Memories of U.S. Jones football don’t fade away

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 16, 2004

In 1951 the Cold War was in full swing with conflict in Korea. Americans watched the first episode of “I Love Lucy.” Ben Hogan earned his first green jacket when he won The Masters and a loaf of bread cost $0.14.

Change may have been on the horizon in America, but from the state of Alabama you couldn’t see it. Willie Mays crossed the color lines when he signed with the New York Giants that year and became the first Afro-American to play in the major leagues, but in Demopolis things were still separate as far as color was concerned.

But that year the all black, U.S. Jones High School Blue Devils let it be known that they knew a thing or two about football as they revolutionized the game in Demopolis.

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The Blue Devils were lead by coach Arthur Cole who guided his team to a perfect (9-0) record with his modern offensive style of coaching. They were not very big compared to most teams today, but their speed was unmatched and they knew how to use it to their advantage.

There were no opportunities for the Blue Devils to play for a state championship in those days, but that didn’t stop them from playing against the best they could find. Their biggest achievement came when the team traveled to Gadsden for their last game of the 1951 season and managed a 12-12 tie with one of the biggest all black high schools in the state

While many of the members of that 1951 team moved away form the Demopolis area years ago, there is one who can still be found every Friday night hanging around his old stomping ground at Memorial Stadium.

Gidd “Dusty” Russell is 71-years old and though he played the game some 50-years ago, don’t tell him that he doesn’t know the game of football. “I go to every game at Memorial Stadium. I’ve been watching these kids play for years,” Russell said.

He likes what he sees on the field these days, but that doesn’t mean that they are any better that his old team. “I really like this team that Demopolis has right now. They have a lot of speed, which reminds me of the 1951 team. But though they are clearly bigger than we were, I think that the 1951 team would give them a run for their money,” Russell said.

The 1951 team surely had speed with both Russell, who could run the 100-yard-dash in 10 seconds flat, and teammate James “Rocket 88” Gage (9.7) in the backfield.

“Gage was fast. That was why they called him “Rocket 88.” That was the fastest car they made at that time,” Russell said.

Despite being one of the fastest teams around, the Blue Devils were also one of the best coached. And Russell accredits Cole for being the one to change how football was played around these parts. “Cole brought modern football to Demopolis,” Russell said.

The Blue Devils ran a variety of different offensive formations that none had seen before, at least not around here. Some of the formations included:

The T

The Split-T

The Box -a formation originally created by Paul “Bear” Bryant

The Jump-Pass-which was a formation originally performed by Harry Gilmore

They played iron man football in those days with little protection but it didn’t matter to them how tired they got or how much it hurt, just as long as they won.