State of the Hogs: Clyde Scott's talent was one for the ages

By: Clay Henry
Published: Friday, February 2, 2018
Clyde Scott is shown during a photo shoot in Fayetteville on Sept. 21, 1948. (AP Photo)
Clyde Scott is shown during a photo shoot in Fayetteville on Sept. 21, 1948. (AP Photo)

— The question always comes up when old-time football greats are mentioned: Could they play today?

No one ever asks that question about Clyde Scott. The first three-time All-Southwest Conference player and the first All-American at Arkansas in the modern era, Scott is one of those who would meet the recruiting test for new Arkansas coach Chad Morris: Can they run a hole in the wind?

Scott could. Everyone knows his story by now. He played two years at the Naval Academy as the fullback spinner in a single-wing backfield, then moved to tailback and wing back at Arkansas. No doubt, Scott was always the fastest on the field.

Scott passed away Tuesday at age 93 at his home in Little Rock.

I heard stories about him from my father, Orville Henry, at an early age. They are contemporaries and my dad covered him throughout his career.

“He's one who I'd pay to watch,” my dad said. “I put him in a category with Lance Alworth. They were always playing at a different level than everyone else. They were just spectacular athletes.”

The man they called "Smackover" back then – then just "Scotty" later in life – came home to Arkansas after falling in love at the Miss America pageant in 1945. He was the escort for Leslie Hampton, Miss Arkansas, as was the tradition in that day. He stepped in for the appointed escort at the last moment because of a training cruise.

Navy wouldn't allow married players. Plus, World War II was coming to an end and the need for the academies to produce huge numbers of officers had passed. It also helped that the NCAA amended their rules to allow academy time to only by counted by one half. So Scott would have three years left at Arkansas.

Arkansas coach John Barnhill, in his first season, found out about Scott's availability in the summer of 1945 on a vacation to Knoxville, Tenn. A story in the paper there announced Scott was leaving Navy after making second team All-America as a spectacular both ways back.

It wasn't a cinch that it would be Arkansas. Other schools in the South allowed married students. Kentucky, coached by Bear Bryant, was on Scott's trail, heading to Lake Village where the marriage was being planned.

In the end Scott was persuaded by Barnhill that Arkansas would lure many other war vets and was on the rise. In fact, that was true. Clyde and Leslie Scott were married in her hometown of Lake Village two days before August practice began at Arkansas.

With Leon “Muscles” Campbell of Bauxite already there, Scott was quickly penciled in at wing back, although he would also play some tailback on offense. His All-SWC mentions also had something to do with his vicious and lightning coverage to both sidelines as the safety on defense.

All of that information is easy to find online, along with his silver medal finish in the 1948 London Olympics in the 110 hurdles. He lost a photo finish to Northwestern's Bill Porter, whom Scott beat while tying the world record of 13.7 seconds in the NCAA meet.

Three members of the U.S. Olympic games 110-meter hurdles. Bill Porter (center), former Northwestern University star from Birmingham, Mich., won the event in 13.9 seconds. Clyde Scott (left), University of Arkansas student from Smackover, Ark., was second, and Craig Dixon (right), UCLA star from Los Angeles placed third on Aug. 5, 1948. Scott and Dixon equaled the previous Olympic record of 14.1 seconds set by F. G. Towns of the 1936 U.S. Olympic team at Berlin. (AP Photo)

The rest of Scott's Olympic story comes in eloquent style from son, Steve. It took a long time for Steve to squeeze the details out of his dad. That part is not surprising. Clyde Scott was humble and generally turned conversations away from his superlative career.

“Dad never wanted to talk about himself,” Steve said this week. “You could make him with a direct question about something specific, but he wouldn't stay with it for long. 'Shy' is probably the best word for him. You think about how some of the modern athletes are now and he was far from that.”

Scott's speed was nothing short of spectacular. He focused on the hurdles, a little bit strange because they had no hurdles to practice at Smackover. He only saw hurdles at the district meet at Camden and the state meet, both of which he dominated.

There is a belief that there was organized track practice at Navy, but not much at Arkansas. Barnhill assigned one of his football assistants to the track job, but there was no one with formal coaching ability in the hurdles.

That he won the hurdles at the 1948 NCAA meet was a huge accomplishment. He stood as the only outdoor individual champ at Arkansas until the 1980s, well after John McDonnell had taken over as head coach of the program. McDonnell eventually coached 54 individual champions, both outdoor and indoor.

The focus on the hurdles – and his Olympics silver medal – cover up his exploits in his least run event, the 100-yard dash. He ran it twice in college competition because it was generally run too close to the series of qualifying races for the hurdles at major events.

Scott's times in the 100 for those two races: 9.4 and 9.5 seconds. The 9.4 in the 1948 SWC meet tied the existing world record. It did not go on the books because the SWC didn't test for wind. Supposedly, there wasn't any that day, but a call to the airport wasn't good enough.

Scott was the high-point man at the '48 SWC meet, the only season he truly committed to track. He won the 100, the high hurdles and the low hurdles; finished third in the javelin; and ran a leg on the third-place 440 relay team to compile what would be 42 points by today's scoring rules.

Steve Scott has the inside scoop on his dad's performance at the '48 Olympics in London. First, Scott false started. Replays show him holding the blocks for the re-start, avoiding another jump that would have meant elimination. But it's another detail that might have been the most revealing.

“Years later there were some conversations about the race,” Steve said. “He told me that the track, cinder, was compacted in the inside and middle lanes, but loose on the far lane. He had the far lane.

“It had rained a lot the day before and that makes the cinder loose for the next day. Most of the races are run without use of the outside lane like the hurdles. So that lane had not re-packed from use. That's the one he drew.”

It was tough to pull that out of his dad.

“It's not the kind of thing he talked about,” he said. “He'd tell you, 'I finished second and it was a photo.' He didn't ever say, 'And, I had the outside lane and it was loose cinder and I held because of a false start.' But it's something I think is important to tell.

“The one other thing I recall him saying about track was that he had the wrong form for the 100 dash. He practiced getting up quickly to go over the first hurdle. You don't do that in the 100 dash. You want to stay down for several steps to build speed. He raised up in the dash and felt he probably lost speed. He just didn't practice it so that wasn't something he could fix.”

Scott's daughter, Marsha, has a priceless story about a trip back to the Naval Academy. It dates to her days as deputy chief for personnel in Bill Clinton's White House. Yes, there are probably other stories.

The one she loves to tell is about taking her dad back to Annapolis, Md., for a tour of the academy, the first time back after resigning in 1945 to return to Arkansas.

“I had asked about setting up a private tour and he agreed,” Marsha said. “That was 1993, almost 50 years later. He'd never said much about leaving Navy. We all knew that was very tough to do, but they frowned on married students and he was in love.

“It was difficult. We all knew he was proud of going to Navy, but he just didn't talk about it.”

The tour was conducted by a Navy ensign, with just dad and daughter.

“It started off very quiet,” Marsha said. “Dad just wasn't saying much. We went to a couple of places and then to the athletic hall, the dorm.”

There was a stairway that led to the dorm rooms. At the top of the stairs began a wall with Navy stars inducted into the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame.

“There were three plaques – with pictures – on the wall when we made the first turn,” Marsha said. “They were Roger Staubach, Joe Bellino and Dad's. The ensign stopped and turned to look at Dad. He said, 'That's you!' And when he did, Dad started crying. The ensign started crying. I did, too.

“From that point forward, Dad lit up. He had a great time.

“I think it was a great time of healing. I know he felt kind of embarrassed he'd left Navy. When he saw that plaque – the same one they have on display in the museum at Arkansas - it was clear that they remembered him the same way at Navy.”

Indeed, Scott is displayed next to Navy's two Heisman Trophy winners.

Clyde Scott, wearing a No. 59 practice jersey on the right, sits with Arkansas coach John Barnhill, left, and teammate Joyce Pipkins.

The other part of Scott's story is that rarely was he healthy. That goes for his time at Navy, Arkansas and later in a four-year NFL career with Philadelphia and Detroit. His 6-0, 175-pound frame was not built for heavy contact. His natural position probably would have been flanker in today's game. That speed was wonderful in open space, but not so much as an off-tackle runner from the tailback position, where he played in the NFL.

“Dad had shoulder, knee and ankle problems,” Steve said. “They were chronic from early on in sports. Navy built him a special brace for his ankle. He was fragile, but he played through it.

“The other part that most don't realize is that he was never dedicated to track. There were just not proper facilities and coaches where he was at. Just think about that: He was in probably the most technical event, the hurdles. He had no form. He was self-taught.”

That's what everyone said, then and now.

“You can find video of him running the hurdles at different times in his career,” Steve said. “You can see one time he might lead with one knee, another time the other knee. That's not done now.”

The reason was because of injuries.

“He was hurt so often, he just led with the good leg,” Steve said. “That's probably not the best way to handle it.”

Of course, it's hard to find any who actually saw Scott play firsthand. I found one, 85-year old Eddie Bradford, a member of the 1954 Arkansas SWC championship team known as the "25 Little Pigs." Bradford, a Little Rock native, saw Scott in UA games at Quigley Stadium on the campus of Little Rock Central, where the Razorbacks played before War Memorial Stadium was built.

“I think maybe it was three or four times, and he's one of the main reasons I went,” Bradford said. "You wanted to see Clyde Scott. He was the top athlete of that time and maybe our greatest athlete ever. He was my hero. I remember seeing him in 1946 at (Quigley) Stadium.

“What you always have to add about Scotty is that he was more than a great athlete. He was a gentleman all of his life and everyone looked up to him. You put men like Clyde Scott and Ken Hatfield in the same category, just great men.

“You just say, 'A gentleman's gentleman.' That would be correct. I would try to get him to talk about his time playing for the Razorbacks. He would just simply say it was so easy because he'd follow the wipe-out blocks of Muscles. He said that was his secret.”

I reached out to one other Arkansas legend for perspective. Retired high school coach Barry Lunney Sr. heard about Scott all of his life from his father, John, a teammate with Scott at Arkansas.

“How many stories have I heard about Clyde Scott?” Lunney said. “I heard them over and over.”

John Lunney played left tackle in front of Scott.

“Obviously, there was a lot about his speed,” Lunney said. “Dad also talked about seeing him practice in track. He had a routine where he put a Coke bottle cap on the hurdle and he'd want to knock it off with his butt when he went over. If he didn't, he thought he was too high.

“Dad said his speed was such in football, that if the first defender didn't get him down, it was over. No one else had his speed.”

No doubt, Clyde Scott could run a hole in the wind.


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