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1930 Tuscaloosa Black Bears
    
          No one will ever really determine which team was the greatest of all time in the history of high school football in Alabama. Many of the old-timers will first bring up the Tuscaloosa Bears between 1925 and 1931. Specifically the Black Bear's 1926 team. The Tuscaloosa high school teams of this era were not only considered the best teams in the state but in many circles the best teams in the country.

          In the beginning football was football whether it was played by large schools or small schools. Before World War II the the larger schools often played the smaller school just to fill out the schedule. Predictably the larger schools dominated the smaller ones.
        

Temple Williamson  All-State Quarterback

         The Tuscaloosa Black Bears were no exception. There were matchups against the smaller schools that could not take place in today's system of classifications. The Black Bears beat teams like Berry Fayette 66-0, Francis Marion 98-0, Carrollton 68-0, Lamar County 87-0, Tarrant 95-0 and Pickens County 61-0.   

          Once Tuscaloosa High School began to win football games even the larger schools from around the state declined the opportunity to meet the Black Bears on a football field. Thus they filled out the schedule with the smaller schools and some of the biggest schools in the southeast. Most years it made little difference to Tuscaloosa who they were playing on Friday afternoon. They just racked up the wins.

          Coach Paul Burnum began the incredible run in 1925 when he took over the head coaching position. He stayed at the school for only five seasons before taking over as the freshman football coach for the Alabama Crimson Tide in 1930. His record at Tuscaloosa was a staggering 44 wins, no losses and one tie.
        
          Tuscaloosa's run through the 1926 season was to say the least amazing. They defeated every opponent by at least 35 points and shutout the last seven teams they played. The final game against Senn high school from Chicago, Illinois was billed as the national championship game at the time. Senn was considered by most to be the premier program in the country.


Tuscaloosa High School

          The Senn team had been in Tuscaloosa for a few days prior to the December 4th matchup and some of the Tuscsaloosa football players were getting tired of them. Just before kickoff Coach Burnum told his team that their opponents were Yankees who back during the Civil War had come through the south, burned their homes, stole their horses and took meat from their smokehouses.

          The speech lit a spark under the Black Bears who proceeded to trounce the most respected team in America at the time by a score of 42-0 before over 6,000 fans. 

          Tuscaloosa scored early in the game on a Dwight Deal 45-yard interception return. Hillmon Holley scored on a pass from Frank Kendall a short time later and the rout was on. Some years later a reporter working on an article about the game inquired to the Illinois school about any records of the contest. To his amazement the school, library any yearbooks had no mention of the game ever occurring. Perhaps they choose not to remember it for a good reason.

          The Black Bears concluded the 1926 season with a perfect 9-0 record, outscoring their opponents 532-16 along the way. The 59.0 per game scoring average is still the highest mark in high school football history in Alabama. They also laid claim to the National Championship with the win over Senn.


Tuscaloosa Black Bears    1926
Scored Opponent Allowed
87 Lamar County 7
55 Hueytown 9
82 Jones Valley 0
42 Fairfield 0
56 Pickens County 0
67 Cullman 0
66 Berry Fayette 0
35 Bessemer 0
42 Senn High, Illinois 0

          During the Bears' run from 1925-1930 the only blemish on their record came against Cullman in 1925 when the two teams tied 7-7.

          The players from these teams were legendary at that time to local fans. Among them were John Henry Suther, Hillman Holley, Roy Abernathy, Teeny Beard, Pat Cochrane, Larry "Buck" Hughes, Billy Phifer and Temple Williamson. All these players were All-State members and named to the All-Southern team as selected by the Orlando Sentential Newspaper.

          Buck Hughes was a star fullback during the 1927-29 seasons for the Black Bears. In the most important game of the 1929 season against University High School from St. Louis, MO, the Black Bears trailed 12-0 in the third quarter when Coach Burnum told the quarterback to "give Buck the ball." Buck plowed over three touchdowns to win the game 18-12. Hughes was a near unanimous All-State selection at fullback and later went on to star at the University of Alabama for coaches Frank Thomas and Wallace Wade.

          It was not like the Black Bears returned loaded with talent at the beginning of every season. In 1929, Tuscaloosa returned just four lettermen from the previous undefeated season. They did have enough talent available to defeat Jones Valley 85-0 in the season opener. The next week they beat Pickens County 61-0 and cruised through the season with another perfect 10-0 record.

          After five successful seasons at Tuscaloosa, Burnum turned the reigns over to Al Clemens, a former University of Alabama football star. He used the foundation laid by Coach Burnum to turn out two more undefeated seasons in 1930-31. This gave the Black Bears seven consecutive seasons without a defeat.
          By the 1930 season most teams around the state refused to play Tuscaloosa as there were tired of losing to them. All the Birmingham teams and even powerful Sidney Lanier turned down invitations to play the Black Bears.

          Traveling to Atlanta to play the mighty Tech High School, the Black Bears actually lost a game on the field only to have Tech high forfeit some time later for using more than a few over-aged players. One was reported to have been twenty-four years old.

          The AHSAA enforced a rule whereby any team playing an opponent from Alabama must comply by their rules.

           Al Clements took over in 1930 and the streak continued. There were a pair of 7-0 wins over Holt and Anniston but the Black Bears found a way to win both games.

          Against Holt, to open the season, Ben Fuller intercepted a pass and returned it sixty yards for the only score in the contest. Excluding the game against Tech High, the Black Bears allowed one other score in nine games. 

          The 1931 season saw the Black Bears finish with an 8-0-2 record. The two ties came against Bessemer 7-7 and Anniston 0-0. The defense allowed only two touchdowns all season to keep them in several other close games.

          The streak continued until the Black Bears lost to Holt to open the 1932 season. The string of 64 consecutive games without a loss still stands as the longest non-losing streak in Alabama high school football history. So when talk turns to dynasties remember the Black Bears of Tuscaloosa and their amazing record of 61-0-3 from 1925-1932.

          The Tuscaloosa High football team played games against tough competition but also played many games against the smaller schools. The opposing smaller schools would marvel at the facilities including showers and locker rooms at Denny Stadium which at that time was located behind the President's Mansion.

          Paul Burnum, meanwhile, went to the University of Alabama as the freshman coach. He finally coached in a game that his team lost at Alabama but the losses were far and few between. He was the freshman coach when a young end came along who later set his mark on the Crimson Tide. The player was Paul "Bear" Bryant.

          At the time there were accusations by other teams that the Black Bears were nothing more than a feeder system for the University of Alabama. That may have been the case as players were thought to have moved to Tuscaloosa with hopes of playing football for the Crimson Tide after high school. There were no rules against such actions if they occurred.

          Tuscaloosa eventually closed and was consolidated with Druid to form Central Tuscaloosa in 1979. A court order stated the two schools were to be combined but could not use the colors or mascot of either Druid or Tuscaloosa. So the Black Bears were destined for extinction. Central selected the Falcons as a mascot following much debate.




Tuscaloosa Black Bears   1925-31                 
Year Record Points Allowed
1925 8-0-1 273 24
1926 9-0 532 16
1927 9-0 406 34
1928 9-0 370 12
1929 9-0 379 18
1930 9-0 253 45
1931 8-0-2 177 13


           In 1935 the Tuscaloosa News selected a "Best of the Bears" team comprised of the best players from the 1925-1934 era.

The Best of the Bears  1925-34
FIRST TEAM   SECOND TEAM
Riley Clements (1927) Center Raiford Clements (1931)
Billy Phifer (1931) Left Guard Willys Pearson (1934)
Teeny Beard (1928) Left Tackle John Hundertmark (1929)
Paul Davis (1934) Left End Howard Bagwell (1929)
Joe Bowers (1926) Right Guard Elya Fulmer (1927)
Harry Wright (1928) Right Tackle Tab Abernathy (1927)
Mose Swaim (1928) Right End Reese Phifer (1933)
Hillmon Holley (1928) Quarterback Temple Williamson (1931)
John Henry Suther (1926) Left Halfback Buck Hughes (1929)
Jim Louie Reid (1926) Right Halfback Bud Waites (1935)
Dwight Deal (1926) Fullback Dave Cochrane (1928)


Tuscaloosa
1925

98 Francis Marion . . . . . 0
68 Carrollton . . . . . . . . 0
8 Woodlawn . . . . . . . . . . 0
7 Sidney Lanier . . . . . 0
21 Fairfield . . . . . . . . . 0
26 Lamar County . . . . . . 0
26 Jefferson County . . . 11
12 Bessemer . . . . . . . . . . 6
7 Cullman . . . . . . . . . . . 7

273 8-0-1 24
1926

87 Lamar County . . . . . . 7
55 Hueytown . . . . . . . . . . 9
82 Jones Valley . . . . . . 0
42 Fairfield . . . . . . . . . 0
56 Pickens County . . . . . 0
67 Cullman . . . . . . . . . . . 0
66 Berry Fayette . . . . . 0
35 Bessemer . . . . . . . . . . 0
42 Senn High IL . . . . . . 0

532 9-0 16
1927

35 Tuscaloosa County . . . 14
95 Jefferson County . . . 0
28 Cullman . . . . . . . . . . . 7
47 Jones Valley . . . . . . 0
32 Bessemer . . . . . . . . . . 0
66 Coffee . . . . . . . . . . . . 0
47 Fairfield . . . . . . . . . 0
23 Phillips Birmingham . . 6
33 Lakeland FL . . . . . . . 7

406 9-0 34
1928

33 Tuscaloosa County . . . 0
40 Decatur . . . . . . . . . . . 0
35 Bessemer . . . . . . . . . . 6
49 Cloverdale . . . . . . . . 0
36 Fairfield . . . . . . . . . 0
61 Pickens County . . . . . 0
65 Cullman . . . . . . . . . . . 0
32 Phillips Birmingham . . 0
19 McKinley Tech DC . . . 6

370 9-0 12
1929

85 Jones Valley . . . . . . 0
63 Pickens County . . . . . 0
28 Tuscaloosa County . . . 0
14 Anniston . . . . . . . . . . 0
72 Simpson . . . . . . . . . . . 0
39 Marion Military Reserves . 0
40 Deshler . . . . . . . . . . . 0
20 Bessemer . . . . . . . . . . 6
18 University City MO . . 12

379 9-0 18
1930

7 Holt . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0
27 Thomasville . . . . . . . 0
70 Lineville . . . . . . . . . 0
7 Anniston . . . . . . . . . . 0
0 Tech High GA (forfeit) . 39
53 Jefferson County . . . 0
20 Tuscaloosa County . . . 0
32 Sylacauga . . . . . . . . . 0
37 Tech High Memphis TN . 6

253 9-0 45
1931

39 Holt . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0
26 Athens . . . . . . . . . . . . 0
39 Walker County . . . . . 0
12 Alex City . . . . . . . . . 6
7 Bessemer . . . . . . . . . . 7
35 Jefferson County . . . 0
6 Tuscaloosa County . . . 0
0 Anniston . . . . . . . . . . 0
6 Hopkinsville KY . . . . 0
7 Sidney Lanier . . . . . 0

177 8-0-2 13



          NEXT: Hazlewood Golden Bears  1981-2000
          The Dynasties, a series of articles on Alabama high school football's best teams.


David Parker
  AHSFHS.org
  dparker@ahsfhs.org


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