This is the 50th anniversary of the 1963 R.E. Lee Rebel football team. When you look at this team’s 8-2 record and the fact that they didn’t even advance into the state playoffs, you might ask why we should pay homage to this outfit. Well, to put it simply, they were one of the best teams in R.E. Lee history!
This bunch was led by a solid senior class made up of Terry Osbolt, Albert Hinson, Gary Roberts, Phil Jones, Richard Black, Tom Black, Maurice Baker, and Richard Cliff. The small, by today’s standards, coaching staff that led them was fronted by Head Coach Jim Cavan, who was assisted by Clint McAbee, Burns Pruett, Billy Roland, and Ted Trenton.
There were a number of under-classmen who made significant contributions to the success of this team. Some of those were Harold Tarrer, Rett Waller, Woody Woodall, Jimmy Haygood, Johnnie Caldwell, Ronnie Lowe, Sife Perdue, Johnny Hammonds, and a freshman quarterback named Mike Cavan.
An estimated 6,000 fans showed up at Matthews Field the season-opener against the arch-rival Griffin Eagles. Yes, they were the Eagles back then. The Rebels were looking to retaliate for a 7-0 loss to Griffin in 1962 and got their sweet revenge with a 13-7 win.
Lee went on to shutout Cross Keys, Forest Park, and Druid Hills in their next three games and carried a 4-0 mark into a gigantic Homecoming battle with Avondale. Why they would schedule Homecoming against Avondale is a mystery to me but they did. The Rebs had a lot at stake as a win over this tough foe would be their 20th consecutive regular season win at Matthews Field and would assure them the Region 4AAA East title. The Rebels were ranked #8 in the state AAA polls.
The game turned into a titanic defensive battle. Cavan booted a 23-yard field goal with 8:48 left in the game to give Lee a 3-0- lead. The score stayed that way until late in the game when the Rebels were trying to mount a drive to run out the clock on a victory.
A vicious tackle on Caldwell forced a fumble and Avondale recovered at the Lee 34. The tackle was so brutal that it broke Caldwell’s face mask. The Blue Devils managed to score against the determined Lee defense and registered a 7-3 victory.
The Rebels went on to lose one more game, a 13-6 loss to GMA (now Woodward Academy) on a muddy field in College Park. Most Lee followers felt that had Lee held on to defeat Avondale, they would not have fallen to GMA. The year ended with an 8-2 record and a #7 ranking in the final AAA state polls which signified the respect that they had among Georgia’s football followers.
There was no trip to the playoffs because at that time a team had to finish first in the sub-region to get to the playoffs. They then had to finish first in their region to advance to the state playoffs. That is a stark difference from today’s system where a team can finish as low as fourth in the region to get to the state playoffs.
One of the real disappointments for this Lee team was the fact that the Avondale team that they had fought tooth-and-nail went on to run through the state playoffs and win the AAA State Championship with a 40-0 rout of Moultrie. The consensus feeling was that had the Rebels held on to beat Avondale, they too could have took the state title. Coach Cavan was said to have said many times that the Avondale loss cost the Rebels a state championship.He was probably correct!
Thomaston Times sports editor Charles Gordy, a long-time follower of Rebel football, was quoted as saying that the 1963 Lee team was one of the finest teams to ever wear the Rebel colors. Mr. Gordy surely had the background to make such an assessment.
Yes, the goal of this 1963 Lee team was unfulfilled, but their place in Rebel history is solid. They had a great defense, a steady offense, and great coaching, but one sudden loss cost them a dream. No matter, when R.E. Lee football are ranked, the 1963 squad will go down as one of the Institute’s best!
Happy 50th Anniversary fellows!