By Donna Thornton/News Editor
Forty years later, David Burgess continues to keep fresh one of his fondest memories.
“When I go down to Fort Walton Beach, I always pull off on that road to Florala. I still pull up to the stadium and get out and look at the field and I think about what we did there.”
The above field is where Glencoe High School won the 1973 Class 2A state championship in 1973, capping a season that united both a school and a community in a way Burgess and many others will never forget.
“I’m not the only one,” he added, as other members of the team also returned to the small town that borders Florida.
Members of the state title team are planning a 40-year reunion at Glencoe’s first home game of the on Aug. 30. Burgess would like the entire community to participate in the event, just as they did when the team made its championship run.
“It was a community effort,” Burgess said. “We took 13 Greyhound buses down to Florala for the game, and that’s not counting the people who drove down in their own cars.”
Burgess said he’d like to see a similar response to the planned reunion. From 4:30-6 p.m. Aug. 30, everyone is invited to meet and mingle in the GHS cafeteria.
“I’d love to get there at 4:35 and not be able to get in the door,” Burgess said.
Team members and cheerleaders will be introduced prior to that night’s game against Westbrook Christian. Burgess said he believes the best part of the event will be getting to see old friends and share memories.
“It doesn’t seem like it’s been 40 years,” Burgess said. “It feels like it was yesterday.”
Burgess said under head coach Lyle Darnell, the Yellow Jackets had grown stronger over the seasons building to 1973, Burgess’ senior year. Glencoe went 8-2 in 1971 and 1972.
During summer practices, Burgess said, the team set goals that included winning every game, winning the Etowah County championship, qualifying for the state playoffs and winning the state championship. Someone inscribed those aims on a piece of wood that was painted black, with the goals painted in gold.
Those goals hung in the dressing room all season. Burgess recalls a photo in a local newspaper after the win of Gary Lett holding up those painted goals.
Burgess noted that the playoff structure was different, in that a team had to be undefeated to make it into the playoffs, and that sometimes undefeated teams might not even qualify for the postseason. In addition, the county championship game has gone by the wayside.
“That year’s regular season had some games that were close, at least in the first half,” Burgess said. “Coach Darnell had a way of making the adjustments needed at half bring his team out on top.”
Burgess added that much of the work needed was done before the season began. The team worked hard in the summer and built the stamina needed the last four quarters. Games might be close until about the middle of the third, he said, then Glencoe would wear other teams down.
Glencoe scored 431 points that season while allowing only 153.
Burgess recalls a game against 0-9 Odenville. At the half Odenville led, 8-6. When the team left the field, more than the bands got tuned up.
“You talk about a lively halftime talk,” Burgess said, laughing. It did the trick. “After the half, I don’t think they crossed the 50 yard line.”
It’s one of many stories Burgess expects to hear recounted during the reunion.
“The stories tend to get enlarged in the telling,” he said.
After a 9-0-1 campaign in 1970 followed by a pair of 8-2 records in ’71 and ’72, much was expected out of the ’73 Yellow Jackets.
Lyle Darnell’s Jackets returned 14 lettermen for 1973, including Chris Norton, Jeff Davis, Big Willie Davis, Dennis Daugherty, Greg Davenport and Hal Smith. The seniors tallied a 25-4-1 record heading into the ’73 campaign.
Quarterback Jeff Davis had a talented arm and a talented group of ends to which he could throw the ball. Davenport and Mike Holmes were exceptional receivers that allowed Davis to exploit any defense that concentrated on stopping the potent Glencoe running game.
Junior halfback Hal Smith was rarely caught in the open field.
“No one was faster than Hal,” Dude Holmes said. “He was faster than the film or the flash.”
“Hal ran his own reverse play,” John Griffin added. “So many times he trotted over there allowing the defense to pursue and commit, only to reverse field and out run everyone to the other side and be gone.”
In an interview conducted in 2011, Darnell said that the true talent of the Glencoe offense and defense rested in the hands of its linemen – Norton, Holmes, Larry Hale, Randy Phillips, Larry Nabors, Terry Chapman, Steve Brown, Mark Walden and Steve Davis.
The third-ranked Wildcats sported a 12-0 record and fielded a team very similar to the Yellow Jackets.
Jeff Davis opened the scoring in the championship game with a 31-yard field goal in the game’s opening drive.
Florala took a 6-3 lead, however, and the Wildcats scored on their second possession to put Glencoe in a 14-3 hole.
Burgess made a key interception with Florala on the Yellow Jackets’ 16-yard line, a big play that also triggered Glencoe’s second scoring drive.
Lett quickly hooked up with Davenport for a 79-yard gain, setting up Willie Davis’ touchdown run. The two-point conversion drew Glencoe within 14-11 at halftime.
In the second half, Willie Davis’ 2-yard touchdown run provided the Jackets with an 18-10 lead with 10 minutes left to play. After s Florala punt, Willie Davis scored again from two yards out. Jeff Davis added the PAT for the game’s final score at 24-14.
Burgess hopes many of those involved – players, cheerleaders, band members, students and the community that cheered them on – will be as anxious to hear stories and share their memories of that championship season.
Josh Price contributed to this article.