The crowd overflowed down on to the field, jammed the aisles, packed the hillside turf at both corners and stood four to five deep along the fences. The newspapers the next day estimated the crowd at over 14,000.
Legendary Game Series
Oct. 27, 1960: Reitz vs. North
by Mike Whicker
Like the rest of the nation in the waning days of October 1960, there was much talk in Evansville of the hotly contended presidential election, only a week away, between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy. Everyone had an opinion.
However, for the week leading up to Thursday, Oct. 27, another matter took over the local spotlight. For that was the day of ‘THE GAME.” Everyone had an opinion on this topic also.
All that week on radio, television, and in the newspapers; in barber shops, taverns, stores and shops there was one subject that dominated conversation. Thursday night in Reitz Bowl the No. 1 ranked team in the state of Indiana — the Reitz Panthers, would meet the No. 3 ranked team in the state — the North Huskies.
Reitz would bring a perfect 6-0 record to the table and the state’s top ranking. The Panthers featured a stifling defense that had allowed a total of just eight points in the first six games. Combining this with a bruising running game and a dangerous passing attack on offense, the Panthers had laid waste to Vincennes, 20-0; Muncie Central, 34-6; Mater Dei, 46-0; New Albany, 47-0; Central, 42-2; and Bloomington, 31-0.
North, smaller but “packing more fireworks than a munitions dump” according to Courier reporter Don Bemhardt, featured a deceptive running game and a brilliant passing attack. Along with a quick, hustling defense the Huskies were 7-0 and had demolished Mt. Vemon, 52-7; Lincoln, 41-19; Bloomington, 20-0; Bosse 27-7; Memorial, 30-20; Mater Dei, 25-7; and Boonville, 58-0.
It was standing room only at the Bowl that night, with little or none of even that left. The crowd overflowed down on to the field, jammed the aisles, packed the hillside turf at both corners and stood four to five deep along the fences. The newspapers the next day estimated the crowd at “over 14,000.”
North put up a struggle in the first half. The Huskies, aided by several key penalties on the fierce Hilltopper defense, twice had the ball within the shadow of the Reitz goalposts. Husky quarterback Mike Volkman and runners Mike Madriaga and John Mominee were a skilled unit that had burned opposing defenses all season. But, even though they twice had the ball inside the Reitz ten yard line in the first half, the powerful Panthers would dig in and deny any score.
DEFENSE! In 1960, few had seen as ferocious a squad as the one from the Hill. The core of this defense would return as seniors in 1961 to form a legendary unit — but that is another story.
In fact, the only score in the first half was tallied by the Reitz defense. In the first quarter the Panthers Royce Neisz picked off a Huskie pass and returned it 18 yards for the score. At intermission, the Panthers held a slim 7-0 lead.
During halftime the crowd in the Bowl watched as Kay Alexander was crowned homecoming queen. In the locker room, Herman Byers was assuring his team the second half would be different. “They’ve had their day,” was the coach’s comment about the fine Huskie first half. The coach told the team it was time for them to add their portion to the Reitz legacy.
The Boys from the Hill took the field for the second half with fire in their eyes. Reitz had to kickoff. The Panther’s Larry Hall booted the ball deep to the Huskies Steve Myers.
“When Myers crossed the 20 yard line he was rocked hard by a tremendous hit and fumbled the ball. The alert Hall picked up the ball and sprinted in for the score.
The Huskies never had a chance in the second half against the powerful – and fired up – Panthers. The second half was as lopsided as the first half was close. The overwhelming Reitz defense forced the badgered North offense into throwing four interceptions that day, and brutal tackling by the Panthers caused six fumbles—three of which were recovered by Reitz.
The valiant North squad had heart, but not enough muscle to match up to the powerful Westsiders, and finally wilted under the Reitz onslaught. The scoreboard read 34-0 at the end of “THE GAME.” It was the fifth shutout of the season for the Panthers.
Standouts that day for the Panthers, besides Neisz and Hall, were co-captains Bob Ringham and Ken Hansen, Charles Orth, Gary Hahn, Joe Goodrid and Glenn Ray also turned in outstanding games. But this was indeed a team effort. Gary Effinger, who came off the bench in the second half to spell injured fullback Don Hansen, threw for a touchdown and sparked the Reitz offense.
The players carried their coach off the field on their shoulders. Even though the outcome of the game was not in doubt after the first few minutes of the third quarter, the jubilant Reitz faithful rushed onto the field when the gun sounded, formed a giant human train, and snake danced around the field.
The next week the Panthers smashed Memorial 32-0 for their sixth shutout, and ended the season with a 47-7 butchering of Bosse. That would lock up another state championship for the proud program.
The words over the Bowl read “Home of the Mighty Panthers.” Many great teams on the Hill have proved the soundness of those words. Words that surely pertain to the 1960 Reitz Panthers.
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