Oral History: ABC Comes to H-SC
(Photos from The Kaleidoscope, The Record, and The Breeze)
By Max Dash '18
The year is 1971, and the Hampden-Sydney football program is nearly a century old. They have just played in their second-straight Knute Rockne bowl—the regional title game for what is now known as Division III—and are led by head coach and athletic director Stokeley Fulton, who in six years will be inducted into the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame.
About 120 miles up the road from the all-male school is Madison College, a former women's college that has been coed for just five years. It does not yet have a football program, and newly hired president Dr. Rob Carrier wants to change that. To do this, he has brought over two men he knows from his time in Memphis: Dean Ehlers, who will serve as athletic director, and Challace McMillin, who will be head coach. In six years, McMillin will be coaching James Madison University.
In five years, both Fulton and McMillin will be coaching in one of the biggest games in Virginia football history.
Part I: "We knew it wasn't going to be long before we were in their rearview mirror"
Note: All titles reflect positions at the time of the game.
Challace McMillin (Madison head coach): Dr. Carrier didn't announce we would have a football team until the end of May, which meant that most of the faculty weren't around, so they couldn't be opposed. Once I found out that we were going to do it then, I had to send out letters to the male students at Madison. Then, when they came in to register, I was there at the registration line telling them we were going to have a program and seeing if they had any interest. Fifty turned out at the first meeting, and we lost twenty of those before we could check out equipment.
David Hardie (H-SC defensive back): It was a new program that gave kids who didn't have a chance to play Division I at an affordable price the opportunity to come and build a program from the beginning.
McMillin: Most of the time, we never knew if enough kids could make practice for us to have a half-line scrimmage.
Greg Duncan (H-SC defensive lineman): McMillin was recruiting my brother the first year I was at H-SC, and his recruiting technique was, "Hey, we need you to come to James Madison so you can play against your older brother." And he said, "Greg, that was the only time I had thought about JMU."
Dale Eaton (Madison defensive lineman), to the Washington Post: Schools like Maryland and Tennessee talked to me, but I really didn't want to go to college. Then I figured I'd try it here and see how I liked it. I'm playing because I like the game. They can't tell you what to do here. If you don't like it, you can walk away from it. That's better than having people scream at you.
McMillin: The first practice certainly wasn't a very official practice. We were unorganized.
Paul Attner (Washington Post staff writer), in the Washington Post: The worst moment of the season came when Salisbury State whipped the Dukes, 55-0.
McMillan to the Washington Post: We called a quick slant to open up the game, the type of play that always gains a yard. We lost six yards.
After two seasons of JV, Madison moved up to varsity in 1974. That season, they traveled to Hampden-Sydney to face a Tiger squad coming off of its fourth-straight conference title. H-SC won 35-0; however, both teams finished the season 6-4.
Hardie: They had gotten better as the year went on.
Eaton, to the Washington Post: By then, soccer was no longer the most popular sport on campus and people weren't laughing at us anymore.
Hardie: They were state-supported, and we knew that it wasn't going to be long before we were going to be in their rearview mirror.
The next season, H-SC traveled up to Harrisonburg for a rematch against the Dukes, who were no longer playing their games at the local high school.
Hardie: It's the first time a lot of us had ever played on AstroTurf in our life.
Ben Newell (H-SC wide receiver): I think I had played baseball on AstroTurf. We were all excited we got to play on it. You thought you were faster than you were.
Madison kicked a field goal in the first half to take a 3-0 lead and held H-SC scoreless for the rest of the game. The Tigers had an opportunity to tie the game late with a field goal from the thirteen-yard line, but it was blocked by Madison linebacker Dewey Windham.
Duncan: The guy that slipped through the line to block the friggin' field goal was the guy I didn't block.
Hardie: We had blocked a punt late in the game, and our player fell on it. I think if he'd have picked it up he probably would've scored.
Madison went on to win their remaining eight games, capping off their first and only undefeated season to date. H-SC won their final five games and finished the season 7-2. The two schools headed into the 1976 season set to play each other in week four at Hampden-Sydney.
Hardie: It was a game we pointed to even in the offseason. We looked at the schedule and said this game is going to be big time. Little did we know what was going to follow.
Part II: "We've been here 200 Years. Where have you been?"
Both teams won their first three games of the 1976 season and went into their matchup boasting two of the longest winning streaks in the country. Madison's (12) was the longest in the nation, while H-SC's (8) was fourth-longest.
On Monday, both schools received calls informing them that the game would be televised on ABC, making Saturday the first ever D-III football game to be broadcast by a major network.
Marty Sherrod (H-SC Director of Communications), in the Record: Dr. Royster Hedgepeth walked in and asked me if the Homecoming announcements for the alumni had been returned from the printer yet. I told him that they hadn't and as he turned to walk out of my office, he said, "Oh, by the way, ABC is going to televise our game with Madison this weekend." "Sure they are," I replied. "We just found out this morning that Howard Hughes had written us into his will after all, too." "No," returned Hedgepeth, "I'm really serious. Coach Fulton called in the middle of the Cabinet meeting to get the President's okay. The Cabinet discussed it awhile and then voted 5-4 to approve."
Phil Haley (H-SC center): On Monday during the day rumors were circulating around campus, and of course none of us believed it.
Hardie: I was on my way to English class and Jim Belcher said, 'Have you heard? The game's gonna be on TV." And I said, "You mean tape delay?" And he said, "No, ABC called and they're gonna televise the thing." And I said, "You're kidding. Not Hampden-Sydney."
Stokeley Fulton (H-SC head coach), to the Breeze: I almost hung up on ABC when they first contacted me. They really had to convince me that it wasn't a hoax, but a dream come true.
Rich Murray (JMU sports publicist), to the Washington Post: I couldn't believe it. I thought he was kidding me. But he was serious. We were going to be on television. I was glad I was sitting down when he told me.
Duncan: My first thought was why would anybody want to watch a Division III game on ABC?
Haley: We got to practice and coach Fulton said it was true. And then we were watching Monday Night Football, and the official announcement came across that we were gonna be one of the televised games. That's when it kind of became real. Even though Fulton had told us, of course, none of us really believed it. You know, it's like c'mon this can't be right. Why is ABC gonna come do a televised game at Hampden-Sydney?
McMillin: You didn't see Division III games back then.
Duncan: Everybody knew about the ABC Game of the Week. That was the premier game. You didn't have ESPN. You had the three networks: NBC CBS and ABC. That was it.
Tommy Shomo (Assistant Director of Admissions and Financial Aid): ABC really was, I think, the leader in sports broadcasting.
Bob Morgan (Daily News-Record sports writer), in the News-Record: One station, WXEX in Petersburg, had originally picked the Auburn-Tennessee game but changed its mind late Tuesday afternoon after being contacted by Ron Coppleman, an executive of ABC.
Ted Kohl (WXEX program director), to the Daily News-Record: They didn't make the decision for us. But they definitely made it clear that they preferred that we telecast the Madison game. We could have run a movie instead, but I don't think that would have gone over too well.
Sherrod, to the Tiger: It's an unbelievable break for the college — admission wise, development wise, in terms of the athletic program. I wish I could say I was responsible for it, but it really falls in the "manna from heaven" category.
The next day, the first D-III coaches poll of the season was released and Madison was ranked number one in the country. Hampden-Sydney was not mentioned.
Haley: We were excited about having a crack at the number one team in the country.
Bo Snodgrass (H-SC wide receiver), to the Daily News-Record: Being rated No. 1 is pretty big stuff. We don't think that Madison should be ranked No. 1. That would mean they are better than everyone else and I just don't think they are. They have a very strong program, but really, No. 1?
Hardie: Oh, I know what Bo said because it fired those guys up.
Duncan: That's just Bo. He's a nut. I mean we all thought that way. Maybe he was our spokesperson.
Hardie: Most of the talk was, "Can you all keep it close?" We weren't gonna keep it close. We were gonna win.
Duncan: We had redemption on our minds, and I think we wanted to kick their butts as much as we wanted to make sure we made a good showing on TV.
ABC learned which games were going to be televised on Monday, just like everyone else, which meant they only had five days to get down to H-SC and set up.
Don Bernstein (ABC public relations official), to the Breeze: It's a big scramble.
Chris Carmody (ABC Producer), to the Breeze: The immediate problem is the size of the press box.
Don Bernstein (ABC public relations official), to the Breeze: Normally we just go in and build what we need. We've seen all the problems.
Shomo: We had a tiny little press box, and they built this wooden superstructure on top of it. It wasn't very elegant, I'll tell you.
Duncan: All the things that had to happen to even broadcast the game was a miracle in itself. Technology came to a 200-year-old school, and it was really amazing. I don't know what they did to boost power. I know that was a huge concern of theirs since we were so rural. But they pulled it off.
Fulton, to the Daily News-Record: When ABC called, they asked me about accommodations and places to stay, and I had to tell them there aren't any around. But if that would keep them away, I'd offer them my house for the weekend.
Duncan: Everybody was all fired up because you could see these big trailers coming in and power lines were being laid and practices were fired up. You couldn't talk to Fulton he was so excited. He actually participated in some of the drills. He was an animal.
Newell: He's a lineman from his past, and so he would get in there and mix it up with the linemen. And of course was only about 170 pounds.
Duncan: He would turn his hat around and he'd get in the one-on-one drills and go, "Block me, gosh darn it, block me," and guys would come out and he'd push them down.
McMillin: He was probably the most successful Division III coach, certainly in the state of Virginia. He had a very good reputation.
Duncan: He was a legend and he truly had great respect. A little crazy, I think every coach is. But it was great to play for him.
Haley: The school did a great job sprucing the place up before the game.
Hardie: There was a miniature ABC blimp put up by the students, and one of the signs said "We've been here 200 years. Where have you been?"
On Tuesday night, starting center and captain Phil Haley received a call informing him that his father had a massive heart attack.
Haley: I got in the car and drove down there through the night, and arrived at about two or three in the morning. My dad passed away a couple hours later. I called coach Fulton when I got back from the hospital sometime in the afternoon on Wednesday and told him he could count on me to be there. He came down to visit with the family, and that meant a lot to us. I assured him I was going to be okay. The funeral was held on Friday, and the church was filled with so many of my teammates and the entire coaching staff. It was unbelievable.
Hardie: We had all gotten together before and said dig deeper and find something extra because Mr. Haley was someone who all of us knew and the Haley family was very special to all of us.
Haley: I was originally planning on going back to school on Saturday before the game and just showing up before the game, but with the guys there I made the decision to go on back to practice that afternoon.
Hardie: He said Wally Moore is a great center, but that's my job and I'm playing.
Haley: It was a trying week for the family, but I knew when he passed away what I was going to do. I just wanted to be sure I had the family's commitment, and as it turned out the entire family came up for the game on Saturday.
(The Breeze/Mark Thompson)
Part III: "It put Hampden-Sydney on the map"
When Saturday finally rolled around, an estimated crowd of 9,000 packed into Hundley Stadium to watch what plenty of others were watching at home.
Duncan: I remember going, "Holy crap there are a lot of people here."
Shomo: That was when they still allowed drinking. All the tailgating was done around the bowl. Take everything that's on the Cushing Hill and the area down by the fieldhouse and shove it into the stadium area and you've got a dynamic there that you just don't have anymore quite frankly.
Hardie: The pregame speech that Fulton gave would've inspired anybody to run through the door without it even opening. We could've played the Steelers after that speech.
Duncan: I couldn't play in the game, but I was the ABC spotter. So I was up in the booth and I would point to whoever made the tackle. One did say, "Why would you even want to go to an all-male school?" And I said, "Well it's not all-male on the weekends." I think they really enjoyed being there. This was like a blast from the past for them.
Haley: The first touchdown was a dive play. it was a handoff to Bill Watson right up the middle of the gut between me and the guard. Bill Watson might have weighed 135 pounds soaking wet and he was laying at my feet.
Madison answered with a one-yard touchdown run of their own, but the Tigers jumped back in front thanks to a seven-yard touchdown pass from Bill Newell to his brother Ben.
Newell: We scored moving the ball passing, and then in the second half we just ran and we never got any first downs. As a wide receiver, that was very much a trend for our teams.
Duncan: There were a couple guys after making a big play they would ham it up knowing that they were on TV.
Hardie: Not me. I always played like I was one play from getting benched.
The Tigers added to their lead with another one-yard run, this time by Jimmy Ferguson, who would go on to become the most prolific rusher in H-SC history.
Haley: It was an end sweep around the left side, what we called 48. Basically, the whole student body pulls left, and I remember going around the corner expecting to find somebody to block, and I got around the corner and there was nobody there. It was nothing but daylight. Ferg walked into the endzone.
The Dukes scored on a long pass play to bring it within one score in the first half, but after a scoreless second half, the Tigers held on and knocked off the top-ranked Dukes 21-14.
Fulton, to the Richmond Times-Dispatch: The second half really flew, and they had a half-hour to fill at the end.
Lou Wacker (H-SC defensive coordinator), to the Richmond Times-Dispatch: I was glad it was over.
Haley: They challenged us at the end, but boy our defense was tough. Lou Wacker was a defensive genius.
Hardie: He was one of the first guys to use metrics in a football game. Dr. Gaskins from our statistics department would feed information into the computer for tendencies and write a program to predict those particular tendencies. And coach had a computer printout over there on the sidelines, and he would look at us and signal in what to look for.
Haley: He was before his time. The defense always knew what was coming.
Hardie: I'd say he was probably 80+% in calling what play they were going to run in the second half. He was really a marvelous defensive coordinator.
Haley: After the game, the team presented me with the game ball. That meant the world to me. I actually was kind of at the time a little bit on the emotional side and I really couldn't even talk to them, so I had to run out and go talk to my family. I don't know if I even properly spoke to the team. When I got back into the locker room after talking with my family, I went around and spoke to everybody individually and it was a big honor.
Duncan: We had a good time that night.
Hardie: We had a lot of people down. We celebrated with them. It was a good night, but I don't know that it was any different than any other night.
Duncan: My dad and mom watched it in Richmond. They didn't come up for the game since I wasn't playing. Dad said it put Hampden-Sydney on the map. "Good showing, son." I remember him saying that.
(The Breeze/Mark Thompson)
Hardie: I actually went to the JMU game two weeks ago, and on their wall, there's a picture of Steve Davis in his ABC blazer interviewing [Madison quarterback] Stan Jones the day that we played them at Hampden-Sydney. They did everything but put the outcome of the game up on the wall.