But when this time of year rolls around, I always think of a dark blue 1960 Chevrolet. The image is crystal clear and lasting.
High school football season will kick off soon. During my school days in the 1950s and 1960s, high school football was a big deal in our part of the world.
It was during those years in the 1950s and 1960s that the late Turney Ford became a Middle Tennessee high school football coaching legend. At the height of his coaching popularity in 1959, the football boosters in Carthage presented Ford with a new 1960 Chevrolet.
It was dark blue. As you might recall, the 1960 Chevys had the big fins on the back corners, as did the 1959 models. I was 8 years old, and I was some more impressed. A new car, I thought it was beautiful.
Experiences impact our psyche more or less due to our particular perspectives. Up until 1959, my family had never owned a car. Our primary means of transportation was a pick-up truck. My father bought new pick-up trucks in 1948, 1958 and 1968. It was 1961 when we acquired our first car, a Chevrolet Parkwood station wagon. My experience observing the citizenry of Carthage giving Ford a brand new car made a lifelong impression on me. Ford drove that car for years. Seeing that 1960 Chevy always made me smile.
The closest thing to a playoff back in those years was the Tobacco Bowl played in Hartsville. To quote sports announcer Keith Jackson, the Tobacco Bowl was “the grand-daddy of them all.” It was the premier high school football bowl game in all of Middle Tennessee. And in most years it pitted Turney Ford’s Carthage Owls against the other best team the mid-state had to offer. Battle Ground Academy usually comes to mind when I recall Tobacco Bowls of the past. The Tobacco Bowl was a happening.
A halftime feature of every Tobacco Bowl was the Tennessee A&I marching band. Tennessee A&I was later named Tennessee State University.
The A&I marching band was worth the price of the ticket. The band was spectacular. I always arrived early just to see the band members get off the Trailway buses. The halftime show you had to see to believe. I had never seen marching in quarter time until I saw the A&I band. And the band members could play instruments like no other band I have ever heard.
Like I said, the Tobacco bowl was a happening.
And the games were always “slobber knockers,” hard fought and played with tremendous pride. It was before the days of weigh rooms and strength and conditioning programs. Most football players, like the earliest and best Roman armies, were boys who came right off the farm. They were strong and tough as pine knots from hauling hay and cutting tobacco and digging postholes and milking cows and pulling up stumps with their bare hands.
To many, those were the glory days of Carthage High School football. State championships were mythical, playoffs were in the future, and Carthage was considered a mid-state powerhouse coached by a legend.
But much like today, a coach’s job is only as safe as last year’s won-loss record. Eventually coach Turney Ford fell out of favor with the powers that be and was replaced. He moved on to Gordonsville High School, where he continued to build on his legend. The last time I attended a football game in Gordonsville, I smiled when I read the sign, which read, “Turney Ford Field.”
Turney Ford was a great coach and a good man, and he helped shape the lives of many fine young men.
I can see him now, climbing behind the wheel of that dark blue 1960 Chevrolet.
Jack McCall is an author and also writes a weekly column for The Democrat.