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The Birth of a Juggernaut

Legendary Game Series
Reitz vs. East Chicago Roosevelt: October 1, 1948
by Mike Whicker

East Chicago Roosevelt High.  The Goliath of Indiana high school football in the 40s.  They owned the gridiron.  The colossus no one could beat–don’t even try, just take your lumps and be thankful if you walked away.

The Roughriders had not lost a game in four years–since 1944.  They were undisputed state champions in 1945, 46 and 47–three years in a row–devouring their foes like some hungry behemoth.  Many of their non-league foes refused to reschedule them after a particularly brutal beating.  Roosevelt administrators were forced to scramble to find fresh martyrs to sacrifice to their football leviathan.

One program in the southern part of the state that the Roosevelt brass had an offer from seemed interesting.  Evansville Reitz was already known around the state in football circles.  They had won a couple of state championships (’33 & ’40), and had earned a reputation as one of the state’s better programs.  They had a huge stadium and large gates.  Plus their coach, some guy names Byers, had been trying to schedule a game with them for years.  Seemed like a good opportunity to show the southern part of the state how football was really played, and collect a nice paycheck in the process.

Anticipation that week ran high in Evansville.  The Panthers had drubbed their first three opponents by a combined score of 124-12.  Even though it wasn’t likely anyone would beat mighty Roosevelt, the locals were hoping for an exciting contest.  The official gate that day was 13,587, but with many standing four and five deep outside the fences on the Hill, it was estimated that 15,000 people watched the teams take the field.

Roosevelt won the toss and elected to receive (might as well go on offense and take it to the southern boys early.)  The Roughriders relied mostly on a bone crunching running game sparked by a 217 pound battering ram at fullback – Ted Toper.

But on this fateful day, a new king of Indiana football would emerge.  On this day, there would be two mighty teams in Reitz Bowl, but the mightiest would not be from up north.  On this day, a new football juggernaut would be born.

The fired-up Reitz defense stuffed the powerful northerners on that first series and forced them to punt.  The Panthers took over on their own 37 yard line.  On the very first play from scrimmage, fullback Tommy Wilson took the handoff, burst off tackle, and stunned the Roughriders with a 63-yard touchdown gallop.

A proud Roosevelt team would not go down without a fight.  Time after time they sent Toper pounding savagely into the Panther wall.  But the fierce Reitz defense was too much for the northerners.  Wherever the Roughriders tried to attack, the Panthers swarmed to the ball, arriving there in a bad mood.

The Reitz defenders were not the only Panthers that came to play that day.  The offense put on a show of its own.  Led by quarterback Earl “Pete” Fisher, the Panthers kept an exalted Roosevelt defense reeling.  Although the Panthers threw the ball only twice, both were for TD’s.  The first on a Fisher to Malcolm Cook bomb that covered 58 yards, and the second again from Fisher to Bob Hertzberger for 52 yards.  Two passes – two touchdowns  – 110 yards.  For the rest of the game the Panther offense put on a running clinic for the visitors.  Fisher’s ball handling wizardry often had the enemy defense tackling the wrong man.

When the final gun sounded the mighty East Chicago Roosevelt Roughriders had been thrashed 32-6 by the Reitz High Panthers.

The Bowl had her heroes that day.  Fisher, Cook, Wilson and Hertzberger would all be named All-State.  To this day their pictures hang in the Reitz locker room.  Bob Yokel would turn in an outstanding game on defense.  The team would go on to an undefeated 10-0 season and an undisputed state championship.  However, something much greater than individual honors would come from this game.  Something even greater than team honors.

For this was the day a legacy was born.  A legacy fought for and handed down from fathers to their sons and grandsons.  The legacy of Reitz Football.  The legacy that inspires little boys to dream of someday playing football for the “Panthers.”  Something pure – something noble.

Now there was a new Goliath.

1948 Reitz Football Results

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  1. […] The Panthers of ’48 scored 353 points in 10 games, only allowing 52. Lead by Hall of Fame coach Herman Byers, they won state championship honors (picked by the AP, UP & Litkenhous Ratings), helped by a huge 32-6 win over East Chicago Roosevelt (the Rough Riders’ hadn’t lost in four years…see Coach Whicker’s Legendary Game Series entry on this game). […]

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