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I’ll be a Red Devil ’til the day I die

I attended still another funeral in my hometown of Linden the other week, the funeral of a former all-state guard from the Linden Red Devils, Charlie Henson. Up until about two years ago, when she passed, I hardly ever showed up at a funeral in Linden that I didn’t see Charlie’s mama.

The first two fellows I saw sitting over in the shade to the side of the church were Spencer Duke and Bobby Joe Hall. If you’ll pause and look at our photograph this week, you’ll see co-captain and fullback Duke, captain and right guard Hall and left guard Charlie Henson. Oh, yeah, on their right is championship coach, the late Pistol Henders, and on the left, his trusty sidekick and still resident of Linden, coach John Akins.

That picture was made by the famous photographer and Linden native Minnie Kate Hinson during the 1958 grid wars. Oh, by the way, I think it was only fitting that the other fellow sitting there with Spencer and Bobby Joe at the church was former Demopolis Tiger Charlie Abrams, who had come to pay his respects to a much-respected gridiron foe.

As Bobby Joe and I walked to get in line at the church, he told me two things that stuck in my mind. First, he said he used to get off by himself before a football game, and one thing he would think about to calm his nerves was that Charlie Henson would be on the other side of the center for him. The other statement was a quote made to Bobby by Charlie during Charlie’s long bout with cancer. Charlie confided to his teammate something that all we former Linden players can understand when he said, “I’ll be a Red Devil ’til the day I die.”

I often wonder how I would have handled the situation when my older son, Tadd, started playing football for Demopolis if the Linden Red Devils had still existed. I would be expected to say that I would have supported my son and his team 100 percent, but the fact of the matter is I don’t have to answer that question because my beloved Red Devils went away after the 1969 season, I believe it was.

As far as I can ascertain, although some sources say Linden had a football team in 1920, the first Linden team was probably fielded in 1925 under R.M. Gullat, and the ’26 team was coached by C.P. Powell. That information is gathered from the 1928 Linden Year Book. The first winning team was 1927 under Hal Tinklepaugh when my Ma and her cousin, Willie Gray Little, were seniors. I can remember going to Birmingham with Ma and Daddy when I was a boy to visit Coach Tinklepaugh and his wife, who remained close friends with Ma and Daddy until they both died.

I remember having my first Linden football heroes around 1950 or so, players such as Bill Pope, Tommy Short, Spickey Chadwick, Bobby Nichols, Don Peppenhorst and Kenneth Green, and then I wore the Red and White from 1954 through 1958. Sadly to say, the record from 1950 through 1959 was a mere 44-46-9; however, along came Coach Henders, and the record from 1960 to 1969 was drastically improved to 75-21-3, and if my memory bank is tuned to the right frequency, the Red Devils were named state champion seven times during that period by the Sports Writers of Alabama.

Charlie Henson was on a championship team, and even with his weakened condition, he and his family attended the Marengo County Sports Hall of Fame banquet in February 2010, where Charlie sat with his former championship teammates, and where Charlie received the special Hall of Fame Courage Award.

Charlie is now on the heavenly team with several former teammates such as Freddie Jones, Tommy Quinney, Jimmy Roberts, Billy Gibbs and Pete Winston. All-state guard Charlie Henson was a true Red Devil in the ’50s, and he was a Red Devil when he crossed the final goal line in July 2010.