CNJ staff photo: Kevin Wilson Carl Richardson, left, and B.B. Lees stand with a trophy commemorating the undefeated 1957 football season with the two as coaches. Richardson was head coach, and Lees was the assistant for the 9-0-1 team, the last ENMU football team to go undefeated.
By Kevin Wilson: CNJ staff writer
When the Greyhound football team lost 45-20 last Saturday at Abilene Christian, it meant Eastern New Mexico University would again be just outside the Division II rankings.
But it meant something else for Eastern New Mexico University (4-1). When this Mark Ribaudo-led Greyhounds squad suffered its first loss, it added another year to the legacy of the 1957 squad, ENMU’s last undefeated team.
Members of the 1957 team, which went 9-0-1 under Carl Richardson and assistant B.B. Lees, are gathering tonight at the Portales Country Club to celebrate the golden anniversary.
The fields were still 100 yards and it was 10 yards for a first down, but smaller participation numbers for college athletics put a premium on talented, hard-working players.
“At that time, we only had 44 on squad, and we only had two coaches and one graduate assistant,” Richardson said. “Everybody had a job and everybody had to do it.”
The season started with a 14-0 win at New Mexico Western, and it was pretty early in the season when Richardson realized the Greyhounds hit a little too hard for their own good.
“To be honest, after the first two or three weeks, we didn’t dare scrimmage because they’d just end up killing each other,” said Richardson, who credited avoiding the injury bug as part of the team’s success. “We’d just let them out on Saturday, so to speak.”
Buck Wilson, a 1960 ENMU graduate who practices dentistry in Portales, was the team’s backup quarterback, but could concentrate on playing safety while starting quarterback Curtis Blair earned one of the team’s four All-American nods.
The other three All-Americans were tackle Gerald “Fuzz” Moore, guard Wayne Bailey and defensive end Jerry Bailey. All four were seniors.
The team was strong on defense, allowing 103 points, but played a lot of close games. There was the 14-14 tie with Southwestern Oklahoma that put the team at 8-0-1, and five of the team’s wins were by a touchdown or less.
Lees said there was plenty of reason to be nervous all year.
“All you’ve got to do is look at the scores and know we were worried until the end (most weeks),” Lees said with a laugh. “But they found a way to win.”
It was one of the not-so-close games, a 27-0 win Oct. 19 over Los Angeles State, that surprised some.
“They were big, fast and ranked,” Wilson said. “We won that game, and it was almost unbelievable. It seemed like (our players) were playing way above their head, but they pulled that thing off.”
Richardson said he would end most games by writing down the percentage of effort he felt the team gave. He said if they gave 100 percent, they’d win; in some close games, Wilson said the grade would be in the mid-90s.
Future Greyhound squads gave similar efforts, Richardson said, but small schools with undefeated seasons are usually loaded with seniors. That was the case in 1957, and the 1958 squad finished 3-6-1. Richardson didn’t have another winning season until 1961, three years before Lees took over as head coach.
The coaches and players from the 1957 squad are still Greyhound fans, and hold out hope another team will join them and the inaugural 1934 squad, which went 9-0-1 against mostly junior college and freshman squads, in the ranks of the school’s unbeaten football teams.
“We had some Bud Elliott teams that coulda gone, we had a Don Carthel team or two,” Wilson said. “There’s got to be some skill, but you’ve got to be in the right place in the right time.
“A lot of time, there’s not a nickel’s worth of difference between the (1957 team and other ENMU squads).”