Westside.”
According to research by Ray Ehlers of Lexington, who nominated the team for the Golden Age Award, Lexington was a member of the Southwest Conference at that time, which ranged in size from Curtis, the smallest at Class C, to Class A schools North Platte, Kearney, McCook and Lexington. Other conference schools were Cozad, Gothenburg and Holdrege, which were Class B.
“Lexington defeated Omaha in a game played at Lexington. What was unique about this game is that the team and 300 Omaha fans rode a special train to Lexington and returned to Omaha in the same manner,” noted Ehlers.
In those days before buses were the norm, the team carpooled to games, recalls Dick Carr of Lexington, who was a senior defensive end for the Minutemen.
Those drives were important for building relationships, recalls Dave Smith of Lexington, who was the sophomore center. In fact, looking back at the upperclassmen, one reason they were so good was all the time they spent together, he said.
“I remember my aunt telling my mom that she was always cooking as there were always five to six boys and sometimes 15 at her house,” said Smith. “They studied together, they spent weekends together, and intuitively they knew what each other was going to do.”
It also helped that the school created an atmosphere of camaraderie with pep rallies every Friday before the games, said Ruth (Snurr) Carr, one of the cheerleaders that followed the team. “We also had a dance after every home game.”
Another reason they were able to win so many games, said Smith, was the coaching.
Head coach Merle Applebee had a reputation for being a tough disciplinarian and making the team adhere to the rules, but he was also ahead of his time in calling the plays.
“We had a triple-option play that we ran the first four games,” said Smith. “We were well scouted but no one could break that play. (Mick) Tingelhoff was the center and I would take the snap, pitch to (Milan) Phelps and he’d act like he was going to run, then pull up and throw the perfect halfback pass.”
Applebee was also ahead of his time in conditioning and nutrition. Players recall running and running and running and Dave Smith remembers the orders, “Don’t drink coffee or Coke.”
“I don’t think I had a Coke until I was well into college,” Smith said.
While the helmets of the era left a little bit to be desired — most only had a one-piece nose guard — by 1957 each uniform had a pretty good set of padding, said Carr.
Another reason they had to be so good was because their uniforms that year were so ugly, said Carr. “We had the ugliest uniform in the state. It was olive green with black and orange stripes,” he said.
“Those uniforms were the first art of camouflage,” said Dave Smith. “No one could see who had the ball.”
While the first string saw most of the action, the second string, or scout team, was down in the trenches, taking the hits and keeping the starters sharp. Earl Brecks of Lexington was the quarterback for the scout team. “We were always black and blue by Thursday,” he recalls.
The second stringers and underclassmen earned the respect of their peers. “What impresses me, looking back,” said Steve Smith, “are the guys who weren’t very big, and day in and day out, they gave everything they had. How tough that must have been, and what grit and determination they had. I have a lot of respect for them.”
“Practices were horribly brutal because we had to scrimmage against each other,” said Steve Smith. “Games were fun in light of those practices.”
Mick Tingelhoff, who was the center and a linebacker on defense, recalls how awesome it was when everything came together during their senior year. The team had lost all its games their sophomore year, then won all but one their junior year.
“We all grew up and we had an outstanding group of guys.”
50 Years Later & Still Talk of the Town
In the process, they also developed a lifetime bond that was ever so evident in October at the Nebraska High School Sports Hall of Fame Foundation 2006 awards program.
Why else would 27 players from the 1956 Class C football team turn out to receive the Hall’s Golden Anniversary Award in Lincoln. Their high school experience, their pride in their community, their respect for their coach—even after all these years—brought them back almost to the man.
Max Masters came from Taylors SC for the Hall of Fame fun.
“It was the first time we’ve all been together,” said Max Masters, who traveled from Greenville, SC, for the Hall of Fame festivities. “There have been class reunions but nothing special just for the football team.”
They were perhaps surprised a bit that they hadn’t been forgotten.
“This ended up being a community thing,” said Masters, pointing to the Labor Day parade and community celebration in Arcadia this year where a float honoring the football team sort of had center stage. The Friday after the Hall of Fame honors, the team was honored at an Arcadia high school football game. They had a social gathering in one of the Memorial Stadium suites in Lincoln. Special shirts – in Arcadia High’s red and white – were ordered for them and they wore them to the Hall of Fame program.
Truth is, they were well-deserving of all this. The 1956 team and the 1957 team were unbeaten and UNSCORED ON (Has any other school had back-to-back shutout seasons?). The 1958 team was unbeaten but the no-points streak ended. It was a great four/five-year run of football success, perhaps one of the best sports performances in the history of the school.
The thrill for Masters was “just being a part of it,” he said. “It’s a small school and just a handful of boys didn’t go out. I was pretty small, so I didn’t make all that big a contribution toward all the team’s success as the others, but I was happy to be a part of it.”
Glen Vannier was their coach. “Being under Coach Vannier was something that made it worthwhile. He was a no nonsense coach, no Shenanigans. During that Sunday at the program, you could see the rest of the team felt the same way about him, too.”
The Hall of Fame’s awards for teams started with the 1995 banquet. The idea is to honor teams of 50 years ago (Golden Anniversary) and 25 years ago (Silver Anniversary) each year. The first teams honored were Gothenburg’s 1945 football team (gold) and Lincoln East’s 1970-71 basketball team (silver). Similar indications that special bonds among teammates form during a high school sports season pop up rather regularly when dealing with the Silver and Gold Anniversary honorees.
Larry Merritt, Joe McDonald, Gene Hawley, Dick Bossen, Sonny Erickson, Jim Mettenbrink, Reed Pedrick, Richard Anderson, Jim Tuning, Robert John, Carl Merritt.
Robert Elliott, Jerry Lybarger, Jack Carmody, Dick Masters, Claris Sell, Jim Allen, Theo Anderson, Don Holeman, Darrell Sybrant, Jerry Gogan, Dick Giles.
Coach Glen Vannier, Dick John, Max Masters, Wayne John, Dale Zentz, Bill Bulger, Ronnie Lindell, Lowell Tapper, Don Baker, Bernard Denczak.
Record: 8-0-1. The Junior Jays won 28 straight before playing to a 7-7 tie with Boys Town in the season finale. The team — led by all-staters Frank Zitka, Robert Springer and Leo Von Tersch and first-year coach Don Leahy – was named the state champion after completing its third season without a loss.
1954 Lincoln High Football (9-0), coached by Bill Pfeiff:
Class A State Ratings Champion, undefeated and untied, 10-0:
Unbeaten in 1951:
The 1949-50 Omaha Tech school annual staff tried its best to review the football season and make it sound interesting. “It would be virtually impossible to pick out the one outstanding game of the season,” editors concluded. “Every one was thrill-packed.”
Well. To put it a few other ways, every game also was a romp… a flat-out walkaway… a good thumping… a very long night for the opposition. Victories all for the Tech High squad anywhere from 13 points to 46. Coach Ken Kennedy’s team had six shutouts and gave up only two touchdowns in an 8-0 season that was aptly rewarded at the end with the state championship.
This team was behind just once all season long, briefly in the Benson game when Benson scored the first touchdown. Tech won the Missouri Valley championship, the Intercity Conference championship as well as the state title.
“The impressive way the Maroons marched through an undefeated campaign is all happy history for Tech rooters,” wrote The World-Herald’s Don Lee. “They’ll have a right to crow about the Blitz of “49 for as long as they wish.”
Ray Novak, Ralph Brown, Mike Cottrell, Jerry Lawson, Leonard Singer and George Sader all made all-conference, which gives us an idea on how dominating this team was in a strong conference. Brown, Singer and Novak were all-state. Novak was inducted into the Hall of Fame as a pioneer athlete on the same day this team was honored as a golden anniversary team.
Tech High in 1949
Game by Game — 8-0
Council Bluffs Abraham Lincoln, 28-0
Omaha North, 13-0
Omaha South, 46-0
Omaha Benson, 34-6
Omaha Central 28-0
Omaha Creighton Prep, 38-0
Lincoln High, 33-7
Sioux City Central, 33-0
Aaron Reed E
Coach Ken Kennedy