Gordy, captain of 1956 SEC championship team, dies at 73

John Gordy

Photo by Submitted

John Gordy

John Gordy

Photo by Submitted

John Gordy

John Gordy, captain of Tennessee’s 1956 SEC championship team and a two-year starter at right tackle, died Friday in Orange, Calif., after a lengthy battle with cancer. He was 73.

Gordy went on to become a star offensive lineman for the Detroit Lions and was a pioneer in professional sports labor negotiations, helping found the NFL Players Association. He was instrumental in negotiating the first collective bargaining agreement in major professional sports.

The Nashville native was a 1952 graduate of Isaac Litton High School. He lettered three seasons at Tennessee and was named All-Southeastern Conference in 1956, when he captained the Vols to a perfect 10-0 regular season and conference title under head coach Bowden Wyatt. UT finished No. 2 in the nation by Associated Press despite a loss to Baylor in the Sugar Bowl.

Alternate captain on that team was tailback Johnny Majors, who said Gordy was part of a unit that remained close through the years.

“All of us who knew John Gordy and were teammates and colleagues are very deeply saddened by his passing,” Majors said. “He was a great friend to many, was outgoing and an outstanding leader of our football team. This championship team has always been a close unit, and I had several chances to visit with him and his family in California, in Tennessee and when I was at Pittsburgh.”

The Detroit Lions picked Gordy in the second round of the NFL Draft, the 24th overall selection. He moved into the Lions’ starting lineup in 1957 and helped the team win the NFL championship, the last time Detroit claimed the league title. Gordy was named All-Pro three times during his career and in 2008 was selected as a member of the Lions’ 75th anniversary team.

In his retirement hometown of San Clemente, Calif., Gordy became very active and supportive of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

A memorial service for Gordy is planned for Feb. 7 at 11 a.m. at Mariners Church, 5001 New Coast Drive, Irvine, CA 92603 ( www.marinerschurch.org, 949-854-7600). In lieu of flowers, the family requests helping send a kid to FCA camp. Contact Mark Boyer, Orange County FCA Director, P.O. Box 8366, Huntington Beach, CA 92615-8366, phone 714-841-2300.

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Comments » 21

blitzshoot writes:

Rest In Peace.

ggriggs939#223122 writes:

One of John's great plays came in the 56 game against Kentucky when 'Big Lou' Michaels was the terror on the field. "Big Lou" weighed about 230 pounds and played all over the field. Kentucky was ahead by a couple of points, but the VOLS had the ball about the 4-yard line. A plunge off tackle was stopped by "Big Lou', but the ball popped forward into John Gordy's hands in the end zone.

gohawks1 writes:

KNS scooped by millermanz#344117 on another article. Nice job, miller!

GREATVOLSAFIRE writes:

I remember my dad used to talk about how great he was. Rest in Peace, John and dad. My prayers are with your family. God Bless

FWBVol writes:

I really don't remember John Gordy as a player, but I've heard many great stories of this Tennessee Volunteer. The only real memories I have of him are from his appearance in the movie, "Paper Lion," starring Alan Alda, that was based on sports writer George Plimpton's venture into the world of a NFL player.

Of all the great things that can be said about John Gordy, I believe he's heard the seven most sweetest words in eternity now as he entered Heaven and Jesus told him, "Well done, my good and faithful son."

thurs2000#245193 writes:

Too bad you young sters didn't get to remember the 56 season, especially the Georgia Tech game. Ibought an AM band Zenith transistor radie at W<B Green in Kingsport for 65 bucks. I still have the radio. I listened to the game while walking around Kpt. Prescious memories'

CHS52VOL writes:

in response to thurs2000#245193:

Too bad you young sters didn't get to remember the 56 season, especially the Georgia Tech game. Ibought an AM band Zenith transistor radie at W<B Green in Kingsport for 65 bucks. I still have the radio. I listened to the game while walking around Kpt. Prescious memories'

Precious memories, indeed. John Gordy was a man of character, talent and strong Christian faith. May he rest in peace.

Remember the UT vs Georgia Tech in 1956. I was in fixed wing aviator advanced training at Ft. Rucker, and a friend of mine and I drove up to the game. Johnny Majors must have quick-kicked 4 or 5 times, several within the 10 yard line, and Majors threw a pass to Buddy Cruze (what a catch!). Think the final score was 6-0, UT
Can't remember what happened on the extra point. John Gordy played an outstanding game against a very tough Ga Tech line.

txsvol#372416 writes:

in response to CHS52VOL:

Precious memories, indeed. John Gordy was a man of character, talent and strong Christian faith. May he rest in peace.

Remember the UT vs Georgia Tech in 1956. I was in fixed wing aviator advanced training at Ft. Rucker, and a friend of mine and I drove up to the game. Johnny Majors must have quick-kicked 4 or 5 times, several within the 10 yard line, and Majors threw a pass to Buddy Cruze (what a catch!). Think the final score was 6-0, UT
Can't remember what happened on the extra point. John Gordy played an outstanding game against a very tough Ga Tech line.

That was a big game! I remember it, too, as it was on our old black and white, Columbia TV the first year that we had it! Since Bobby Dodd had played for the General, that game against GA Tech, then in the SEC and just a week before the Bama game, was a major rivalry game of the era. John Gordy, #76 in Orange, and #75 in Detroit blue! One of our best--ever! RIP, SAVol

CHS52VOL writes:

in response to peppervol:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

PepperVol - Thanks for sharing your memories. Do you recall why we didn't get the extra point? My memory fails me. You are correct, it was 6-0 Vols. What a game!

volthrunthru#658770 writes:

in response to CHS52VOL:

PepperVol - Thanks for sharing your memories. Do you recall why we didn't get the extra point? My memory fails me. You are correct, it was 6-0 Vols. What a game!

Seems like it was only yesterday...

I was almost 10 years old, kneeling down beside a bedside table, in a bedroom on the 2nd floor of the farmhouse,

with my face scrunched up against a maroon Zenith table model radio, with the wimpy signal broadcasting the 50 miles from the tower to our farm, South of Nashville,

trying to tune that radio enough so that the static stopped, the whines and whistles became silent enouto hear the jolting reports of each play, as my Vols' single wing offense gave everybody it played trouble, that year.

And every time that signal waivered off-frequency---as I hovered around the tiny, tinny speaker, listening with my ear pressed to the radio---

feeling the heat of the plastic case, the maroon shine, which housed that group of soldered-together tubes, capacitors, resistors---transistors were a year or two away when that radio was made, looking spiffy and modern with the golden script "Zenith" on it---

I would press the side of my face closer to the radio, in order to hear,

and anyone in the room could smell the dust and the various chemical compounds in the radio's components as they were heating up,

being fried as evidenced by those glowing orange filaments in the tubes of the sleek radio

My reaction to the spectacle which I had beena nticipating all week, alternated between hooting and hollering, listening intently, and jumping up and down...

and turning the volume down when the signal would suddenly boom in so strong it hurt my ears, because I had turned the volume wayyyy up when the signal was not very good...

Betcha all you guys imagined yourselves in an orange jersey...and that you were
___________________ (name your favorite player.)

I was to big to be Majors, so it was indeed Gordy for me.

I had heard of him before he went to UT; I think he may have gone to Issac Litton High School in Nashville, but am not sure, after the 52 years it has been since I knew for certain.

His father was a fixture on WSM-AM, 650 KHZ (Kilocycles on the dial, as radiio frequencies were termed, back then.)

The station was the home of the Grand Ole Opry---a clear channel beacon, a 50, 000 Watt radio station located in Nashville.

The station produced a lot of locally originated programming that was not-country music, as well. It had a band that included John Gordy's father, as I remember it.

Anyway...John Gordy the player was a great, great guy. I will never forget his epic confrontations with Bill Glass, the DE of Baylor, in the 1957 Sugar Bowl, after the undefeated season.

Both those guys went to the next level, and were role models---as Christian men.

Thanks for the memories, John Gordy.

May you rest in peace; and may we remember you, when the talk turns to football time, and the great ones, who played at Tennessee.
Amen.

vut56#231073 writes:

in response to CHS52VOL:

PepperVol - Thanks for sharing your memories. Do you recall why we didn't get the extra point? My memory fails me. You are correct, it was 6-0 Vols. What a game!

It has been mentioned in other posts, but Buddy Cruze caught a Majors pass for the only score; at quick look, cannot find a game summary as to why we missed the PAT. Also, Cruze caught the ONLY three passes caught that day; whow! What a razzle-dazzle offense that Bowden Wyatt ran.

Incidently, Tom the Bomb was long gone by then. Wyatt didn't tolerate his attitude long, although Tom could certainly pound that rock. On a historic note, I think Tracy wound down his career playing for the Steelers; someone correct or confirm that for me.

CHS52VOL writes:

in response to vut56#231073:

It has been mentioned in other posts, but Buddy Cruze caught a Majors pass for the only score; at quick look, cannot find a game summary as to why we missed the PAT. Also, Cruze caught the ONLY three passes caught that day; whow! What a razzle-dazzle offense that Bowden Wyatt ran.

Incidently, Tom the Bomb was long gone by then. Wyatt didn't tolerate his attitude long, although Tom could certainly pound that rock. On a historic note, I think Tracy wound down his career playing for the Steelers; someone correct or confirm that for me.

VUT56 - That leaping, finger-tip catch by Buddy Cruze is imprinted on my brain forever. Only touchdown scored, and Major's quick-kicks were simply outstanding. I miss single-wing football, and really miss the use of quick-kicks as a defensive maneuver.

richvol writes:

I don't specifically remember this game except afterwards when I read about it in the paper. It was a big win at the time as Georgia Tech was a power under Dodd.

I do remember those times listening intently to those old tube radios though. I'll never forget the night my Dad and I listened to Ole Miss and LSU battle it out for number 1 in the nation at Baton Rouge. The game winning punt return by Billy Cannon was astounding. The call made you feel that you were there. So many great memories of those fall days.

volthrunthru#658770 writes:

in response to richvol:

I don't specifically remember this game except afterwards when I read about it in the paper. It was a big win at the time as Georgia Tech was a power under Dodd.

I do remember those times listening intently to those old tube radios though. I'll never forget the night my Dad and I listened to Ole Miss and LSU battle it out for number 1 in the nation at Baton Rouge. The game winning punt return by Billy Cannon was astounding. The call made you feel that you were there. So many great memories of those fall days.

I remember hearing that one, too.

Those announcers were all of the John Ward school---although he was the best of the best in college.

Do you remember Ray Scott, who announced the Packers' games?

Wow, those guys were exciting.

donaldp writes:

Correction to the story about John Gordy. He graduated from Isaac Litton in Nashville in 1953.

Note that he only played one year of high school ball and made all city. Nashville owned all state in 1952 and Litton owned Nashville. There were 4 all state players on that team, one of whom was also all America. He went to Tech, by the way and they played against each other. Nashville provided two other all state running backs and, except for politics, Litton's starting lineup would have been at least all city.

Coach Bob Cu mmings had a tremendous on the lives of a lot of those boys and was one pretty fair coach.

There are some stories I could tell, but we'll leave them out for the moment. Suffice to say he was a fine person who worked tirelessly with the FCA.

vut56#231073 writes:

in response to peppervol:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Nope; it still was Buddy Cruze. Pass from Johnny Boy.

See many posts above.

CHS52VOL writes:

in response to vut56#231073:

Nope; it still was Buddy Cruze. Pass from Johnny Boy.

See many posts above.

Affirmative, it was Buddy Cruze who scored the only touchdown on a pass from Majors. Bronson did play well and went on to play well in the Gator Bowl the next year when we beat Texas A&M, 3-0. Bobby "Flash" Gordon was the UT tailback, and was a 1 man wrecking crew on John David Crow, the Heisman Trophy winner that year. It was Bear Bryant's last game at A&M before he went home to Mama in 1958.

volthrunthru#658770 writes:

in response to peppervol:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

The guy who stopped Billy Cannon was Bill Majors.
I was listening to the game, too.

I wasn't sure what all the stuff I heard being described actually looked like, but my imagination could handle it, anyway.

I had forgotten it was on a Halloween night, until you said it. Paul Dietzel, and the "Go Team," "the Chinese Bandits," and I cannot remember the name of the other platoon that LSU had.

vut56#231073 writes:

in response to peppervol:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

peppervol, you win your appeal. After review in the booth, the decision on the field is overturned.

I knew your Tom the Bomb was incorrect, but in checking that, saw several published references to Cruze scoring the only points. Ed Harris must be given some credence and after checking a Tom Mattingly article, which confirms the Bronson call, you win the day. Of course, your eyesight gets some style points.

No wonder modern history is suspect, but I honor your perservence.

CHS52VOL writes:

in response to peppervol:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

PepperVol - Thanks for setting us all straight. I was there, too, but this 75 year old brain thinks it remembers better than it does! Glad you got to see it, my friend. No argument here.

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