Green Bay became known as ‘TitleTown, USA’ during the 1960s when the Packers won five NFL championships and back-to-back Super Bowl titles.
During that same time the ‘TitleTown, USA’ moniker could also have been used in Russellville. Like the Packers, the Golden Tigers established somewhat of a dynasty by winning three consecutive Class 3A state football championships from 1966-68.
The players on the 1968 team that completed the ‘three-peat’ were not were not worried about what to call what they had accomplished — they just knew it was something special.
“It was great because everybody was involved,” said Jeff Fuller, a senior running back on the 1968 team. “It wasn’t just the players and the coaches. It was a school thing and a community thing. That’s what made it so special.”
The Golden Tigers rolled to an 11-0 record and a third straight state title. Russellville ended the season with a 32-game unbeaten streak that dated back to the first game of the 1966 season. Of the three consecutive state championship teams the 1968 squad was the only one to go unbeaten and untied.
A year earlier Russellville tied Colbert County in the regular season but came back to beat the Indians in the state finals. The Golden Tigers lost outstanding players such as Lanny Norris, Bob Newton and Terry Pounders from the 1967 team, but returned the majority of the team for the 1968 season.
“We only lost five or six players from the 1967 team,” said former Russellville City Schools superintendent Wayne Ray, who was an assistant coach on the 1968 team. “We had most of the players back and we were a bigger team that year and very well conditioned. We were not the biggest or fastest team around, but we had smart kids with great character.”
The team had just three coaches, led by head coach Bill Doty. Ray and basketball coach Jack Tucker served as the assistant coaches.
Doty was head coach at Russellville from 1961-72. The veteran coach was very popular with his players.
“Coach Doty was one of the greatest people I’ve ever known,” Fuller said. “He was a coach that if you showed him you wanted to play, he would work with you and teach you everything he knew.
“He believed in doing things as a team. If we were going to win, we were going to win together. If we lost, we were going to lose together.”
Ray said Doty loved coaching offense, and there was nobody better at drawing up plays.
“Bill loved to coach and he loved those kids,” Ray said. “He was as good of an X’s and O’s guy as you would find. He had a knack for putting people in the right positions.
“He was great at finding the weakness in a defense. We did some things that the other teams were just not ready for and it really gave us an advantage. He was a real offensive wizard.”
Doty had plenty of weapons for his split-back offense, led by Fuller at running back. Mike Masingill, Robert Mullins and Cleveland Young gave the Golden Tigers depth in the backfield.
At quarterback, senior Joey Watson took over for Norris and gave the Golden Tigers a duel-threat. Watson had one of the top receivers in the state to throw to in William ‘Bimbo’ Bonds. The offensive line was strong with Steve Franks at center, David Willis and Orie Vaughn at guards and Charles Badgett and Doug Allen at the tackles.
“Joey was a great athlete and a great leader,” said Willis, who was the only sophomore starting on offense. “He was a quarterback when he was throwing, a lineman when he was blocking and a halfback when he ran the ball. He could do it all.
“I remember one game we had a second down and inches to go and Joey called a pass play. We were all telling him to just run the ball and get the first down, but Joey said we were going to score on this play and he hit Bimbo on a long pass for a touchdown. Joey always played to win.”
Many of the offensive starters also played defense in Russellville’s 6-2 scheme. Donald Jackson was a big-play man in the secondary, while Rickey Saint, Robert Earl Young, Donald Jackson, Jerry Skidmore and Mickey Boyles were other key players.
Russellville had some tough games early that season, winning three of its first four games by seven points or less. That included a 7-0 victory over Coffee in the fourth game.
“The Coffee game was one that always meant a lot to our kids,” Ray said. “That game was a real turning point for us. After we won that one we just seemed to get better and better every week.”
Russellville got on a roll after the Coffee win. The Golden Tigers blew out their final five opponents with the closest game being a 20-0 victory over Hartselle in the regular season finale. Russellville finished the regular season with a 9-0 record with five of the victories being shutouts.
Playing at home that season was always a thrill for the players because of the support they received from the community.
“Every seat in that stadium would be filled,” Allen said. “There would be fans standing all along the track. It was special when they called your name out in that stadium.”
The 1968 season was just the second in which the AHSAA conducted playoffs to determine the state champion in the four classes.
Allen, an all-state offensive lineman, said the team was in good shape for the playoffs because of Doty.
“Coach Doty would practice us hard, but he also knew when to let up,” Allen said. “There were times when he would give us a breather and let us rest up for the next game and that paid off for us.”
The playoffs began Nov. 22 with Charles Henderson High School in Troy visiting Russellville. The Trojans had reeled off nine consecutive wins after losing their season opener.
“The Troy game was a barn-burner,” Ray said. “We didn’t play as well as usual, although Troy had a lot to do with that. They were a big, physical team and it was a really tough game.”
Troy tied the score at 7 in the third quarter. After getting a field goal blocked late in the fourth quarter, Russellville got the ball back with just 35 seconds remaining,
Watson threw a pair of completions to move Russellville deep inside Henderson territory. With seven seconds remaining, Fuller kicked a 31-yard field goal to give the Golden Tigers a 10-7 victory and a berth in the state title game.
“The crowd went crazy after the field goal,” Fuller said. “I didn’t know you could be that popular for being a kicker, but I felt like a hero after that kick.”
The win set up a matchup with Saks for the Class 3A championship. The 1967 title game against Colbert County was played at Braly Stadium, which was a neutral field. This time the Russellville players and community fully expected to be playing the title game at home.
That was not the case, however, as the AHSAA announced that the game would be played at Saks home field in Anniston.
“Our stadium was bigger and we had not played at home the year before, so we figured it was our time to host the game,” Ray said. “When Bubba (Scott) announced that it would be played in Saks the folks in Russellville didn’t like it at all. Looking back, that probably played in our favor because it got the entire community fired up.”
Firing up the team even more was the fact that unbeaten Saks seemed to be the favorite around the state to win the Class 3A championship. Somehow a copy of a newspaper in the Anniston area found its way into the Russellville fieldhouse.
“The paper said something like the Saks locomotive would be steaming on to a state championship,” Willis said. “I’m sure coach Doty put that in our locker room and it worked. We were pretty mad and we couldn’t wait to play.”
From the opening whistle there was little doubt about which team was the best in the state. Russellville scored on its first drive and quickly jumped out to a 19-0 lead. Watson threw three touchdown passes and Mullins ran for 138 yards and two scores as Russellville finished with 551 yards of total offense.
“We were just so ready to play that game,” Allen said. “It seemed like everything we did worked that night.”
Russellville led 25-6 at halftime and then put the Wildcats away early in the third quarter, claiming the state championship with a 51-13 victory.
“It was just our night,” Fuller said. “It was a lot of fun to win another championship. It almost didn’t seem real.”
The Golden Tigers extended their unbeaten streak to 41 games by winning their first nine games in 1969. The streak finally ended with a loss to Muscle Shoals in the regular season finale.
“There was a lot of pressure to keep the streak going, but it finally ended,” Willis said. “But being a part of those teams is something I’ll always remember. It was a great experience and I played with a lot of good people.”
Russellville has continued to be one of the top football programs in the state since winning the three straight championships. But that 1968 state title remains the last won by the Golden Tigers.
“It means a lot to me, especially because they have not won one since,” Allen said. “But at the time we were just having fun and playing football. We didn’t realize that we were creating something that would last so long.”
Jeff McIntyre can be reached at 256-740-5737 or jeff.mcintyre@TimesDaily.com.