Bryne, Rebs ran wild in ’54 season

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 30, 2001

High schools in Natchez have played good football all the years since I started writing for The Natchez Democrat in 1948. Schools like Natchez High, Cathedral, Adams Christian, Thomas Jefferson, Trinity. And surrounding area schools as well.

But I’m thinking specifically as I hunt-and-peck on my old Underwood Five for the first time in three weeks about Natchez High School’s 1953 Rebel football team.

That team was 9-1 on the season, losing only to Greenville 20-14. The Rebels clipped Jackson Central 32-20 right off the bat, and fans felt that NHS was for real. Tony Byrne was for real, for sure! And Clyde Adams was NHS’ solid quarterback, complementing Byrne’s game-after-game running tactics that caught the eye of friend and foe alike.

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Tony sped (and I do mean sped!) for three touchdowns in Natchez High’s opening game with Jackson Central. He had four touchdowns in six different games that fall: against McComb, Clarksdale and Gulfport in succession, then against Laurel, Brookhaven and Vicksburg.

This is not literally a Tony Byrne column, but I enjoyed writing about his great running then, and I don’t mind at all going back over it now. His 192 points that season set a Big Eight Conference record that I believe still stands. And Natchez scored 378 points to its opponents’ 73.

This and I’ll move on: Natchez scored those 378 points in 1953 on 57 touchdowns (32 by Tony, who averaged 180 yards total offense each game). Byrne had 781 yards on TD dashes alone, on 24.4 yards per touchdown. He had 16 TD runs or 20 yards or more, 11 of 30 yards or more.

It was a fantastic season for Tony and his elated teammates. And The Natchez Democrat (with myself in the mix) had a fantastic time covering the Rebels.

But wait – Tony Byrne the Natchez businessman is now on the New Orleans Saints’ advisory board, and he meets with another old acquaintance-board member, Richard Johnston, who played his high school football at Biloxi and college at USM, where he holds membership on the university’s all-time all-star football team.

Johnston, who played center for the USM Golden Eagles, will be honored (along with others I’m sure) sometime this month at USM.

In 1954, Clyde Adams, Louie Brown, Jack Goss and Tony were selected to play in the Mississippi High School All-Star Classic in Jackson, and ironically Richard Johnston, who was working in Natchez that summer for Jet Drilling and living at what’s now Magnolia Hall, worked out with the Natchez selectees because he was one, too.

Tony saw Johnston at a Saints Advisory meeting recently and 46-year-old memories returned. There’s no friendships like old spontaneous ones.

TIME FOR college football!! And right off the bat I’m thinking of Delta State University and the Statesmen’s great season last year. Only the best in I-AA!

Hepped-up alumnus and former DSU football and basketball star Fred Foster, now of Lake St. John, can usually give you an update on Delta State.

Mississippi State football praises are being sung around the SEC and state, and it’s no wonder. Good ole college football! More soon, of course.

Glenvall Estes is a long-time sports columnist for The Democrat.