Homecoming History: 60th Anniversary of Historic Win
By Ken Hornack - B-CUathletics.com
Once upon a time, Homecoming games were occasions where home teams would bring in a vastly inferior opponent to have their way with. That time was not 1952, and that place was not Bethune-Cookman. That sentiment remains the same in 2012, as North Carolina A&T joins B-CU for today's Homecoming matchup.
However, 60 years later, the Wildcats' 8-7 victory over Florida A&M retains a special place in school Homecoming lore.
To Jack "Cy" McClairen, who scored B-CU's only touchdown that day at Welch Stadium on a pass from Mike Ardis, it was a classic case of David taking on and defeating Goliath. The Wildcats had never beaten the Rattlers and had only 33 players in uniform, almost a fourth of the number legendary FAMU coach A.S. Jake Gaither had stockpiled in the days before such a thing as scholarship limitations.
Growing up in Panama City, McClairen remembers going to the 1947 game in Tallahassee where FAMU was lucky to come away with a 6-0 victory in a game so disputed that both schools refused to face each other the next two years. It was during that time when McClairen showed up in Gaither's office unannounced asking for a scholarship only to be told, "You're not good enough to play for the Rattlers."
So he matriculated a couple hundred miles southward to Daytona Beach, where coach Rudolph "Bunky" Matthews put together a program that refused to be anyone's pushover.
"He was a philosopher as well as a coach," McClairen said.
"His motto was: If a man is determined, what can stop him?" said Harold Lucas, a kicker on that team and a major donor to Wildcat athletics for years since. "He instilled in us that it didn't matter how hard the challenge was. That's why we practiced. That's why you were trained to give your best. And if you give your best and get defeated, then it hurts, but it doesn't hurt as much."
Having lost 32-7 to the Rattlers in McClairen's sophomore year and 26-13 when he was a junior, the Wildcats found themselves facing a 7-0 deficit. But recalling how FAMU had defended him the year before, with a defense more commonly associated with basketball, McClairen was able to get free and haul in a touchdown pass.
"We figured they were going to put their box-and-one on me again," he said. "And it worked out that we still get their guys to run into each other, and I caught the ball."
Lucas' PAT attempt was partially blocked, leaving the Wildcats a point down. But his ensuing kickoff pinned the Rattlers deep in their own end. And two-way back Wallace Rasberry, who was inducted last month as part of the school's 2012 Hall of Fame Class, tackled speedy James Moore in the end zone for the go-ahead safety.
Printed accounts of the game are hard to find, and even Lucas drew a blank when asked how much time was left when the Wildcats went on top for good.
"Time has erased when it was," he said. "But we knew that it was. That was the most important game in our lives."
The Wildcats would go on to share the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC) championship with their archrivals. Not only did they finish with a 9-1 record, but they outscored their opponents by a combined score of 301-40.
And whenever McClairen would cross paths in Tallahassee with Gaither, he would never fail to remind the coach who once told him he wasn't good enough of the torment he caused that one Homecoming weekend.
"It's just as sweet now," he said of that win, 60 years later.