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Kentucky FootballTales from the Dark Side: The Charlie Bradshaw Years - Part Four

Kentucky football under new coach Charlie Bradshaw did not have much success on the field in 1962 and 1963. There was simply no depth because of attrition. While the opponents were constantly substituting to keep players fresh, the Kentucky Wildcats would have to play the whole game without much in the way of rest.

Charlie Bradshaw came from Bear Bryant's Alabama program.
Charlie Bradshaw came from Bear Bryant's Alabama program.
Malcolm Emmons-US PRESSWIRE

Context of the times

If you were in high school or college in the late 1950s to mid-1960s, there was something wrong with you if you weren't car crazy. Kids from Lexington were no exception. There were hot rods of all sorts that cruised Jerry's Drive-in on Nicholasville Road at Southland Drive, Jerry's on Winchester Road near New Circle Road, and Jerry's at North Broadway. Also, out on New Circle Road was Parkette which is still open today. New Circle road had not yet been paved when Parkette opened and was the scene of several UFO "sightings" during the UFO craze in the 1950s. My belief is that there was too much drinkin' going on combined with over active imaginations.

In the 1960's there were customized cars, street legal drag cars and those built strictly for the drag strip. The 1955, 1956, and 1957 Chevy Bel-Air and the 210 two door post were favorites for street use. The king of the Lexington customs was called "My Blue Heaven."  This 1958 Chevy Bel-Air drew a lot of attention wherever the owner chose to drive it. By 1962, however, it had been turned into a street legal car for the drag strip. The front bumper had been removed to make the car lighter for the drag strip.

The rulers at the Richmond drag strip were two '55 Chevys who met almost every Saturday night. One guy was from Lafayette and the other was from Lexington Catholic. One or both had sent their cars to Clary's speed shop in Louisville to have their small block "motors" (283 cubic inch) worked on. At the strip they would open the headers and the flames would shoot out from the front wheel wells. When these two met, the crowds would gather to watch the race with great anticipation. One would win one week and the other would win the next week.

Then factory made muscle cars began to show up at the drag strip. 427ci Hemi Dodges and Plymouths were unbeatable in their class. Pontiac answered with the GTO. Ford came out with the 428 Falcon and Fairlane built strictly for the strip. Chevy had the famous 409.

The king of the Richmond drag strip was Lou Able who had the one of the slowest dragsters in the country. It was the only dragster to race at Richmond. He never got it quite right and eventually turned his Austin Healey 3000 into a gasser: The car had a blown Chevy small block modified especially for the strip. The car was so light it almost always got "squirrelly" and many believed that car would wind up in the seating stands on the side of the track. Lou would test his car at night behind Lakewood Subdivision on Mt. Tabor Rd. You could hear his car all over the Chevy Chase area.

Lexington, in 1961, 1962 and 1963, was very similar to the movie, American Graffiti.  (It wasn't, however, the backwoods town that Ragland describes.) For an added treat, you can read about the cars in the movie here (photos included). You can also see footage of the police car prank at this site. This particular prank was probably played out all across America at one time or another in the 50s and 60s. It actually happened at the Jerry's across the street from Henry Clay one night in 1957. The one who hooked up the cable to the police car was a 1957 Henry Clay graduate by the name of Mitchell Barnes, who ran around with my older brother.

While all this cool stuff was going on in 1962, dark clouds hung over the Kentucky football team.

Winter "Conditioning"

Charlie Bradshaw's first team meeting is described in The Thin Thirty. It went something like this:

Gentlemen, we're going to make changes here at Kentucky. We're going to find inner toughness and there will be sacrifice. It will be the hardest work you've ever done and it will require complete dedication and discipline. There is only one kind of football: Total Football. It is not a game for the faint-hearted. In football, you don't compromise yourself.

The formula for our success will be hard work. We must set our goals high. We shouldn't think in terms of how to avoid losing, but rather how we're going to win. Football is the greatest game there is and nothing more is indicative of American life.

We are a family and we'll work together in harmony as a family should. This means we want you to take pride in yourselves and to be good Christian men. Your studies will come first. The discipline we teach you on the football field will carry over into your studies and after you graduate. 1

He went on to talk about pride and warned that some wouldn't make it and those who stayed would forget the names of those who quit "because if you can't win here, you can't win in life." All he asked of them was just 45 minutes a day during the winter. The 88 players in attendance bought into what he was saying.

Bradshaw's methods, whether by design or simple cause and effect, were destined to lead to attrition. It started almost immediately. -Shannon Ragland, The Thin Thirty

The winter conditioning program was to be held in the UK recreation center. Four racquetball courts were used as conditioning rooms. Players participate in groups according to their positions. One room was for "grass drills (agility drills)," another was the blocking room, another for weight training and the fourth was the wrestling room.

The first group to go through the winter conditioning and they described it as "the worst thing we've ever seen."  It was in these four rooms that the excesses began from the coaching staff. Those excesses included both verbal and physical abuse. According to the players, the wrestling room was the worst for those who did not wrestle in high school. Losers would wrestle until they won.  The primary coach involved in the winter conditioning was Bob Ford, Bradshaw's defensive coordinator. Ford came with Charlie Bradshaw from Bryant's Alabama. Ford, by virtue of supervising the winter conditioning, was violating NCAA regulations. There is evidence that he knew it. Otherwise, why were the windows at the recreation center covered so no one could see in?

From the description of the drills (except for the blocking sled drills), there was nothing, in my view, that you don't see in a normal high school preseason wrestling practice. In fact, those UK players who had wrestled in high school thrived with the physical intensity which Ragland points out in his book.

The alleged physical and verbal abuse from the coaches is what drove many to leave.

The Exodus

Bradshaw's methods, whether by design or simple cause and effect, were destined to lead to attrition. It started almost immediately. 1

Darwin Turpin, from Hazard, was the first to go after his first 45 minute session. He was described as having "poor" grades and didn't see any purpose in "beating his brains out." This exodus began as a trickle and soon escalated. Bradshaw told the team that those who quit would be quitters all their lives. That wasn't proven to be true, but the players bought into the rhetoric. By the beginning of the April spring practice, the 88 was down to 70.

Ben Harrison, from Guntersville, AL, left after the first day of practice. The next to go were Randy Beard and Larry Whitaker, also from Alabama. When Russ Miracle left to return to Pineville, he described Bob Ford as a "sadist." Ten days into practice Mike Minix left. He was in pre-med and Bradshaw wanted him to switch majors because his studies interfered with practice. He’s now a doctor. John Helmers and Duane Sawyer were the next to go. In the first ten days, ten to twenty would leave on the same day.

When Jim Bolus left, the Kentucky Kernel had a headline on April 26th that declared that 37 had quit the football team. The attrition forced the annual Blue-White game to be cancelled. The team scrimmaged daily until spring practice ended. While the squad numbered 49, injuries brought the numbers down to 38 who could play.

Some would not return for fall practice. 44 reported for two-a-days. On September 3rd, three more left the team. That day Earl Ruby of the Courier-Journal interviewed Johnny Vaught, the Ole Miss coach. Vaught knew of the attrition at Kentucky and the scholarship waivers that those who left the program had signed.  Vaught asked,

Don't those boys who got chased off know that under the (NCAA) rules, they are entitled to four full years of room, board, tuition and books whether they lay a hand on football or not? That is the law as I understand it. What does Bradshaw know that the rest of us don't? 1

The Kentucky coaches and Athletic Director, Bernie Shively, had been coercing those who quit to sign "voluntary" releases of their scholarships. Vaught was the one who let the cat out of the bag. This story, along with the coaching abuse, was taking hold as a story on a national level and eventually led to an NCAA investigation. Sports Illustrated commented in a four page article that had this to say about the scholarship issue:

Kentucky's football scholarships are grants-in-aid. The only way a boy can lose his grant-in-aid, aside from scholastic ineptitude or improper behavior, is to sign a waiver that releases the school from its obligation. The boys who quit Kentucky's squad all signed such waivers.

Charlie Bradshaw may have bullied them into quitting the squad but he did not bully them into signing the waivers. "Before you put your name on this thing," he would say, "think it over carefully. I'd like you to come back to the squad. I can't guarantee you anything. It'll still be just as rough and hard, and I can't promise you'll be rated any higher as a player. But remember, when you sign this thing, you're giving up your scholarship." The players who were determined to quit signed the waiver.

Bradshaw says now that he was not aware that a player did not have to sign a waiver and give up his scholarship when he quit the squad. "I should have known," he says, "but I didn't."

You can read the comments that came from publishing this article, including the Lexington Herald- Leader's defender of the UK program, Ed Ashford. These were the days when the Lexington and Louisville newspapers were protagonists. The Lexington newspaper became an antagonistic media outlet several years later.

While the 1962 season ended with a 3-5-2 record for Bradshaw, the team did beat Tennessee on Clarkie Mayfield's field goal and that kept the fans from grumbling too much. They weren't happy with Collier's last two seasons which ended with a tie and a loss to the Vols.  With the Tennessee win The Thin Thirty had become immortalized in Kentucky Football history.

By running off all those players, Kentucky had no depth and their opponents took advantage of it.  Those teams sent in waves of players while Kentucky's thin blue line became weary. They were few in numbers, but they were in shape although too many lost too much weight.

1963 Season

In 1963, Kentucky had a 3-6-1 record. There was no improvement from 1962.  As the 1963 fall camp began, attrition was still going on although it didn't compare with the prior season.  Sports Illustrated made note in this article:

As fall practice began, KENTUCKY'S roster numbered 47 men, 30 of them sophomores. Six players have left since (40 quit on him last fall), and tough Charlie Bradshaw, the Kentucky coach, says, "So what. I can't even remember their names." About the only names Kentucky fans will remember this year belong to Tackle Herschel Turner, the team's best lineman, and Halfback Darrel Cox, a versatile athlete who runs, passes, kicks and plays safety.

Give credit to SI for the incorrect spelling of Darrell Cox's name.  Ed Ashford, in October, had informed Sports Illustrated that only two of the 44 freshmen had left the team but, a year later only 30 returned for fall camp. I wonder how he reconciled that difference? It is one thing to be a homer, but it is another thing to be a HOMER. UK controlled the media across the whole state in 1963.

Kentucky opened up with a home victory over Virginia Tech 33-14 on September 21st. The day before I entered the U.S. Navy in Louisville and was on a plane to San Diego with five guys from Danville. I joined because I knew I wasn't yet ready for college and I wanted to see the world. The Danville five joined because hanging out at the pool hall had become boring. By the time the Wildcats lost to Johnny Vaught's Mississippi Rebels at home 31-7 on the 28th, the first week of boot camp had been completed.

On October 5th, the Cats were on the road and almost pulled out a win, losing to Auburn 14-13. Kentucky came home the following week and dispatched Detroit 35-18 and the Cats stood at 2-2. Next up was LSU in Red Stick, Louisiana (Baton Rouge). Kentucky did not play well against the Bengal Tigers and lost ugly 28-7 on the 19th of October. On the 26th, Georgia came to Lexington and beat the Cats 17-14. Close, but no cigar.

November would be memorable. The previous season Miami beat Kentucky 25-17 in a game that was almost cancelled due to the Cuban Missile Crisis. The team’s plane had been escorted by fighter jets going into Miami International. In 1963, the Hurricanes had to come to Lexington. No big deal as Kentucky lost to Miami 20-14 on November 2nd. The following week, Kentucky played kiss your sister and left Nashville with a 0-0 tie. I’m glad I didn’t get to watch that one. On the 16th Kentucky went to Waco, Texas and beat the Baylor Bears 19-7. The Cats stood at 3-5-1 with The Tennessee Volunteers looming in Lexington on the 23rd.  Tennessee repaid the Wildcats for the previous year's indignity, sending Bradshaw's squad down in Lexington 19-0.

On the 22nd, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. All kinds of hell broke loose all across the land. Company 409 in San Diego was a couple of weeks away from completing boot camp and we were told to pack our duffle bags and await orders for deployment. We were sure war with Cuba was coming. The media had claimed that Cuba was the guilty party in the assassination. We sat in our barracks for three days waiting on those orders. They never came. You can imagine my relief. The assassination of JFK, however, would change the world, especially the United States. We had lost our innocence.

There was hope for the future at Kentucky because the sophomore class was loaded with star quality players and Bradshaw’s quest for a national championship would hopefully take hold.

The squad had grown in numbers by 1964 and Kentucky's 1962 freshman class had become juniors. And, they were led by one of UK's great quarterbacks, Rick Norton from Louisville's Flaget high school. A significant portion of that 1962 freshman class had weathered Bradshaw's first year and were ready for action.

  1. Ragland, Shannon. The Thin Thirty. Set Shot Press; 1st edition (August 21, 2007). Print.