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Kentucky Football History: Tales from the Dark Side – The Charlie Bradshaw Years Part Two

Charlie Bradshaw came to Kentucky from Alabama. He was a former Kentucky player who became an assistant to Paul “Bear” Bryant. He was familiar with the brutality that came with the Bryant early years.

Behind Bear Bryant came trouble ...
Behind Bear Bryant came trouble ...

The Tales from the Dark Side is a series about UK Football and its coaches from the point of view of a Lexington kid who grew into an adult and who has become a senior citizen. I want everyone to know that I have the utmost respect for all the players that have played for our beloved university. This series of articles should be considered as a tribute to them.

My belief is that they have been short changed over the years by the university's administration and coaches. The players, over the years, have put in blood, sweat and tears for their fans and their school. Most have been under-appreciated. Many have endured humbling experiences at UK and have become successful in life. Others have faced tragedy. As a Viet Nam veteran, I hope they understand the deeper meaning of "Thanks for your service." All the players who have worn the Blue and White are a band of brothers.

These articles about what my eyes have seen and what my ears have heard. Others may have seen and heard something different. While some can dispute the facts, no one can dispute the history of Kentucky football and the decisions that were made that got us where we are today. While the past is dark, the future is bright and there is reason for hope.

In my last piece on Charlie Bradshaw, I made an attempt to set the stage and put the time frame in perspective. This article and the next pick at the scabs that Charlie Bradshaw left behind.

By the time Bradshaw came to Kentucky, the times had already changed. Eighty-eight players attended the beginning of fall practice. By the first game there were thirty or so left. Only the hardcore and the hard-nosed remained on the team. Bradshaw also had to operate under the recruiting restrictions that caused Bryant to leave and Collier's dismissal.

One of my friends was recruited by Collier and wound up quitting under Bradshaw that first season. He was a Parade All-American lineman from Henry Clay High School and is a bar fighting legend to this day amongst those of us who went to high school from 1961 forward for a few years. I won't provide his last name because John became a CPA and I don't want to embarrass him. He was afraid of no one...except for Lou Micheals when he came to town for short visits. Lou was still playing in the NFL. There was many a brawl at the Buffalo Tavern, later named The Fireplace, and the Chevy Chase Inn (aka the CCI). The fights usually ended in the middle of Euclid Avenue. Big brawlers from all over Kentucky came to Lexington in anticipation of beating either John or Lou. I never saw either lose. John, however, always gave Lou his due as king of the hill.

Another Lexington lineman, Jim Foley, from Lafayette High School stayed on the team. He was one who was willing to put up with the physical and verbal abuse put forth on the Thin Thirty. I'm not sure anyone realizes how bad it was. It has been described in Shannon Ragland's book, The Thin Thirty (which I haven't read), but few realize that many players still have emotional scars to this day. I will discuss that later.

If you'll recall, Bryant took his first Kentucky team to Millersburg Military Institute for Fall camp and he had similar results that Bradshaw had. The camps were tough and they were used to cull the ranks. Only the mentally and physically tough survived. Many of those players were returning war veterans who had faced far worse than anything that Bryant could offer up. Bryant did the same at Texas A&M (the Junction Boys) and also at Alabama. Bradshaw seemed to take particular interest in brutality and apparently couldn't control himself or his assistant coaches. Here's how one player described it to Larry Vaught in 2011.

At the close of the season, Kentucky entered the Tennessee game with a 2-5-2 record. The boys in blue had to go to Knoxville and face the Vols at the newly named Neyland Stadium on November 24th. Kentucky had beaten Detroit 27-8 and Vanderbilt 7-0 at home. In the first game of the season, Kentucky and Florida State battled to a 0-0 tie and also tied Georgia 7-7 in Athens in October. They had lost to Ole Miss 14-0 in Jackson, to Miami 25-17 in Miami, to LSU 7-0, to Auburn 16-6 in Lexington. The week before playing Tennessee, the Cats lost to Xavier 14-9 in Lexington in a game that Shannon Ragland insists was lost on purpose in a betting fix. Those who have reviewed his book, however, say his evidence was weak, at best. In spite of the losing record, Kentucky was tough on defense that year.

The only game I can remember attending was that Xavier game and the memory is vague. What I remember most was the student section and not the game itself. Back then, those who worked the gates didn't check for liquor and usually the student section was nothing short of a drunken mob by half-time. I remember them passing girls over their heads up the rows of McLean Stadium. They only paid attention to what was going on the field in passing during their bourbon and coke inspired revelry. I also remember very clearly the booing after Kentucky lost. It burned into my soul and is probably the reason I hate the Wave and the beach balls at games today. Those activities always remind me of 1962 at Stoll Field.

During my research, I was able to find a copy of the game program that the University of Tennessee put out for the Kentucky game. I found this to be particularly interesting from a historical point of view because it gives you a feel for the times. I've thumbed through it many times. While I tried to set the scene of the early sixties in Part One of my research on the days of Charlie Bradshaw, this program does far more in pictures than I could possibly do with mere words. Click on this link to see it. Note that it may be slow to load because it is a PDF file. Just hang on until it does because I think it is a special treat. Even the advertising is very interesting and somewhat humorous by today's standards. You will be surprised to learn that "Rocky Top" is not the Tennessee Alma Mater (Page 62) and you'll be amazed at the price of a BBQ sandwich (page 67). Consider what you pay now. Times have changed.

Mark Story of the Lexington Herald-Leader wrote about Clarkie Mayfield, our Kentucky kicker who also played DB at times, and how he dealt with Bradshaw and the pressure of the Tennessee game. You need to read how Clarkie Mayfield, ex-Cat, in life and death, refused to back down.

As you can see, Mayfield was a real life hero on and off the field of play. While Mayfield endured Bradshaw's abuse, others couldn't handle it; hence, the mass exodus. Mark Story captured the essence of the abuse, but he really didn't do it justice. After all, he was writing a positive story about Mayfield and the Bradshaw abuse was only a part of Mayfield's life's story.

The Kentucky Freshman Football class of 1961-1962 held its first reunion in 2008. In preparation for the reunion, Kay Collier McLaughlin, Ph.D., (one of Blanton Collier's daughters), Micheal B. Minix, Sr. M.D., Twila Minix, R.N., Jim Overman, Scott Brogdon mailed out a questionnaire to players which turned into a study entitled, "A Longitudinal and Retrospective Study of The Impact of Coaching Behaviors on the 1961-1962 University of Kentucky Football Wildcats". It was first published by an organization called CAPPA.

Dr. Minix is one Kentucky player who was forced off the team by Bradshaw. The reason? He refused to quit working toward a degree in medicine. Here's the article and the survey results: KENTUCKY FOOTBALL TRAGEDY AND BRADSHAW FORGIVENESS.

Dr. Minix is one of the organizers of the Blanton Collier Sportsmanship Group along with Kay Collier McLaughlin. It is another site worth visiting. Dr. Minix has written many articles in "The Team Physician's Corner." If you look at the list of the Board of Directors, you will find some very familiar names.

Some would say, as one did in the comments section of Larry Vaught article above, that the past is the past and we shouldn't beat a dead horse. Obviously, I do not agree. There is much to be learned from the past, no matter how bad. We all have our own skeletons and secrets. Sometimes it is good to lay open the wounds of the past. Once they are out in the open, they don't seem all that bad. While there was Bradshaw's physical and mental abuse going on, there was also another scandal involving UK players going on at the same time. I will address that in Part Three before getting into the 1963 season.