Year of Glory – Season of Heart

Paul Oakley graduated from McKinley in 1961 where he played football, freshman basketball, swimming and track. The football teams he played on from ‘58 through ‘60 never lost a conference game, which continues to be the longest undefeated string in the city.

Paul graduated from Northeast Missouri State where he lettered in football and acted in nine college theatrical productions. Attended graduate school at Southwest Missouri State, where he adapted “Hound of the Baskervilles” to the stage and later produced and directed it for PBS. He taught English, coached football, wrestling and baseball at several schools.

I was truly privileged to be a member of Coach Blanke's 1958, 1959 and 1960 McKinley High Championship football teams. The Goldbugs didn’t lose a game in league play those three years; twenty-two in a row. We still hold the record for the longest undefeated string in Public High History.

In 1958, I warmed the bench and did a lot of cheering for that very good team. In 1960, my senior season, Coach Blanke's Goldbugs were arguably the best team in the state. We were 10 and 0, and on Thanksgiving, we danced on those poor guys from the Catholic League Champion Bishop DuBourg High School in the Turkey Day Game. They dressed out what looked like half the student body and their bench ran from the twenty to the twenty. There must have been 120 guys. We dressed thirty two guys, but as Coach said, “They can only play eleven at a time.” Almost all of us went both ways, plus all the special teams, while DuBourg platooned. They had a completely different team for every aspect of the game. The score, 26 to 0, doesn’t tell the story of the real beating those guys took. We rushed for over 400 yards, they rushed for four yards. The last time they had the ball it was fourth and thirty nine yards to go for a first down.

The only school we played that wasn’t two or three times bigger than us was Central, and we hammered them 50 to 0. I even scored a touchdown – the only points I ever earned in eight years of organized ball. I think it was against Soldan. I was given credit for blocking a punt that rolled out of the end zone for a safety and two points, but it was really Lanny Rannenberg who got his big mitts in the way of the ball.[Paul Oakley - last row, third from left].

Championship Football Team - 1958

The Goldbugs that year overwhelmed almost everyone we played, but we didn’t destroy every team. We did have a couple of squeakers. O’Fallon, we beat 6 to 0 – and we were lucky. They had this man playing fullback named Leonard Scott. He was big, quick and the number two high school broad jumper in the nation. That day, he was the toughest back we ever played against. I don’t know what was wrong with us. We didn’t start playing until there were four minutes left in the game. We had the ball in our end of the field. I don’t know why we huddled up. We only ran one play the rest of the game, right formation, McKinley to the strong side. Carl Brawley [strong side end], Jim Wilkerson [wingback] and I [strong side tackle] established the right side of the line. Guess who came around that end in front of the ball carrier; "Ten-Flat" Wayne Shoffner: John Rappe [strong side guard], John Glore [weak side guard], Morris Rideout [fullback] and the toughest blocking quarterback ever, Mickey Robinson. Ed Haskins [weak side tackle], George Martin [weak side end], and Lannie Rannenberg [center] were hustling down field to pick up any stragglers. We scored, but missed the extra point and were up six zip. If John Glore and Willy Jones, who went on to play for the Cincinnati Bengal’s, hadn’t made a couple of life saving tackles on the sidelines down near our goal at the end of the game, we would have lost. They kept that big bruiser from getting out of bounds to stop the clock and let the time run out, and give us the win.

We probably should have lost to Sumner. Thank God, we scored twenty pretty quick points. The second half we were awful and they scored nineteen. I know, I was watching from the bleachers. I had been kicked out halfway through the second quarter.

It was the only game that year my mom came to see. We lived five blocks down Compton from Roosevelt. My saintly mom, she did come one other time in 1958. At the half, all the players ran into the locker room and everyone in the stands went to the concession stand. She went home. She thought it was over.

We beat everyone else pretty soundly, especially Roosevelt, those big mouths. These two were the close ones. But as good as the 1960 team was there will always be a special place in my heart for the 1959 Goldbugs. We were so small, so young. There were only two of us over 190. We had three seniors and two sophomores, and the rest of us were juniors. On game day we must have looked like a bunch of yo-yos. Even the smallest, poorest junior high had better equipment than ours. We had a joke field called the campus. It was only thirty yards wide including the cinder track. We had one goal post. One game jersey is all we were issued, and the numbers only went up to 68. They were supposedly "gold" in color and in the beginning they were. By the time our moms washed them a few times they'd faded to a murky yellow. At least they more-or-less matched. Our helmets were a different story: four or five different colors, different shapes, and different brands. Our knee pads were old pot holders. We had old strap on hip pads, while everyone else on earth had girdle pads.

None of us were ever injured badly enough not to play. When we did get a ding, instead of recuperating by sitting in nice training-room, with a shiny whirlpool, we stood in Coach’s shower with our injured appendage stuck in a mop bucket.

One thing we did have was loyal fans. When we played at Roosevelt Field, not only were there no seats left, there was barely any standing room around the field. Our fans were packed two or three deep out on Compton Avenue, watching the game from the sidewalk outside the fence. Our old alumni must have been embarrassed, not by how we played, but how we looked. By the last game of the season against Cleveland, I guess some of the old Goldbugs had about had it. I believe Spiro Athanus' brother, Art, had a hand in forming the McKinley Alumni Association. Spiro (I still want to call him "Speedo") was our quarterback slash safety. It seems he was about 140 pounds of confident energy. They passed the hat and came up with enough money to get us real head gear. They were beautiful, just like Notre Dame, and they all were just alike. Imagine that. Before, we were so used to not having anything we never knew the difference. We thought we looked good.

Cleveland had some big guys, but I mean some BIG guys. Their tight end was 6’ 5” and weighted 230. He could really run, and he punted the ball about half the length of the field. The score was real close at the half. In the locker room, Coach's only words were, "Think about it.” The room was quiet as a tomb. The only movement was when we passed a wet towel around to suck on. Coach trained us like Apache warriors, no water to drink until the game was over.

For a couple of minutes I thought about my girl, Darlys. Then I thought about this big ugly guy who had been giving me a tough time at my tackle position. I remember working up a silent rage. Half-time passed pretty quickly. When the half was ready to start, all Coach said was “Let's go.”

Every one of us grimly trotted out on that field with fire in our eyes. During the second half we held them scoreless while scoring three more times, mostly over that big ugly guy. We won the Public High Championship and the right to play the Catholic champ, Mercy, on Turkey Day. I don’t want to talk about that.

The season of 1959 was a season of heart. Still, we paid the Catholic League back the following year in spades. The season of 1960 was a year of glory. The Goldbugs dressed 32 guys and each one of them still occupies a special place in my heart. It was a privilege and an honor to play with those guys. I don't know how I would've turned out but for those teams, but for Coach Blanke, but for McKinley High School.

-- Paul Oakley