September 17, 2009 11:26:00 AM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
ABERDEEN — Fernando Davis has a good memory when it comes to football scores.
Davis recalls plenty of results from his playing days at the University of Alabama.
But Davis can go back even before that and show off an impressive ability to recall the smallest details from his career as a linebacker at Aberdeen High School.
Many of the most vivid memories are from the A-Team game against Amory High.
“Bringing home the A-Team trophy, that was our whole objective,” said Davis, who was a linebacker at Aberdeen High and a member of The Clarion-Ledger’s 1992 Dandy Dozen squad. “My sophomore year (1990) we beat them 17-7 after they had kicked holes in the Bulldog (at midfield). That was all of the motivation we needed for that game. We beat them 20-3 the next year and 42-7 in my senior year.”
Davis isn’t the only player or person associated with the rivalry who has an excellent memory. Coaches who have been a part of the history-rich rivalry talked this week about their participation in the game, which will reconvene at 7:30 tonight. The game will be broadcast on WAFM 95.7, WWZQ 1240 AM and WAMY 1580 AM.
The game will be the 73rd meeting in the series dating back to the first recorded game in 1935.
No mention of Aberdeen-Amory games before 1935 could be located in old editions of The Aberdeen Examiner.
Amory won that first game 21-0.
The A-Team trophy was first awarded in 1989 by the Monroe Publishing Company, Inc. Bobby Hall and Lynn Moore were the coaches at Amory and at Aberdeen at the time, and both men said the decision to give the winner of the game a golden trophy added to the magnitude of the rivalry.
“Back then, the game was more about community and bragging rights than it is now,” Hall said. “The two communities are similar size and they are two very prideful communities. I just think it was a big-time community thing. Aberdeen and Amory have always been the two football kingpins in (Monroe) county. Some people will tell you Hamilton (was part of the conversation). They were better in the early 80s and in the late 70s, and I guess they were because they played Aberdeen and beat them. But the rivalry was a lot of fun when I was there.”
Said Moore, who is now the athletic director at Itawamba AHS, “It was a great decision (to give a trophy to the winner of the game. Amory thumped us pretty good that year (30-0), but we came back the next year and won it in 1990 and 91. It added something to the game. ... It was a rivalry that certainly deserved something special.”
This season, both teams are looking for a victory. Aberdeen (1-2) is coming off a 24-14 loss to Pontotoc, while Amory (0-3) lost to New Hope 42-7 last week.
The teams are in different classifications — Aberdeen is in Class 3A, while Amory is in 4A — and the game is being played early in the season as opposed to its typical spot at the end of the year, but that won’t diminish the intensity both teams will feel tonight.
“It was just a game of the year,” McComb said. “It would make your season. Usually we would play it at the end of the season. If you didn’t have a real good season and you beat Amory it was kind of like the State-Ole Miss game, you made your season.”
McComb, who arrived on the scene in 1966, and Thomas Pierce, who is from Amory, helped establish the football tradition at Aberdeen High.
At Amory, Jimmy Walden, who played at Aberdeen High and coached the Panthers, and Hall helped build a championship program and mind-set in that community.
Hall, who is now the coach at Madison Central, won Class 3A state titles at Amory in 1994-95 and in ’98.
Pat Byrd, the current football coach and athletic director at Amory High, served as an assistant coach for Hall for 12 years, including the three seasons at Louisville High.
Hall and Byrd returned to Amory High for a second stint that led to the title run.
Byrd said the proximity of the towns (they are 16 miles apart) plays the biggest role in the rivalry. He said families from each town work in the other town and relatives live in the other community, which creates a sense of closeness and pride in anything associated with Aberdeen or Amory.
That’s why it also is natural the game will be for bragging rights.
Byrd said the people of Amory, especially Hall, who have helped make the rivalry so special.
“I think it is the work ethic of the people,” Byrd said. “Coach Hall is the godfather of football here. They can say what they want to, but he was. Amory was winning a lot of games before he got here, and hopefully it will win some after, but he put it to the forefront. When it went from the old conference system to the playoff system, he kicked things up several notches. He always will be known and remembered for that.”
Byrd said Hall was a “master motivator” who was focused on his players giving relentless effort and being prepared.
“He was totally committed to full-speed, whistle-to-whistle,” Byrd said. “That is something I hope I have learned, I believe I have, from him.”
Byrd has taken a lot of what he does now from Hall. He said he doesn’t allow his kids to wear earrings and that his teams always will wear white cleats, even though they are becoming harder and harder to find.
He also expects his players to play a particular way, which might be called “the Amory way.”
“It is demanded,” Byrd said. “It is not something they get to choose. We just maintain it from day to day. It is like farming. It is something to do every day because they don’t come to us ready made.”
Andy Stevens, who played quarterback at Amory and went on to be the head football coach at Aberdeen High from 2002-05, said Hall had great talent and a knack for getting the players to do give their all.
“He had kids back then who were willing to work in the weight room,” said Stevens, who is an assistant principal at Caledonia High. “He worked his tail off and made us believe that we were going to win every game. ... He could tell us to run off that cliff and win a ballgame and we would do it.”
Unfortunately, Stevens said he wasn’t able to develop the same kind of program at Aberdeen. He said he stayed two years too long at Aberdeen High only because he told the school board when he was hired that he would remain as coach for four seasons.
“We went 9-3 in the second year and I kept getting things tacked on me one after another,” Stevens said. “I learned at Aberdeen that doing the right thing is not always the right thing to do.”
All of the coaches interviewed for this story said continuity in coaching staffs has helped Amory have more success in the rivalry.
Byrd credits current Aberdeen High football coach Chris Duncan for helping to re-establish the Bulldogs’ football program.
Last year, Aberdeen lost to Louisville in the Class 3A North Half State final.
Duncan was sick earlier this week and couldn’t be reached for comment.
“I think now they have things on a stable footing,” Byrd said. “They had things on a stable footing when Andy Stevens there for a while. But beyond that it has pretty much been a roller coaster ride since Dwight McComb and Thomas Pierce were there in the 70s and 80s. I just think the stability of the program has a lot to do with that.”
Leroy Gregg who coached the offensive lines at both schools for a number of years and still lives in Amory, said the similarity of the towns adds to the strength of the rivalry.
“For so many years the two towns were so much alike,” said Gregg, who is the football coach and athletic director at Oak Hill Academy. “The size of the towns were similar, the names started with A, the industries in both towns were similar, the makeup of the school was very similar. I think the trademark of the towns was so similar (in that they were blue-collar towns).”
Davis, who served as an assistant coach for Lee Doty in 2000-01, is just one person with ties to Aberdeen who has a good memory. He smiled when he was asked about the quality of his memory.
“I remember all of those scores,” Davis said.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.