By Ron Brocato, Clarion Herald Sports
The most anticipated event that culminates a sports season is the selection of the coveted All-State team.
And the most talked-about by prep hacks is the All-State football team, chosen by a group representing the Louisiana Sports Writers Association.
The last of five teams – Class 5A – was published on Jan. 6. It contained 14 players on the offense side and 14 defensive selectees.
And by some ill-conceived, all-inclusive philosophy that declares everyone a winner, the committee went out of its way to pick 93 (count ’em) players for honorable mention.
All-State football teams in Louisiana date back more than 100 years. Harry Martinez, the sports editor of the New Orleans Daily States, started picking All-State teams in 1916 – four years before the formation of the LHSAA.
Mr. Harry was a legend during the true golden days of sports reporting. Back in the day, he was one of those gifted people who covered sports who were known as newsmen (or newswomen) and never thought of themselves as “jour-nalists.”
For most, that word did not apply, because few (if any) had degrees in the subject. They forged their careers in the streets and at the race tracks, boxing arenas, smoke-filled pubs and coaches’ offices – anywhere people gathered to talk sports.
Their prose was the product of plain, “yatty” street talk and not from a grammar primer. And, although few would be mistaken for Shakespeare or Hemingway, their descriptions were wonderfully artistic, written in a style every sports fan clearly understood.
Mr. Harry’s early All-State teams consisted of 11 players. All high schools in Louisiana competed in the same classifications, and as the late Shreveport Journal sports editor Jerry Byrd pointed out in his book, “Louisiana’s Best,” aside from winning a state football championship, which was the goal of every team, winning a berth on Martinez’s All-State team was the highest individual honor a player could achieve.
Using the telephone at his newsroom desk to poll sports writers from around the state, Martinez assembled a list of candidates. Then, after carefully evaluating what he heard from his fellow scribes, he began making his selections.
There were no honorable mentions doled out to marginal athletes. Like Top Gun, there were no points for second place. And that is the way it should be.
Byrd’s book pointed out that many great players were not selected to All-State teams. While it is likely that some of them should have been selected, the fact was that they weren’t considered the best players at their positions during their high school careers.
Some cases in point are running backs Marshall Faulk of Carver (1990) and Hank Lauricella of Holy Cross (1947). They were Heisman Trophy runners-up at San Diego State and the University of Tennessee, respectively, but did not make the either the Louisiana Sports Writers Association or football coaches’ All-State teams during of their high school years. Neither did quarterbacks Terry Bradshaw, Bert Jones, Doug Williams, Stan Humphreys, Bobby Hebert and David Woodley, whose college and professional careers earned them inductions in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame.
An oversight, you ask? Hardly.
Bradshaw rode the Woodlawn (Shreveport) bench for two years behind starter and All-State QB Trey Prather. Bradshaw had a record 21 touchdowns passes in 1965, but Fair Park’s John Miller set a composite state record for passing yardage with 1,727 and became the apple of the voting coaches’ eyes. Neither Bradshaw’s nor Miller’s teams won a state championship. That went to Sulphur.
In 1966, Woodlawn’s fabulous Joe Ferguson (Arkansas and the Buffalo Bills) rewrote most of the state’s prep passing records, but Holy Cross’ Butch Duhe was a near-unanimous choice over sophomore Ferguson as the Class AAA quarterback.
Ferguson, whose career passing numbers figured prominently in the national high school record book, was an easy choice as the 1967 All-State quarterback. After leading Woodlawn to its only state title, Joe was selected over Ruston’s Bert Jones (LSU and the Baltimore Colts) and Chalmette’s Norris Weese (Ole Miss and the Denver Broncos).
In 1977, John Fourcade of Archbishop Shaw (later Ole Miss) and Tommy Wilcox of Bonnabel (Alabama) were the two hottest prep QBs in the state. They played for teams in the same parish (Jefferson) but never faced each other on the 100-yard battlefield.
What might have been
Retired Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame writer Bill Bumgarner often says his only regret as a newsman was not seeing the two in head-to-head competition. But Bill convinced the All-State selection committee to name both quarterbacks to the team, although Fourcade was selected as “Outstanding Offensive Player.”
The irony here is that both Shaw and Bonnabel were knocked out of the playoffs by South Lafourche, quarterbacked by Bobby Hebert (Northwestern State, the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons).
Hebert, who started his senior season as a tight end, was moved to quarterback during the season when the Tarpons’ starter was injured. The move received little fanfare.
At Byrd High, Woodley (LSU and the Miami Dolphins) finished behind Brother Martin’s Lou Ernst in the 1975 All-State voting.
Southwood’s Stan Humphreys was the state’s top-rated QB in 1980, but the All-State spot went to Timmy Byrd, who led East St. John to the Class 4A state title over Barbe.
And Doug Williams, from Cheneyville High, was a virtual unknown. But after a redshirt year at Grambling State (1975), his star rose rapidly in a career that began as the first-round pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and ended with him leading the Washington Redskins to the Super XXII title. All too late for All-State notoriety.
Martinez, the standard-bearer of All-State football teams, ended a 56-year career in 1966, the same year my career began at the States-Item. His old Remington typewriter sat idle on his desk for weeks after his departure. The antiquated machine from which he recorded the pulse of the city’s sports culture, was the Fort Knox of his prose. And a small padlock attached to the carriage that only he could open made it so.
History owes so much to the man and his machine.
Ron Brocato can be reached at email@example.com.