Carr Central’s Potts to join Sewanee squad in Hall of Fame

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 9, 2008

When Bob Potts heard that he had been nominated for the Sewanee University Athletics Hall of Fame, it seemed like a nice enough honor.

When he got word he had been elected, it was even better. Not so much for the place in school history, but rather for he was being enshrined with all of his teammates.

Potts, a Vicksburg native, and the rest of teammates from the 1958 Sewanee squad that went undefeated will be inducted to the Sewanee Hall of Fame this weekend.

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“That’s the best way to go in,” said Potts, who now lives in Foley, Ala. “It’s a point of pride for our team and our school. It really is.”

Potts nearly missed out on his All-American career at Sewanee. After starring at Carr Central in the early 1950s, he signed with Mississippi State. While on a trip to Sewanee’s campus, however, he changed his mind and enrolled there before he told the coaches of his decision.

Potts said the atmosphere of the school played a big part. The best students received gowns, similar to the robes worn by professors or at graduation. Getting one was a big honor, and when Potts saw the way those students carried themselves and were respected by others, it became his goal.

“One thing or another encouraged me to really study for the first time in my life. Three of those first five semesters, I had a gown,” Potts said. “It was a very academic-oriented environment.”

Potts also had great success on the football field. A left guard and linebacker, he played both ways and earned All-America honors in 1958. In his junior year a new coach — Shirley Majors, father of future Tennessee coach Johnny Majors — arrived at the school. The following season was one for the ages.

Sewanee started the season by shutting out Howard and Millsaps, then beat Hampton Sydney 47-20. After a 48-8 win over Mississippi College the next week, Sewanee didn’t allow another point. It closed the season with four straight shutouts and finished with a perfect 8-0 record.

It was the school’s first undefeated season since the 1899 team — famous for winning five games in six days against Texas, Texas A&M, Tulane, LSU and Ole Miss — went 12-0.

While Potts was proud of what he and his teammates accomplished, he declined to compare their feats. By 1958, Sewanee was playing against much smaller schools than in the early days. He said the secret to the 1958 team’s success was practice.

“When we practiced, Coach Majors would tell the defense what the play was. Once we ran it, he’d tell them what the snap count was. Then he’d let the defense stack the gaps. We’d run the same play until we got it right. We’d run it 15 or 20 times. By that time, we felt we could run it against anybody,” Potts said. “We didn’t have a lot of talent. We didn’t have a lot of size or blinding speed. Nobody that could run less than 10 flat. But we executed flawlessly and with a lot of confidence.”

After graduation, the members of the 1958 team did their best to keep in touch, but life, like it so often does, pulled them in different directions. This weekend, most of the 30 men who were unbeatable a half-century ago will reunite for the hall of fame ceremonies. And they’ll reconnect over a bond that can never be broken.

“It was very close, and a once in a lifetime experience. That’s why it’s so important to go in as a team,” Potts said, after deflecting any credit from his own accomplishments. “It was a good experience. Fond memories.”