PLYMOUTH – This Friday Plymouth High School will honor the 40th anniversary of the undefeated 1977 state champion Plymouth Rockies. Many of the members of that team will make the trip back for the reunion including the head coach of that team Bill Nixon.
Nixon is a member of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame and in addition to coaching baseball and football at Plymouth was the coach of the North All Star team in both football and baseball and was AD at PHS for many years, as well as being a pretty darn good Dad and Grandpa.
We had a discussion this week on one of his favorite subjects – his 1977 state champions.
Q – Talk about this team. I know they are special to you.
A – They epitomized what I used to preach in baseball and everything else. You play the game against the game and because you love the game. If you win fine. I want to say a lot of it was because of Pete (Buchanan) but I don’t know. When I look at Joe (Morris) and what a great back he would have been on his own, when I look at the state championship game – three overtimes – and I think of Mark Wojda making a perfect snap to Steve Wright who makes a perfect hold for Joe who kicks that winning extra point, Pete was the big star but everybody had a part. And the thing about Pete was he never said anything or acted like he was a star. He understood he was that kind of a player because he had those players around him. They had respect for each other and we had respect for them as coaches. I think that’s something that gets lost today; they respected us, we respected them, they respected each other and we all respected the game of football.
They probably weren’t the best team in the state of Indiana but I don’t think you could question any of those kids heart. Having said that I really think that what enabled them to do what they did – go undefeated and win a state championship – was getting beat the year before (in the first round) against (Mishawaka) Marian. They got the crap kicked out of them. Not on the scoreboard but in every other way they got the crap kicked out of them. I think that’s what pushed them. And they have something that nobody else can have. There may be a team that wins more games because they play more, but nobody can be better than perfect and thats what they were.
Q – They were 13-0.
It’s something that you dream of as a young coach. It’s something you think about, you work for, you want to do but you don’t believe it will ever happen. It happened to me.
Q – But they weren’t perfect. There was a lot of adversity in that season that had to be overcome. It took something like 20 straight carries in a driving rain storm by Pete to put a touchdown over to win over Wawasee. Then Pete fumbles at Delphi in the semi final game and that for all intents and purposes should have ended the game with under two minutes left…
A – Or how about the state championship game where they’ve got four or five division one players on the field and we go three overtimes. Somehow we are right there with them. None of it was easy. And that’s what even makes it better.
Q – Do you remember sitting with me on the bus on the way to the game and looking at me and saying, “If this goes to overtime we’re gonna win it.” ?
A – Kinda. I remember the night before sitting down and writing out a card with a title “What we will do in overtime.”
Q – You showed me the card when you said it. I remember that like it was yesterday.
A – I guess that’s kind of eerie. I don’t know. They (Jasper) should have known what we were going to do. We’d run the single wing before but they sure didn’t do anything with it. The other thing that you have to realize too is that you put the ball in the hands of the guy who brought you there.
I remember watching the film afterward – I think it was in the third overtime – we’re fourth and two and (Buchanan) he takes the ball gets hit at the same time by their two linebackers and they all three end up five yards in the end zone. Nothing was going to stop him. There were moments in that game – if it wasn’t Pete – it was Greg Payne making the tackle on Tony Ahrens on that naked pitch in the last overtime that was really their last chance to win the game. Randy Collins intercepted the pass on the next play.
It was kind of the way it was meant to be because of those kids heart.
I got on them a lot but those guys practiced harder than almost any team I ever had in any sport. They just practiced so hard. And something else – we went the whole season without an injury. Not one.
Q – Everybody will talk about Pete and the offense, and they should, but I remember that defense.
A – And think about it – those four lineman – (Dave) Hileman was really good but (Jim) Keefe playing tackle at 170 pounds? Are you kidding? Lee MacAfee and Doug Emmons? That’s not a list of Notre Dame recruits, but they were special. But I had more than one college coach tell me that that was the four best linebackers they’d ever seen on one high school team in their career (Buchanan, Payne, Collins and Jim Tharp). I got asked who coached the linebackers…
Q – You right?
A – I’m not stupid. I took the easy job. All I had to do was show up. Those guys were like a sponge. They never made a tactical mistake – being out of position or whatever – that hurt us in 13 games. Then you add the two flakiest cornerbacks you could ever imagine – Mark Ripley and Chris Pinkerton – what great skills they had. They could run. And then behind it all was John Beeker who was picked for that spot because he was so smart. He never got caught out of position.
Q – I know you give the players the credit and Pete obviously as an All American had a lot to do with that. Talk about him.
A – The first thing that comes to my mind with him and coaching him was finding a way to deal with his intensity and control his temper. He was a great player but what he achieved came from that intensity. I need to throw his parents in there though. His parents were the absolutely perfect parents for him. He was a hero to a lot of people, but they didn’t treat him that way. He wasn’t a hero to them. I remember he told me, ‘Coach the only ‘D’ I ever got in school I got from my mother and I couldn’t go home and complain to my parents about it.’ He was a rare kid and when you had Joe (Morris) and the way he was, there really couldn’t have been a better situation.