Before I get started in revealing who I believe is the greatest ETSU/TAMUC football team ever, I just wanted to say a few words with this being Easter (or as I call it, Resurrection Sunday). First I wanted to wish everyone a Blessed Sunday and let everyone know those of us at the Wire are really counting our blessings during this time. One of the things that this virus has done has made life slow down and let us take stock of what we have to be thankful for. I speak for the entire staff when I say we are thankful for the friendships and support we have had since this site was launched and with every like, follow, and subscription, we cannot thank all of you enough. Russ said in his Week 2 preview that “We’re one day closer to a solution.” We want to save we love everyone in Lion Nation and cannot wait until we are reunited at The Hawk. Hopefully, we will savor every moment just a little bit more.
Now, a few weeks ago I announced that we would be doing a “Top 20” list of teams to ever play for East Texas State/Texas A&M-Commerce. (Just so you know, the last votes need to be in by Monday morning.) There has been a lot of debate about who gets the top spot. Some have said the fantastic and memorable 2017 season, many have said the 1972 team, and others have mentioned one of the teams from the “Golden Fifties”, one of the best decades in school history. There is one team that I do believe is clear and above the best we have ever had, the 1952 East Texas State College Lions.
Headed into his second season, Coach Milburn Smith had finished his first season in 1951 with 8 straight wins to finish that year 9-2 and 5-0 in LSC play to win another Lone Star Conference Championship. With the return of All-Americans Marv Brown and Quarterback James Grey, the first Lion QB to throw for over 1,000 yards in a season, the 1952 Lions looked prime to be at least just as good as they had been in 1951.
Well, 1952 would be a true record setting year. The season started with a literal vengeance. One of the two losses the previous year had been to Abilene Christian. The Lions travelled to the Big Country and shut out the Wildcats, 21-0. Memorial Stadium welcomed them back with a 54-34 win over a tough Trinity team. The next three weeks, the Lions explosive offense led by Grey and Brown scored 159 points and the tough Lion defense pitched 3 straight shutouts defeating Southwestern Oklahoma 65-0, Lamar 48-0, and Midwestern State 46-0. The next week, the meat of the Lone Star Conference schedule came, but no matter. ET disposed of Sam Houston State 57-33, wrecked Stephen F. Austin 54-7, and hammered Southwest Texas State 63-23. An out of conference tilt from some fellows just up the road versus Austin College resulted in a 61-7 win, and the Lion regular season ended with a 27-7 win over Sul Ross State.
Now, back in the early 1950’s, East Texas State was an NAIA member in most sports, but not in Football. The NAIA did not sponsor Football, but the NCAA did and the Lions did affiliate with the NCAA for Football. There was no championship for the “minor school” division. The old money schools ruled the days back then and only they could compete for National titles, with the exception of National Historically Black Colleges and Universities as segregation was still in full force in all parts of the country. So only two national titles were given, the all white NCAA and the HBCU schools. Michigan State and Georgia Tech were both given National Championships due to the press deciding the NCAA Major Title, while Florida A&M Defeated Virginia State in the Orange Blossom Bowl, which usually crowned the HBCU National Champion.
However, there were two Bowls that were played among non-major schools, and the Tangerine Bowl was one of them. It was thought of as a mythical national championship or at least, a regional championship. It sought to match “the best small school from the Midwest against the best small school from the South.” The Ohio Valley Conference was considered the best Midwestern conference and pledged their conference champion to the Tangerine Bowl, while the best school from the South was selected at large. The Tangerine Bowl committee selected Tennessee Tech against East Texas State College from little Commerce, TX.
In a matchup of the undefeated Lions and the one loss Golden Eagles on New Years Day 1953, ET raced out to 13-0 lead, and that score stayed that way until the Lions poured it on fourth quarter, scoring 3 more touchdowns to cap their season at 33-0. The Orlando Sentinel wrote the following morning that “East Texas State, from the small Northeast hamlet of Commerce, Texas, showed they are no doubt, the best squad from the minor collegiate football ranks, utterly dismantling a very good Tennessee Tech team.”
The 1952 Lions scored 529 points in 11 games, averaging 48 points per game, and allowed 111 points for an average of 10 points allowed per game, shutting out 5 opponents. Their closest game was a 20 point win over Trinity in the second game of the year. Bruno Ashley was an All-American, as was Quarterback Jim Gray. George Bowling,
Marvin Brown, James Coble, Mannie Day, Forrest Favor,Carroll Holiday, Tom McCormack, R.C. Moore, and Duncan Thompson were all First team All LSC, while Guy Broussard, Bob Crump, Jim Gray, Thurman Pynes, and George Riley were LSC Second Team, and Honorable Mention awards went to Lloyd Corder, G.A. Glen, Lloyd Parks,
Jim Pennell, Kenneth Potter, Madison Knight, and Bill Self. The team also had a Freshman named Bobby Fox, a future Lion All-American QB and future defensive coordinator that created the “Blue Gang Defense” that won the NAIA National title in 1972.
Some may be hesitant to place this team at the best ever, but from what they did in every game they played, the dominance in which they took down their opponents, and the measure of competition make the 1952 East Texas State Lions the greatest Lion Football team in my eyes. Sure a National title is missing, but the question to ask is this, based on what you saw, if there had been a Minor Division National title game, would the Lions have lost? I seriously doubt it.