So long Shotwell: A view from the sideline

ACU quarterback Jim Reese (with microphone) thanks to 1976 Shrine Bowl organizers while teammates Ray Nunez (55) and Wilbert Montgomery (with trophy) look on.

ACU quarterback Jim Reese (with microphone) thanks 1976 Shrine Bowl organizers while teammates Ray Nunez (55), Wilbert Montgomery (with trophy) and John Usrey (69) look on.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This Saturday at 6 p.m., Abilene Christian University will play its last home football game at Shotwell Stadium. The historic venue will carry on as the place where Abilene and Abilene Cooper high schools play, but next fall ACU moves into new Wildcat Stadium for its first season of on-campus football in more than 50 years. 

I was not born around these parts, and have no natural affinity for P.E. Shotwell Stadium, whose namesake was Prince Elmer Shotwell, also known as “Pete,” a Texas football-coaching legend.

Shotwell looks like other mostly concrete high school gridiron venues I have seen before in Texas. It also has a certain charm about it, and some engineering features not everyone has seen, like a restroom with a strategically placed window down the hall in the press box, allowing 99.9 percent privacy as well as a fine view of the game below. Say what? It’s hard to explain but one need not worry about answering the call of nature and missing a play.

Ove Johansson signs the first of his many postgame autographs on Oct. 16, 1976, while his wife, April (Bankes ’77) looks on.

Ove Johansson signs the first of his many postgame autographs on Oct. 16, 1976.

I am one of the fortunate fellows invited to help staff the press box at home ACU football games, a privileged view of the action I don’t take for granted. It’s not really a box and not everyone present is a member of the press, but there is no cheering in this upper room, at least in the professional press boxes at Shotwell run through the years by ACU sports media icons Lance Fleming and his Hall of Fame predecessor, Garner Roberts, who help keep the statistics team running smoothly and media guests happy.

The Shotwell press box has no central air conditioning nor heat, so there are several games each season when we experience some combination of spring, summer, fall and winter, depending on the wind direction. That makes it a great place to get a snoot full of mountain cedar, the most pristine puffs of West Texas pollen one can inhale at those lofty heights each fall. It also is a fine place to have your ankles chewed on by mosquitoes with stingers long enough to penetrate two layers of socks.

But I’m not complaining. The fellowship and swapped stories are priceless, and the food serving as our compensation (mostly barbecue with some chicken fajitas thrown in for good measure) is mighty tasty. Oh, and there are those purple thumbprint cookies as they are called in these parts.

Wally Bullington starred on the field and as a head coach for the football-playing Wildcats.

Wally Bullington starred on the field as a player and as a head coach for the Wildcats.

I was spoiled by a couple seasons of writing about some really fine college football when I first transferred to ACU as a junior in Fall 1976. That was the last Wildcat team with Wally Bullington as head coach, and he had a stable of good-enough-to-play-on-Sunday talent – Wilbert and Cle Montgomery, Johnny Perkins, Ove Johansson and Chuck Sitton – on his roster. They finished 9-2 and runner-up that season to mighty Texas A&I University, that era’s football-playing Babylonians of the Lone Star Conference. The Wildcats advanced to play in the Shrine Bowl in Pasadena (Texas, not California; rats) before Wilbert, Johnny, Ove and others headed to NFL training camps the next summer.

How good was the football? A&I was the only LSC team with more annual potential pro talent than ACU and only one team other than the Javelinas or Wildcats won the NAIA Division I national title from 1973-79. ACU ended A&I’s 42-game winning streak with a disputed 25-25 tie in 1977, and both programs had amazing pedigrees of producing pros – better than many universities much larger and more well known.

As sports editor of The Optimist in 1976-77 and editor the next two years, I liked to stand on the home sideline for a closer view of the action and an insight to help write the game story. It proved a great angle to catch these memories:

  • Johansson's blue Brooks soccer shoes and the ball he kicked into the record books.

    Johansson’s soccer shoes and the ball he kicked into the record books.

    Johansson’s world-record 69-yard field goal on Oct. 16, 1976, which still stands as the best a mortal has ever kicked in game competition. I had experience as a fan with long-distance field goals, having watched my hometown Detroit Lions fall to the awful New Orleans Saints in 1969 on a last-second 63-yarder by Tom Dempsey, who was born with half a foot and only one hand. He booted that NFL record kick (six yards longer than the previous, which made it that much more shocking) wearing a special-made high-top shoe, sort of like a club or mallet into which he laced up his half-foot. Pro Bowl tackle Alex Karras of Detroit promised he would walk home to Michigan if the Lions lost to the lowly Saints in the road game. He didn’t, of course, but I have a soft spot in my heart for teams deflated by such mighty feet. East Texas State players trudged off the field after Johansson’s kick, hands on hips and heads bowed while the Wildcats celebrated at midfield and the crowd went wild. They may as well have loaded onto their bus and headed back to Commerce, knowing ACU only needed to reach its 41-yard line to be in scoring position, effectively the largest “red zone” known in the sport. They and their collective psyche were toast.

  • Johnny Perkins was a fleet wide receiver who starred for seven seasons for the NFL's New York Giants, who made him their second-round draft choice in 1977.

    Johnny Perkins was a fleet wide receiver who starred for seven seasons for the NFL’s New York Giants, who made him their second-round draft choice in 1977.

    Wilbert Montgomery’s last collegiate season offered fleeting glimpses of the immense talent he possessed to run with a football. One opposing coach described his team’s effort to tackle No. 28 as “old men trying to catch a jackrabbit.” Wilbert broke Walter Payton’s career college touchdown scoring record the same day as Johansson’s field goal in 1976, yet it took him three seasons to double the amazing 36 TDs he scored in 1973 as a freshman on ACU’s national championship team. Targeted by defenses on every play, he suffered a deep thigh bruise in a game in Wichita Falls with Cameron University on Nov. 6, 1976. He recovered after his senior season, was drafted in the NFL’s fifth round and went on to a record-breaking career with the Philadelphia Eagles, and induction the same year (1996) as fellow Mississippian Payton to the College Football Hall of Fame. Montgomery was still hobbled by that thigh injury and did not play in the 1976 season-ending Shrine Bowl against Harding University, likely an answer to a lot of pre-game prayers among the Bison brethren in Searcy, Ark. The Wilbert-less Wildcats still beat ACU’s sister school handily and haven’t had a rematch since.

  • A cold 1976 night in late October, I watched quarterback Jim Reese throw for what is still a school-record 564 yards in a 26-0 win over Angelo State University. It had rained heavily that week in Abilene, and what was left of the brown Bermuda grass in Shotwell was skimpy at best. It was a muddy quagmire in places, and I still have no idea how any of Reese’s receivers maintained enough traction to run routes. But they did, and perhaps were the only fellows on the field that night who knew in advance where they were headed.
  • Kelly Kent was a hard-nosed fullback for the Wildcats.

    Kelly Kent was a hard-nosed Wildcat fullback.

    I saw a Cameron University player leave the bench to trip Wildcat halfback Alex Davis as he was running free down the visiting team’s sideline Sept. 24, 1977, in Shotwell. The player, a drink in one hand and his helmet in another, stepped onto the field, stuck out his leg and felled Davis in clear view of one of the officials. They awarded Davis a 52-yard touchdown and ACU continued its 46-13 dismantling of the visiting Aggies.

  • Kelly Kent, the aw-shucks, country-boy sophomore fullback of the 1977 national championship team, suffered an embarrassing moment in a home game one afternoon in Shotwell. Running with the ball toward the south end zone in front of his team’s bench, a would-be tackler reached for anything he could to stop The Cisco Kid, as Abilene Reporter-News sportswriting legend Bill Hart referred to Kent. The opponent came up with mostly air and a handful of the elastic waistband of Kelly’s athletic supporter. Undaunted, Kent continued downfield while that key piece of equipment unraveled for yards behind him. Once the play was over, Kent headed to the locker room with a trainer to look for replacement gear. The laughter from his teammates continued for most of the game.
  • Dewitt Jones hugs defensive coordinator Jerry Wilson after the 1977 Apple Bowl win in the Kingdome.

    Dewitt Jones hugs defensive coordinator Jerry Wilson after the 1977 Apple Bowl win in the Kingdome.

    Later that season, Kent ran for 200 yards in ACU’s national semifinal win over the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point in Shotwell. The visitors from up north had a first-team All-America quarterback, Reed Giordana, who had thrown for 10,000 yards and 74 touchdowns in his career. The poor fellow spent a good bit of the afternoon on his back, counting clouds after a sack or knock-down by Wildcat defenders like Ruben Mason, Ray Nunez, Harold Nutall, Glenn Labhart and others. Kent was named Offensive MVP of that game and the Apple Bowl which followed. Not a fan of air travel, he kept his mind off things by reading his Bible from his back row plane seat on the long return flight to Abilene. A little more than a year later, he died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 21.

  • The Wildcats won the national championship in 1977 with an 11-1-1 record, their tie taking place in Kingsville to No. 1-ranked Texas A&I and their only loss occurring at Homecoming in Shotwell the following week to longtime nemesis Angelo State. First-year ACU head coach Dewitt Jones righted the ship and led the Wildcats to the Apple Bowl and their title in the Kingdome in Seattle, Wash. I was on the sideline and it was a superb roller coaster ride of a season.

The food is always better in the press box but the on-the-field view will always be a fascinating angle from which to follow a game and gain the insights few fans get to see. I enjoyed the vista.

Senior linebackers Ray Nunez (55) and John Usrey (69) pose with the trophy for ACU's last national title in football, won at the 1977 Apple Bowl.

Senior linebackers Ray Nunez (55) and John Usrey (69) pose with the trophy for ACU’s most recent national title in football.

Many seasons have passed since the Wildcats’ heady days of the mid- to late-1970s when they were a small-college powerhouse. NCAA Division I and FCS are creating some growing pains for ACU football, but pro scouts still know to stop in Abilene each year for a look at the next Charcandrick West, Taylor Gabriel, Daryl Richardson, Bernard Scott, Clyde Gates, Mitchell Gale, Aston Whiteside, Tony Washington and others.

However, the sideline is no longer a place for a sportswriter who is pushing 60 (and pushing it really hard), with tight hamstrings, slowing reflexes and a distracting iPhone in his pocket. A fellow down there on Saturday without his head on a swivel could wake up in Hendrick Medical Center on Monday, or perhaps not at all.

I’ll take my spot for a media-row view in the last game in Shotwell this Saturday, and like my similar-age teammates there, look forward to an upstairs seat in Wildcat Stadium next September. It will have carpet, central air and heat, a loo without a view, and other amenities beyond anything experienced at the venerable stadium on East South 11th Street we’ve shared with local high schools since Eisenhower was president.

I’m convinced there are more memories to make, records to set, wins to describe, trophies to hoist. So make me a brisket and sausage sandwich, pour some sweet tea, login to the wifi and let’s get the 2017 edition of an on-campus, home-sweet-home football show on the road.

See ya, Shotwell. I’ll leave my can of bug spray on the counter and the bathroom window open, conveniences only a sportswriter in West Texas might appreciate.

Shotwell's restroom-with-a-view of the game below.

Shotwell’s restroom-with-a-view of the game below.


So long Shotwell: A son of Abilene’s reflections

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This Saturday at 6 p.m., Abilene Christian University will play its last home football game at Shotwell Stadium. The historic venue will carry on as the place where Abilene and Abilene Cooper high schools play, but next fall ACU moves into new Wildcat Stadium for its first season of on-campus football in more than 50 years. 

For a son of Abilene, P.E. Shotwell Stadium has always held a special place in my heart.

It was never the best. It was never the biggest. It certainly didn’t boast many of the most modern amenities. But it was our stadium. It’s where we went on Friday nights to watch the Eagles or Cougars and then on Saturday to watch the Wildcats.

I don’t remember the first time I saw a game in the stadium, but I remember a lot of the games I watched in the 57-year-old venue.

I remember as a boy of 7 years old being in the stadium on Oct. 16, 1976, when Ove Johansson kicked a world-record 69-yard field goal and Wilbert Montgomery broke college football’s all-time rushing touchdown record with the 67th score of his remarkable ACU career. Of course, instead of watching the game, I was undoubtedly playing one of the many games of “touch football” being contested on one of the berms on the north or south end of the stadium.

A couple generations of sons of Wildcats have played touch football on the grassy berms of Shotwell Stadium.

A couple generations of sons of Wildcats have played touch football on the grassy berms of Shotwell Stadium, as Nick Boone and Rex Fleming demonstrated in 2012.

So I can say I was “at” the game when those two things happened, but I can’t say I remember “seeing” either one of those plays.

I remember just about one month later watching Abilene High play Abilene Cooper as the teams slogged through a 14-0 Cougar win in a driving snowstorm that had already piled several inches of snow on the field by the time the game started.

I was there in 1977 when the Wildcats beat the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point in the NAIA Division I semifinals to earn a bid to the Apple Bowl in Seattle, Wash., where they beat Southwestern Oklahoma State University to win the national championship.

I remember the night in 1981 when the Eagles snapped Cooper’s 15-year winning streak, thanks in large part to the “Pekowski Special,” a guard-around play that helped the Eagles get off to a fast start and an early lead they never relinquished in a 17-7 win that freed the north side of town from the bonds of that divisive spell the Cougars held over the Eagles.

I remember watching my favorite college team – the ACU Wildcats – win big game after big game at the stadium, all in front of huge crowds on bright, sunny days that seemed to last forever. I remember Kelly Kent and Chuck Sitton. Jim Reese and John Mayes. Wilbert and Cle. Anthony Thomas and Boo Jones. Kurt Freytag and Mike Funderburg. Mark Wilson and Bob Shipley. Loyal Proffitt and Rex Lamberti. Mark Jackson and Arthur Culpepper. Dan Remsberg and Dan Niederhofer. Greg and Grant Feasel. And so many others.

I remember the coaches who prowled those sidelines on Saturdays and ate almost daily at my father’s barbecue restaurants, first The Smoke Pit on Highway 351 (where the Allsup’s is now, just west of the Coca-Cola plant) and later, Danny’s Bar-B-Q in the old gas station on Ambler Avenue in front of Bill Agnew’s Superette.

I would see those men in his restaurant when I was there either after school or working there in the summer. Men like Wally Bullington and Dewitt Jones. Ted Sitton and Don Smith. Jack Kiser and Dr. Bob Strader. Don Harrison and Jerry Wilson.

Those players and coaches are part of the memories of my youth, and many of those memories occurred in the confines of Shotwell Stadium.

I was fortunate enough to work for the Abilene Reporter-News for 10 years from 1987-97, and for the last five of those I was a full-time sportswriter covering Abilene High and Cooper athletics. That meant that most Friday nights I was either at Shotwell Stadium or one of the other venues in West Texas where the only thing hotter than the hot chocolate was the head coaches’ seat after a loss.

I was fortunate to cover several great games in Shotwell – including Cooper’s first home playoff victory in decades – as well as players like Dominic Rhodes, John Lackey, Ahmad Brooks and Justin Snow, to name just a few from the Abilene ISD. There were great players from other teams as well, like Roy Williams from Odessa Permian, Cedric Benson from Midland Lee, and many others.

I was there in 1993 when Cooper hosted Permian on a night when the temperature plummeted about 40 degrees 30 minutes before kickoff, turning a brisk fall evening into a frigid winter night. The wind – howling out of the north at about 40 mph – actually blew a PAT attempt into its teeth back onto the field of play in the Panthers’ narrow win over Cooper.

That night in the press box – which has never been outfitted with heating or air conditioning and still only has one restroom for men and women – ­the sleet, wind and cold weather combined to keep the windows of the press box fogged over so badly that we could barely see the field. So who spent the game wiping the windows in the press box so we could see the field? Legendary former Brownwood head coach Gordon Wood, because why wouldn’t he?

Rex Fleming was a constant companion of his father in Shotwell and stadiums across Texas.

Rex Fleming was a constant companion of his father in Shotwell and stadiums across Texas.

I was hired at ACU in August 1998 as the new sports information director after the great Garner Roberts resigned as SID after 25 years in the role. As an ACU journalism student from 1987-92, I had covered plenty of ACU football games for The Optimist, and I still believe Garner thought I was more trouble than I was worth as a student.

Thank goodness he took pity on me when I got the job here and showed me the ropes. It took about two years before I felt like I was approaching knowing what I was doing. Some would probably still question, even after 19 years on the job, if I know what I’m doing.

There have been many great games and great players roll through Shotwell during my tenure in ACU Athletics, some that won’t soon be forgotten. The 2002 Wildcats won a share of the Lone Star Conference South Division title out of nowhere under the direction of then-head coach Gary Gaines.

Then Chris Thomsen rolled back into town in January 2005 and the program changed completely. With offensive coordinator Ken Collums calling the plays, quarterback Billy Malone at the controls and a plethora of big-play players at their disposal, the Wildcats let loose the fury of a here-to-fore unseen offensive attack on the Lone Star Conference.

Games where the Wildcats posted as many as 50 points were commonplace with the likes of Bernard Scott, Jerale Badon, Johnny Knox, Mitchell Gale, Clyde Gates, Taylor Gabriel, Daryl Richardson, Darrell Cantu-Harkless and others roaming the field for the Wildcats. No one will ever forget the November day in 2008 when the Wildcats put up 93 points in a 93-68 win over West Texas A&M University in the NCAA Division II playoffs, a game that still stands the test of time as, arguably, the greatest in ACU history.

ACU senior quarterback Mitchell Gale stops to visit with his young friend before the Wildcats’ – and Rex's – final home game of the 2012 season.

ACU senior quarterback Mitchell Gale stops to visit with his young friend before the Wildcats’ – and Rex’s – final home game of the 2012 season.

On a personal note, I’ll not soon forget two days in the life of Shotwell: Saturday, Nov. 27, 2010, when the Wildcats hosted the University of Central Missouri in the second round of the NCAA Division II playoffs. Just five days before, my then-8-year-old son, Rex Fleming, had been diagnosed with a golf-ball size brain tumor and was going to be undergoing surgery the next week to remove what we would later learn was a cancerous tumor.

I couldn’t stand sitting at home, so I made my way out to the stadium where I found my comfort zone for about three hours. I hadn’t been at the office at all during the week after we learned of Rex’s condition, so my trusty assistant at the time, Phillip Dowden, along with Garner Roberts and Ron Hadfield, ran the press box for me that day. I stood on the sidelines, not able to muster the courage to be in the press box or stands and answer the hundreds of questions about Rex I knew were headed my way.

But one moment I didn’t expect nearly sent me scurrying for the nearest place for a long, quiet cry. As he walked onto the field, my friend Chris Thomsen walked over to me, wrapped me in a tight bear hug, said a few words and walked away with tears streaming down his face. We lost that day to the Mules, 55-41, but for the only time in my ACU career, I couldn’t have cared less.

The second day was Nov. 3, 2012, when Collums – who had become ACU’s head coach in December 2011 after Thomsen left for an assistant coaching job at Arizona State University – asked Rex to be in the pre-game locker room, call the coin flip, call the first play and stand on the sidelines with him for as long as he wanted during ACU’s final home game of the season against the University of West Alabama.

Rex’s play call of choice – the deep ball – went for a 33-yard completion from Gale to Gabriel on the first play of the game, and the Wildcats went on to a 22-16 overtime win. That turned out to be the last game of any type Rex ever attended. Five days later, he suffered a seizure that put him into hospice care and 22 days after helping coach the Wildcats to the win over the Tigers, Rex went home, cured forever of cancer.

I greatly anticipate the first game at Wildcat Stadium and can’t wait to see my team run out onto the field of a beautiful new facility that will be the best in the Southland Conference and one of the best at the FCS level. We’ll have plenty of amenities, including heating and air conditioning, and more than one restroom in the press box.

ACU head coach Ken Collums had Rex call his team's first offensive play in the Nov. 3, ____, win over West Alabama.

ACU head coach Ken Collums had Rex call his team’s first offensive play in the Nov. 3, 2012, win over West Alabama.

But the memories I leave at Shotwell aren’t negative. I spent a good portion of my youth there watching thousands of young men play a game we love and numerous great men I’m blessed to call friends coach those games.

So as I leave Shotwell Saturday night, I’ll take a look at the berms on each end and remember the good times and great friendships forged on those grassy hills.I’ll also take a look over at the fair grounds, close my eyes and see the lights of the West Texas Fair and Rodeo twinkling again, just like they’ve done during every September home game most of my life.

I’ll take a look at the scoreboard on the north end of the stadium and remember seeing the numbers “93” and “68” on the board and wishing we could have scored 100 against the Buffs.

I’ll take a look down the sideline and think about the great men and players who have roamed the home sideline for the past 57 seasons and I’ll ask them to make sure their ghosts make the drive north on Judge Ely Boulevard and take up residence at our new digs.

Then I’ll squint really hard and see if I can still see my boy, Rex, down on the sideline or running around under the stands with his friends – Jaden Bullington, Nathan Watts, Connor Mullins and others – playing their own games of touch football.

And, finally, I’ll take one last look around the place, hopefully feel a cool early November breeze against my face and thank the old yard for being such a good home.

Farewell, Shotwell.

Grant Boone (’__), voice of the Wildcats, works on his WC with Rex Fleming.

Grant Boone (’91), radio/TV voice of the Wildcats, works on his WC with Rex Fleming.


ACU Remembers: Dr. Brent Green

Brent Green 1997Former Abilene Christian University art and design department chair Dr. William Brent Green, 86, died in Abilene on Oct. 22, 2016, following a long illness.

A memorial service will be held at University Church of Christ (733 E.N. 16th, Abilene, Texas 79601) on Saturday, Oct. 29 at 1:30 p.m. Visitation is Friday from 5-7 p.m. at Piersall Benton Funeral Directors (733 Butternut St., Abilene, Texas 79602).

Born Dec. 4, 1929, in Dawson, Texas, he grew up in Wooster, northwest of Houston. Green attended Robert E. Lee High School in Baytown, and earned an A.A. from Lee College in 1949, a B.F.A. in art from The University of Texas at Austin in 1953, an M.F.A. in painting from the University of Oklahoma in 1962 and a doctorate in art education from The Ohio State University in 1973. He also did graduate work at the University of Houston.

As an 18-year-old undergraduate student, he was hired by Humble Oil and Refining as the company’s first assistant draftsman. At UT-Austin, he studied under the renowned Texas painter Boyer Gonzales Jr., sculptor Charles Umlauf and muralist Seymore Fogel.

Brent Green with sculptureHe graduated from junior high, high school and Lee College with Ina Lynch (’63). They married May 29, 1949, and later taught together at ACU for years before retiring together in 1998; she as professor emerita of psychology and he as professor emeritus of art and design.

He was stationed at Fort Bliss in El Paso while serving in the U.S. Army from 1953-55. Afterward, he worked in Houston as a draftsman for Tidelands Exploration Company.

Brent joined the ACU faculty as an instructor in 1958, becoming an associate professor in 1969, a professor in 1978 and chair of the Department of Art and Design in 1980. He was director of ACU’s Shore Art Gallery and taught classes in painting, drawing, ceramics, art theory and art education.

In Abilene he was an elder at University Church of Christ for 18 years and a deacon at Hillcrest Church of Christ, and the Fishinger and Kenny Church of Christ in Columbus, Ohio. He taught Bible classes, made numerous mission trips to Poland and participated in the Zambia Medical Mission.

Brent Green on Ad Bldg lawnHe held memberships in the American Society for Aesthetics and Art Criticism, College Art Association, National Art Education Association, Texas Art Education Association. He also was a member of the Board of Directors and the Advisory Board of the Texas Fine Arts Association.

His paintings are displayed in ACU’s Brown Library, Westex Drilling in Abilene and Texas Instruments in Dallas. In 1981 he was commissioned by the Abilene chapter of the American Association of University Women to create a mural commemorating the Abilene centennial; it remains on display at the Abilene Civic Center.

He was preceded in death by his parents, William Cazzle Green and Georgia Elizabeth (Bogle) Green, and a brother, Billy Earl Green.

Among survivors are Dr. Ina Green, his wife of 67 years; a son, Bill Green (’77); and a daughter, Heather (Green ’80) Wooten; four grandchildren; and sister, Mary Beth (Green) Woods.


Long Story: How Ove got a leg up on history

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Johansson signals his field goal to the student body as teammates begin to celebrate.

The man who kicked the world’s longest field goal had never so much as seen an American football game six weeks before.

On Abilene Christian University’s Homecoming weekend in 1976, Ove Johansson (’77) booted a 69-yarder through Shotwell Stadium’s south end zone uprights, eclipsing the record set earlier in the day and establishing one that may never be broken.

Boone is the radio-TV voice of the Wildcats

Boone is the radio-TV voice of the Wildcats

But what Johansson did that October would’ve never happened without April.

Born in Gothenburg, Sweden, Johansson grew up playing music and soccer with equal skill. At age 15, his father began telling him he needed to take his talents to the United States.

“I used to watch the merchant marine ships sailing in and out of port,” Johansson remembers in his still thick Swedish brogue, “and I would think, ‘One day, I will be on a boat to the U.S.’ ”

His ship came in, so to speak, when he joined the Swedish navy at age 20. A teammate on the crew’s soccer team had played professionally for the Dallas Tornado and invited Johansson to join him in the Metroplex to help him begin an area league. He accepted and soon was coaching and playing for an amateur team in Irving. While there, the course of his life would be recharted by one person whose eye he caught and another who caught his.

It was after a road game in Colorado that a coach from Davis & Elkins College recruited Johansson to play for the small Presbyterian school in West Virginia but with no guarantee of a scholarship. He went back to Texas to consider the possibility but was soon distracted by a young woman he spotted in the bleachers at one of his games, April Bankes (’77).

Johansson is mobbed by teammates on the field at Shotwell Stadium.

Johansson is mobbed by teammates on the field at Shotwell Stadium.

“I knew about 24 words of English at the time,” Johansson says with his mother tongue partially in cheek. “But five of them were, ‘What is your phone number?’ She gave it to me and I called her. ‘Don’t you remember me? The Swedish soccer stud?’ And she didn’t, which was very disappointing.”

But she agreed to see a movie with him anyway, and they dated for the next several months until his visa expired and he had to return to Sweden. Shortly thereafter, Johansson received both a visit from April and a most welcome piece of mail from the Davis & Elkins coach. April informed him her family was moving to West Virginia so her father, R.H. Bankes (’50), could take a preaching job. The coach’s letter included a scholarship offer. West Virginia’s country roads took him away from home.

Johansson played one season at Davis & Elkins, earning all-conference honors and helping the Senators reach the NAIA national championship game. But when April had the opportunity to enroll at ACU in 1975, Johansson encouraged her to go and followed her to Abilene.

He didn’t miss a single home football game that year but never saw a play. (“I couldn’t understand why grown up people would lie around in the mud,” Johansson recalls.) He would arrive in time to see April play clarinet in the Big Purple Band at halftime then leave when it was over.

But by January 1976, Johansson was short of green. With money running out, he was facing a return to Sweden when he noticed someone kicking field goals on the practice football field and decided to give it a try. April was his holder, his tee was the cap of a can of shaving cream. It wasn’t long before he had ACU players in a lather. When tight end Greg Stirman (’75) saw Johansson practicing, he told head coach Wally Bullington (’53), who agreed to an audition.

“The very first kick went all the way into the parking lot,” Johansson remembers. “From that point, I was on the team.”

To strengthen his leg, Johansson made the footballs heavier by soaking them in water. It also strengthened his confidence. He asked a fellow student in The Bean what the longest field goal ever kicked was. At the time, Tom Dempsey of the NFL’s New Orleans Saints held the record at 63 yards.

Heading into Homecoming, there was another record that had ACU fans buzzing. Superstar running back Wilbert Montgomery (’77) was sitting on 66 career touchdowns, tied with former Jackson State University superstar Walter Payton for the most at any level of college football.

“The day before the game, Wilbert told me he would be setting a record,” Johansson says. “I told him, ‘Wilbert, we’re going to set two records.’ ”

Montgomery’s task was a touch easier if only because by 1976 Payton had moved on to the NFL’s Chicago Bears. Johansson, meanwhile, was trying to hit a moving target. Tony Franklin of Texas A&M University set a new NCAA mark of 65 yards that very Saturday, Oct. 16, in a game against Baylor University that began before ACU took on East Texas State University (now Texas A&M University-Commerce).

Late in the first quarter with ACU ahead 7-0 and the Wildcats facing fourth down at their own 48-yard line, Bullington, having seen Johansson make a pair of 70-yard attempts before the game, sent him onto the field with a 15-20 mile per hour breeze at his back. The snap from center Mark McCurley (’77) was high but catchable, the hold from Dean Low (’78) was perfect and the attempt – spotted at the 41 and kicked by a player wearing that same number – cleared the crossbar and landed in the record books where it remains all these years later.

Montgomery would get his record in the second quarter, a 1-yard touchdown plunge, making that game still one of the most memorable in ACU’s 95-year football history.

Johansson's teammates celebrate with him after a 53-yard field goal he kicked during a 2001 halftime exhibition.

Johansson’s teammates celebrate with him after a 53-yard field goal he kicked during a 2001 halftime exhibition.

Just for kicks, Johansson returned to ACU on the 25th anniversary of his world record to boot (at the age of 53) a 53-yard field goal at halftime of the 2001 Homecoming game.

Johansson’s one and only season as the ACU placekicker ended with all-America honors. Montgomery went on to score nine more touchdowns and finish with 76. Incredibly, the two were reunited the following year as teammates with the Philadelphia Eagles, for whom Montgomery played eight seasons (leaving as the franchise’s all-time leading rusher) and Johansson one before retiring to begin a successful career as a financial advisor in Amarillo where April and he raised their two children, Stefan and Annika (Johansson ’06) Spalding.

From the Swedish navy soccer team to a patch of West Texas turf and a piece of college football history, in the United States’ bicentennial year, no less.

“It’s amazing,” Johansson says. “I really am the poster child for the American dream.”

Johansson and Montgomery will be honored Saturday at a noon event during Homecoming, the 40th anniversary of their record-setting game in 1976. Purchase tickets here to the ACU Football Legends Luncheon.


LiveBeyond leaders eye ominous hurricane

Laurie and David Vanderpool

Laurie and David Vanderpool

A short message left Sunday afternoon on the Facebook page of Abilene Christian University alumnus David M. Vanderpool, M.D., was direct yet confident with a potential disaster looming on the horizon:

“The LiveBeyond team is prepared to act as first responders when Hurricane Matthew makes landfall in Haiti with clean water, food and medical care.”

Matthew, the most powerful tropical Atlantic storm in nearly a decade, is a Category 4 hurricane packing winds of 145 miles per hour. It is expected to drop 25-40 inches of rain when it makes landfall sometime late Monday or early Tuesday.

LiveBeyond – a ministry of Vanderpool (’82) and his wife, Laurie (Stallings ’81) – is no stranger to helping with catastrophic situations. The Stallings family formed Mobile Medical Disaster Relief in 2005 but changed its name to LiveBeyond after responding in 2010 to a major earthquake in Haiti, one of the poorest nations in the world. In May 2013, the Vanderpools moved to live and work there full time in a life-changing enterprise providing faith-based humanitarian aid.

The couple was on campus in late August when David was the featured speaker at his alma mater’s Opening Assembly in Moody Coliseum.

The most recent issue of ACU Today magazine explains how Abilene Christian graduates who participated in a Spring Break Campaign in 1990 reunited this past summer in Thomazeau to assist at LiveBeyond:


The King and I: ACU alums remember Palmer

Longtime Associated Press golf writer and ACU alum Doug Ferguson visited Palmer in June 2016. Ferguson authored news of the PGA icon's passing on Sept. 25.

Longtime Associated Press golf writer and ACU alumnus Doug Ferguson visited Palmer in June 2016. Ferguson authored news of the PGA icon’s passing on Sept. 25.

I was 25 years old when I met The King.

It was August 1994 in Tulsa, Okla., and golf legend Arnold Palmer, who died last Sunday at the age of 87, had just played his last round ever at the PGA Championship – his 37th appearance in that event as a competitor and my first as a sports broadcaster.

Boone is the radio-TV voice of the Wildcats

Boone is the radio-TV voice of the Wildcats

I was among the gaggle of media members surrounding Palmer on that Friday afternoon at Southern Hills Country Club, all of us – including Palmer – fully aware that he had not played well enough to make the cut and advance to the weekend.

Two months before, Palmer had openly wept as he spoke to the press upon his completion of what he knew would be his final U.S. Open round at Oakmont Country Club, not far from his hometown of Latrobe, Penn. The scene at Southern Hills wasn’t as emotional.

Except for me. I’d grown up like so many other young sports fans idolizing Palmer even though I was only 3 years old when he won the last of his 62 titles. His legend was born from a swashbuckling style that produced seven major championships and seemingly 70-times-seven heartbreaks in the biggest events during those early days of televised golf. And that legend quickly crossed far beyond the boundaries of his sport into a pioneering career as a sports-celebrity pitchman because of his preternatural ability to connect with his legion of fans which became known as “Arnie’s Army.”

Palmer and Barrow

Palmer and Barrow

He was the first golfer to just as easily navigate Madison Avenue as Magnolia Lane, the famed entryway into Augusta National Golf Club, the home of The Masters tournament where Palmer frequently intersected with other alumni and friends of Abilene Christian University, including Associated Press golf writer Doug Ferguson (’83) and Lance Barrow (’77), coordinating producer of golf for CBS Sports and one of only two men to produce The Masters telecasts.

“He was golf’s first TV star,” says Barrow. “The cameras loved Arnold, and being in the spotlight was never a burden to him. He knew it was part of his job.”

As a four-time winner of The Masters, Palmer shared some sacred space at Augusta National with former ACU trustee Byron Nelson, who won it in 1937 and 1942. In a foreword to Nelson’s book How I Played the Game, Palmer wrote:

“I have no way of knowing who decided who would share a locker with whom … but nothing has ever pleased me more than when I walked into that new Champions Room upstairs in the main clubhouse and saw two plates on one of the lockers, one bearing my name and the other that of Byron Nelson. It would certainly have been my choice if I had been asked, because Byron Nelson was an idol of mine long before I met that wonderful gentleman and magnificent player.”

And later in that foreword:

“Here has always been a man of the highest personal standards, a man we in golf can hold up as the epitome of a true golf champion.”

Palmer had a chance to show his appreciation to Nelson in a tangible way. Nelson writes in his book that organizers of the Dallas Open in 1967 asked him to contact Palmer to convince him to play in that year’s tournament. Nelson did, and Palmer said yes.

“The next two days, after it was announced that Palmer would play,” Nelson wrote, “they sold 5,000 tickets. It showed what a difference a big name like Palmer’s could make.”

The next year, organizers put Nelson’s name on the tournament, changing it to the Byron Nelson Golf Classic and making that event the first to be named for a golfer. Palmer would later have his name on a tournament, the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill Club and Lodge in Orlando, Fla.

Carpenter's iron play as an amateur impressed Palmer in the PGA legend’s namesake tournament in 2011.

Carpenter’s iron play as an amateur impressed Palmer in the PGA legend’s namesake tournament in 2011.

The 2011 playing of that event is where ACU golfer Alex Carpenter (’13) first met Palmer. Given an exemption because of his victory at the prestigious Southern Amateur the previous summer, Carpenter struggled in the opening round but rebounded impressively on Friday. He was three under par when he reached Bay Hill’s treacherous 18th hole whose green is protected in front by a large pond.

“I was in the fairway,” remembers Carpenter, the first Wildcat to play in a PGA event while a student. “The pin was back right, and it’s a tough shot. I backed off the shot and looked over by the water and saw Mr. Palmer sitting in his golf cart. I hit one of the best 4-irons I could possibly hit there to about 15 feet. I started walking up the fairway and looked over at him and he gave me a huge thumbs up. I think he knew I was young and it was a big stage for me; and that I was a little nervous and came through and I hit a really good shot. That’s something I’ll never forget.”

Carpenter, who won an NCAA record 20 individual titles while at ACU, also played twice in the Palmer Cup, a competition between teams of college stars from the U.S. and those from Great Britain and Ireland. At the inaugural Palmer Cup in 1997, then-ACU head golf coach Vince Jarrett was invited to help run the event and brought along his son, Justin (’01).

“It was a wonderful experience getting to actually meet some of these great young players who would go on to become PGA and European PGA Tour players,” Justin recalls. “But the greatest experience of the whole trip was meeting Palmer. He impressed us with his stories, his love for the game of golf, and most of all, his simplicity of being just an honest and welcoming man. It was pretty intimidating when we got the opportunity to talk to him, but he was very open to us and made us feel at home.”

When he was head coach at Vanderbilt University, current ACU golf coach Tom Shaw met Palmer at a college tournament in Orlando and remembers players receiving a document titled “The Arnold Palmer Legacy.” It included this advice:

  • Respect the game: Love the game and honor it with your character
  • Play with passion: Make a total effort and never quit
  • Never forget: The volunteers and fans who make it possible
  • Share your time and talents: Give back to your community
  • Your signature is a gift: Make it legible
  • Your smile is a gift: Share it often
  • Success: Depends less on strength of body than upon strength of mind and character
  • Winning: Isn’t everything, but wanting it is!

One of Palmer’s signature characteristics was, in fact, his signature; specifically in that he always wrote it legibly and also implored young players coming out on tour to do the same with their names as a way of honoring those asking for them. That concern for the fans who made him famous is among the reasons Palmer was so beloved.

“Everybody thinks they’re his best friend,” says Barrow whose relationship with Palmer extended beyond the boundaries of player and television producer over the last 20 years. “He made you feel like you were the most important person in the world. And whenever I had spent time with him, I thought, ‘If Arnold Palmer could be that way as famous as he is, I have to be a better person.’ ”

Five years after I first met Palmer, the television network he co-founded, Golf Channel, hired me. Typical. I was thrilled just to have been in his company. And wound up in his employ.

In that emotional press conference at the 1994 U.S. Open, Palmer tearfully said, “I won a few tournaments, but I suppose the most important thing is that it (golf) has been as good as it has been to me.”

However good golf was to Arnold Palmer, he was even better to the game.

Justin Jarrett, Palmer and Vince Jarrett in 1997 at the Palmer Cup

Justin Jarrett, Palmer and Vince Jarrett in 1997 at the Palmer Cup


Tag Team: ACU great throws hat in radio ring

SD Cover, Fresno, CA January 30, 2005 Photo: Rich Freeda

Layfield is a popular figure in the world of professional wrestling. (Photo courtesy of Rich Freeda, WWE Inc.)

Stop me if you’ve heard this one. West Texas football legend becomes a college all-America, plays a little pro ball, takes up professional wrestling, during which time he builds a portfolio as a financial guru on network television while enjoying his off hours cutting grass on the field where he heads up a rugby program for at-risk youth in Bermuda.

So far, no one has stopped me.

Boone is the radio-TV voice of the Wildcats

Boone is the radio-TV voice of the Wildcats

Welcome to the larger-than-life of John Layfield (’89), aka John Bradshaw Layfield, JBL or any other of the half dozen names, nicknames, initials and other handles the former Wildcat great has answered to in the last 20 years. And for the next three weeks – at least – he can add another entry to his wildly varied vitae:

Football commentator.

Layfield will join me in the radio booth for Abilene Christian University football games the next two Saturdays at 98theticket.com, then serve as the analyst for the American Sports Network’s television broadcast when the Wildcats host the University of Central Arkansas on Oct. 1 at Shotwell Stadium.

Layfield was a four-year letterman on the Wildcat football team, and voted all-conference and all-America.

Layfield was a four-year letterman for the Wildcats.

This most tortuous of tales begins 40 years and 40 miles away. Growing up in Sweetwater with his parents, ACU alums Lavelle (’59) and Mary (Sheerer ’58), older brother Paul (’82) and sister Sylvia (Layfield ’84) Sims, Layfield became hooked on two things: professional wrestling and ACU football. The former he watched on Saturday nights with his maternal grandfather. The latter got him once and for all at the 1976 Homecoming game when Wilbert Montgomery (’77) set college football’s career touchdown record and Ove Johansson (’77) kicked what is still the longest field goal ever at any level of football, a 69-yard boot that Layfield and his cousin, Alan Rich (’86), who were ball boys in the end zone, watched fly toward them.

Layfield enrolled at ACU in 1985 as an agile, quick-footed offensive lineman and became one of the finest players the Wildcats have ever had despite the fact that he played his entire senior season on one good leg. (The other he once simply taped up when his fibula broke in the next to last game, and he continued to play.) Layfield was all-conference, then all-America and eventually named to ACU’s all-decade and all-century teams.

His success collegiately took him to NFL training camp and a spot on the practice squad with the Los Angeles Raiders. When the World League of American Football opened for business in 1991, Layfield saddled up with the San Antonio Riders and spent the season protecting, among others, Jason Garrett, who went on to play quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys, for whom he is now head coach.

By 1992, the damage from the leg injury sustained at ACU had all but ended his football career and left him weighing his options. Of course, when you weigh 275 pounds and stand 6 feet 6 inches, one of your options includes professional wrestling. On a tip from a teammate, Layfield learned the craft by training with Olympic and pro wrestler Brad Rheingans in Minnesota and soon had matches booked around the world. He signed with the Global Wrestling Federation (by “Global” they mostly meant “Texas”) where he began performing under a multitude of monikers, including John Hawk, at the Dallas Sportatorium.

His big break came in 1995 when he signed with the sport’s pre-eminent management and promotional entity, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), whose CEO Vince McMahon changed Layfield’s stage name to Justin Hawk Bradshaw, which became Blackjack Bradshaw and finally John Bradshaw Layfield.

(SPOILER ALERT: Not everything about professional wrestling is real.)

Layfield's reputation spans the financial investment and professional wrestling worlds. (Photo courtesty of WWE, Inc.)

Layfield’s reputation spans the investment, media and professional wrestling worlds. (Photo courtesy of WWE Inc.)

His popularity and performance steadily grew, peaking in 2004 when he became WWE champion using a plotline that was anything but fictitious. As JBL, he presented himself as the J.R. Ewing of Wall Street. But Layfield wasn’t all hat and no cattle futures. He’d actually spent those first few years after football learning the finer points of the stock market and even wrote a book about investing that landed him a recurring role as a guest on cable television business shows – all while he continue to wrestle.

Besides helping his Q rating, those TV appearances produced two tangible dividends: First, on one of them, he met Meredith Whitney, the financial analyst widely credited with predicting the stock market crash of 2008, whom he married. Second, it gave him experience on camera, which helped as he transitioned from performer to announcer for the weekly WWE broadcasts.

It was around that time that the Layfields made another transition. With neither having a job tethering them to a particular place, they left New York City for a piece of paradise in Bermuda where John founded a program that helps kids caught up in gangs escape to a better life through playing rugby.

Football player, professional wrestler, investment analyst, TV announcer, youth advocate.

Like ya do.

He may not be The Most Interesting Man In the World, but he’ll certainly be the most interesting one in the ACU radio booth come Saturday night. Just as he was all those years in the ring, Layfield remains a tough guy to pin down.

FOLLOW THE WILDCATS: Saturday’s 7 p.m. game at Houston Baptist University will be broadcast on Fox College Sports Central. The game can be seen in Abilene on Fox College Sports Atlantic (Suddenlink channel 509), and it can be heard locally on 98.1 FM. The game will be streamed online on the Southland Conference website, and it also can be heard at 98theticket.com. The game will also be available on DirecTV (channel 608.2) and Dish Network (channel 453), as well as on the Fox SportsGo app.

Layfield (left) with announcer Mauro Ranallo and wrestler David Otunga during a "Smackdown Live” broadcast. (Photo courtesy of WWE Inc.)

Layfield (left) with announcer Mauro Ranallo and wrestler David Otunga during a “Smackdown Live” broadcast. (Photo courtesy of WWE Inc.)


ACU 101: What it takes to be a Wildcat mascot

Today's Willie the Wildcat is portrayed by students.

Today’s Willie the Wildcat is brought to life by ACU students.

It’s September and the West Texas Fair and Rodeo is here, which means it’s time for cooler weather and rain to bedevil the event’s historic parade. If not for a downpour this past Saturday morning, the parade through downtown Abilene would have marked the 83rd anniversary of Bob Thomas‘ debut.

Bob Thomas, if you didn’t know, was the name of Abilene Christian University’s first live Wildcat mascot. Then again, if you read “ACU 101” in the new issue of ACU Today magazine, you’d know that.

Although the 1923 fair’s parade was a high spot in ol’ Bob’s young life, his days in captivity were numbered, and his post-parade demise was marked by a burial service on ACU’s North First Street campus, near Daisy Hall. Bob was replaced by a taxidermy mount in 1924 but in January 1926, another live wildcat named Mrs. Bob Thomas was on the job, recruited to live in the back of the campus bookstore.

Read that anecdote, and others, in this issue’s ACU 101, a primer on what it means to be a Wildcat mascot, from Bob to Willie – stuffed, costumed or alive:


Summit program booklet, app now available

Abilene Christian University’s 110th annual Summit is set to run Sept. 18-21, 2016, and you can begin now to choose the classes and other sessions to attend. The theme is “Love God, Love Your Neighbor: Living the Greatest Commandments.”

To make travel from the event more convenient for out-of-town guests, Summit programming will end at noon on Wednesday. Special all-day tracks are planned for the first two full days of programming:

  • On Monday, a Faith Form track will provide a venue for scholars and practitioners to share ideas and resources related to spiritual formation and Christian education in churches. Dialogue with professionals in ministry, education, neuroscience, developmental psychology and other disciplines will focus on the best ways to continue to form disciples of Jesus.
  • On Tuesday, a Medical Missions track will bring together healthcare professionals and congregational leaders to share important concepts about short- and long-term medical missions. ACU pre-health majors also will join the audience.

Theme speakers this year:

  • Dr. Jerry Taylor • Sunday, 7 p.m.
  • Sara Barton • Monday, 11 a.m.
  • Dr. Josh Graves (’11) • Monday, 7 p.m.
  • Ali (Goncalvez ’04) Kaiser and Derran Reese (’00) • Monday, 11 a.m.
  • Dr. Monte Cox • Monday, 7 p.m.
  • Jonathan Storment (’12 M.A.) and David McQueen (’88) • Tuesday, 11 a.m.

Featured speakers include Landon Saunders; Dr. Darryl Tippens; Kelly Edmiston; Jack Maxwell (’78); Tony Fernandez; Eric Wilson; Dr. Jeff Childers (’89); Dr. Phillip LeMasters, Jim Reynolds; and Jim Gash, J.D. (’89).

Two films will be screened: McFarland USA and Remand: Global Justice in Uganda.

Explore the Summit program booklet on the issuu.com viewer above. Those with mobile devices can download a free copy of the Summit app from the App Store or from Google Play.


Dr. John’s 9/11 advice ‘In Times Such as These’

John Stevens in Classroom 400x400 96

Stevens taught history at ACU for 50 years, his course in Western Civilization often audited by people in the community who enjoyed listening to his informative lectures.

For the Winter 2002 issue of ACU Today magazine, we asked Abilene Christian University alumni from various walks of life to reflect on the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001 – 9/11, as it had come to be known.

We called our cover story “Living in Our Brave New World.”

One wrote about the ministerial work of members from his church in Manhattan, N.Y., not far from the rubble of the World Trade Center. One explained how the company for which he works was scanning and sterilizing U.S. Postal Service mail addressed to President George W. Bush and Capitol Hill lawmakers following an anthrax scare. Another recounted being evacuated that day from his office adjacent to the West Wing of The White House. From Gulf War photojournalists to faculty experts on Islam and conflict in the Middle East, their views were informative, introspective and often moving.

The final one, by chancellor emeritus Dr. John C. Stevens (’38), was titled “In Times Such as These.” In it, ACU’s eighth president recounted his experiences as a World War II chaplain on the battlefields of Europe, choosing to focus not on grief nor anger but on the great hope with which Christians live, and their responsibility to love and show God’s light to others. Dr. John’s life mirrored that exhortation. The beloved longtime administrator died six years later at age 88.

On the 15th anniversary of a dark day in our nation’s history, Stevens’ words not long after 9/11 have new meaning worth sharing today:

In the fall and winter of 1776, the outlook was quite bleak for Americans struggling for independence. In December, Tom Paine came out with a pamphlet that revived the spirits of Americans. He called it “The American Crisis.” His best-known lines were, “These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of this country, but he that stands it now deserves the love and thanks of men and women.”

Paine proceeded to develop a convincing case that Americans could win the independence they had declared. Gen. George Washington ordered that it be read to all troops.

The situation challenging the United States of America and her allies today is a far cry from that of the struggling colonials trying to establish their independence in 1776. However, the grief of thousands of families brought about by the dastardly actions of a gang of international outlaws makes this a soul-trying time, too.

How do Americans deal with such overwhelming tragedy?

First of all, there have been prayers and great patriotic songs sung in meetings across the country. In recent years, believers in God have, in our public schools and prominent venues, been figuratively forced to sit in the back of the bus. But not since Sept. 11, 2001.

Since that sad day, we have unabashedly prayed and sung and testified to the whole world concerning our faith in God. I wonder how many millions of people have participated in singing “God Bless America,” the magnificent patriotic hymn composed in 1918 by Russian immigrant Irving Berlin and made immortal in 1938 by the voice of Kate Smith?

Right along with it go “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” “The Star Spangled Banner,” and “America the Beautiful.” Our nation’s great patriotic music may have never received more attention than in the days since Sept. 11.

And talk about prayer! On Sunday afternoon, Sept. 23, Yankee Stadium in New York City drew a crowd of more than 25,000 who stood in line for hours, enduring security checks for their own safety. The program consisted primarily of appropriate music and of prayers offered by Jews, Roman Catholics, Protestants, Greek Orthodox, Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs. They were not there to discuss differences in their faiths but to unite their voices in prayer to the God of the universe. The crowd would no doubt have been much larger of their long wait had not been necessary, but organizers of the event could not afford to further risk lives.

Our response has not been prayer and singing alone. Has the world ever seen such an outpouring of money, goods and services to help families during crisis? America has been a nation of action.

World Christian Encyclopedia estimates that in 2001 there are 1,149,486 atheists in the United States. Where are they during times such as these? What sort of rallies do they sponsor? Actions of the American people since Sept. 11 seem to me to present a powerful witness to the world. In addition to soul-stirring assemblies throughout the nation, stories and photos of a multitude of volunteers working around the clock at the scene of the disasters showed the essential goodness and greatness of the American character.

Americans do not always show their faith, but times such as these help reveal it.

During World War II, it was my privilege to serve as chaplain in a frontline infantry division in the campaigns of western Europe (Normandy, northern France, the Rhineland, the Ardennes and Central Europe). During battle, I was generally stationed at the battalion aid station where casualties were brought in by the medics.

I cannot remember a single instance of a wounded soldier who rejected my suggestion that we pray together. I do recall a number of soldiers who I thought did not have a chance to survive, but they did.

I remember a young man from Michigan named Charles Potter who stepped on a land mine when we were involved with the Colmar Pocket in France, and lost both legs. We prayed together, and then he joked with me a bit.

He said, “Chappie, if you know of somebody who needs a right shoe, there is a practically brand new one out there. Of course, he will have to take my right foot out of it.” Apparently he did not know he had lost his left foot, too. I did not enlighten him on that subject. I figured that was the job of the doctors.

Two years later, in the summer of 1947, I was out of the Army and attending graduate school. I saw in the morning newspaper that a legless veteran in Michigan had won election to fill an unexpired term in the U.S. House of Representatives.

That veteran was Charles Potter.

After allowing him a few days to be sworn in, I addressed a short letter to “Hon. Charles Potter, U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, D.C.” I congratulated him on his achievement. He wrote me immediately and closed with this sentence: “If you ever come to Washington and fail to look me up, I will use all the influence at my command to get you drafted back into the Army.”

I had the opportunity several times during the next few years to be in Washington and enjoyed the pleasant visits with Potter. However, no meeting was quite so memorable as our short session of prayer in France.

I believe that Americans prefer to be a people of faith. It is unfortunate that it often takes circumstances of great peril or harm for us to turn to God for answers and help. I also can tell you from personal experience that there are a few atheists on wartime battlefields.

In times such as these, we draw comfort from song-poems based on Psalms 46 and others like it: “A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing; our helper He amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing.”

In times such as these, faith matters more than ever. Christians have a remarkable opportunity to show others the love of God, the peace of Christ and the hope that empowers our lives.

In dark days and anxious nights, the Light of the World shines brightest.

We should make every effort to help others see it.