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|Daye is Concordia's All-American|
Editor's note: This is the third and final story in a three-part series on the top vote-getters in a poll by the Concordia Sentinel naming the best-ever athlete in the parish. Donnie Daye finished first, followed by Jarrett Hoffpauir and Guy Hill.
When the 1955 football season ended at Ferriday High, Bulldog fans celebrated a third straight state championship after a 14-0 win over Redemptorist in the Class A finals and an impressive 39-game winning streak.
Not many figured on a fourth straight title, much less the streak continuing with the loss of stalwarts such as Guy Hill, Tommy Purvis, Max Fugler and Manson Nelson.
But a returning senior who missed the final part of the 1955 season with a broken leg was determined to add to the legacy, even if he had some doubts of his own.
"We lost five or six to college on scholarships and weren't really expecting to do as well," said Daye, who was voted the Concordia Parish All-Time Best Athlete in a poll by the Concordia Sentinel. "But somehow or other we found a way to keep up that winning tradition."
In the ninth game of the 1955 season, Ferriday defeated North Caddo (formerly Vivian) 43-18 as the Bulldogs scored on its first four possessions and six of its first seven.
Daye had a 60-yard punt return for a score, but suffered a fractured leg returning an interception and was lost for the season.
Daye and Hill were the top two scoring leaders in the state at the time.
"I intercepted a pass and I saw Max on the other side with three guys running together and I hollered at him to block them all," Daye said. "They ran over him and then the whole bunch ran over me right in front of our stands. In the pile-up I got all tangled up. It was really a tough time because we were on such a roll. I hated having to watch the rest of the season."
Daye said getting hurt at the end of the 1955 season took some of the steam out of him, but made for more motivation for the 1956 season.
"I had a lot to prove," Daye said. "They had put a cast on my leg and it was real tight and it started swelling up inside of it. I had two blood clots. I got a Coke bottle and broke the part where my knee was so I could move it back and forth. The doctor got mad about that and the nurses had to put another one on me and told me to leave it alone. It was tough, but I was young and it wasn't any problem coming back. If I did that today it would take six years to recover."
Ferriday head coach Johnny "Red" Robertson said Daye was always a hard worker.
"I was worried if Donnie would be able to come back at full strength after he broke his leg," Robertson said. "I was worried they would keep the cast on too long and his leg would shrink up. But he worked hard when he was in the cast, doing what he could, and when he got the cast off we put him in the whirlpool and he worked even harder every day to get back to where he was."
Robertson knew he was not only getting a top player back, but a leader.
"Donnie was a real competitor," Robertson said. "There was no doubt in my mind once he started working he would be back ready to play. He really wanted it and the rest of the team saw that fire in him. He had a good attitude and it spread over to the rest of the team."
Daye was able to run track in the spring of 1956 before the football season. He won the state title in the 100-yard dash at 10-flat and set a state record in the javelin, which was broken by teammate Tony Brocato the following year.
"I'll never forget a track meet we had in Newellton," Daye said. "They made a track out of a cow pasture by cutting it with a bushhog. I had to jump two ditches in the 220-run to stay on the track. They had some boys in overalls holding stopwatches keeping time. They had me breaking a world record in the 220-yard dash even though I was five yards behind the first place guy. In the finals, they had the guy behind me with a faster time than I had."
Daye said he knew it was important for him to take the role of a leader in 1956.
"Guy was our leader the year before and I felt a strong leadership role coming back," Daye said. "I knew we had to pick up the pieces and roll with it."
Along with Daye, quarterback Jimmy Marks was returning from a knee injury. The Bulldogs also had a few players miss spring practice because of the mumps.
Even with the setbacks, preserving the streak was foremost in Daye's mind.
"We were fairly thin and lost some real good players," Daye said. "But we made up our minds to keep it going. Some of our backups played as much as the first team during that streak. We just didn't have that many folks like we did before. But we still had a good nucleus."
Daye lost only six organized games from pee wee league in the sixth grade through his career at LSU. He was a part of four state championship teams and one collegiate national championship team.
His first-ever organized loss was when LSU lost to Tennessee in 1959.
"That was horrible," Daye said. "I stood on the field and looked at that final scoreboard, thinking, something is wrong, it's not over with. It was quite an experience. I was lucky to come along at a time to play with some mighty fine athletes who made me a better player."
Not that there weren't some close calls. In the second game of his senior season at Ferriday, the Bulldogs faced a Delhi team which lost to Holy Name of New Orleans for the Class B state championship in 1955 and would go on to win the Class B title in 1957.
Bulldog fans got an idea early that this Ferriday team could also be a team of destiny.
Delhi took a 7-6 lead at halftime and both teams scored a touchdown in the second half to make the score 13-13 with just a few minutes remaining.
Daye scored the first touchdown on a 4-yard run after returning a punt 35 yards, and added a 23-yard run and kicked the point-after to tie the game.
Delhi had the ball on the Ferriday 20-yard line with 10 seconds remaining and it looked as if the 41 consecutive victory streak was in jeopardy.
Delhi quarterback Buster Harrell pitched the ball to Bobby Leech who was going to pass the ball. However, he was hit by the Ferriday defense and his pass went up in the air and was intercepted by Tommy Brashier, who raced 80 yards to the Bear end zone. Brashier added the point-after kick and was carried off the field by his teammates.
"Tommy was a great friend of mine and fine football player," Daye said. "When he got that lateral we were all running behind him yelling, 'Run Tommy run.' He was slow as molasses, but he was booking it down the field with us all behind him."
Daye scored on a 21-yard run and 50-yard run and ran in the conversion as the Bulldogs blanked St. Amant 13-0 for the state championship -- its third straight Class A title and fourth straight overall. It also marked the 54th straight game without a loss.
"We didn't really talk about the streak," Daye said. "We took everything week to week. We didn't think as if we had to win this one and then the next one and then we'll play Tallulah. We never thought about losing. It wasn't on our agenda."
St. Amant defeated St. Francis of Houma and then had a bye to get to the championship game, which was played in Ferriday.
St. Amant never got inside the Ferriday 40-yard line.
"I remember the field was very muddy and they had burned it to get some of the water off," Daye said. "They had a player who was actually named St. Amant. I knocked him out of bounds once and he slid about 30 yards in the water. He got up and said, 'This is fun.' I said, 'It ain't to me.' They had a good team. We were just a little bit better and thought we could get it done."
Daye finished with 21 touchdowns and four extra points for 130 points in the regular season and 168 total points for the entire year.
Daye was named All-State and won the Fudickar Trophy as the most valuable player on the Ferriday team. Mississippi Southern head coach Thad "Pie" Vann spoke at the Ferriday banquet and KNOE's Harry Arthur presented the Fudickar Trophy to Daye.
Daye led the state in scoring as a senior, scoring 23 touchdowns and adding five extra points.
"Tommy Neck from Marksville went to LSU and when I met him he told me he checked the paper every Saturday to see if he had caught me," Daye said. "I wish I could have carried the ball a little more. They carry it 25-to-35 times a game now. There's no telling how much yardage I could have had if that would have been the case."
Daye received scholarship offers from every school in the Southeastern Conference and Southwestern Conference, as well as a number of others.
He signed with LSU and Northwestern.
"Back then you could sign with a Gulf South Conference team and an SEC team," Daye said. "I signed with Northwestern because (assistant) Coach (Walter) Ledet was a good friend of mine."
Daye was one of three players who played with the LSU varsity as a freshman. He was also one of the youngest at 17 years old.
"Donnie was very quiet, not a real bombastic fella," Dietzel said. "I always felt he was a really fine leader. He led by his actions. He could settle down the rest of the operation."
Dietzel said Daye was versatile.
"Donnie played so many positions -- fullback, right halfback and wherever we put him, he did a fine job," Dietzel said. "He was not a Billy Cannon, but that didn't make a difference. He gave all the effort he had in his body."
As a sophomore, Daye was part of the Go Team (second string offense) and played running back.
Daye was put on the White Team (first string offense and defense) his junior and senior years, being moved from tailback to fullback and playing linebacker on defense.
"I would tell Donnie one time how to do something and I didn't have to tell him twice," Dietzel said. "He was very coachable and extremely well liked by his teammates. He always had a smile on his face and the other players fed off of him. They knew he was someone they could count on and he backed them up all the time.
"Donnie was one of the few who could play both ways," Dietzel added. "Basically his main forte was offensive halfback. It was so nice to have a player who didn't make a mistake. I would rather have a team where everyone is completely in position and knows their assignment and knows exactly where they are supposed to be on a poorly designed play than have the most fantastic-ever play ever put together and have one player make a mistake. Every play is designed to go for a touchdown. But every play doesn't go for a touchdown because the other team has designed something to stop it."
Daye also played special teams at LSU.
"It was just as important as it is now, but it was not as prevalent," Daye said. "Now you have special teams players."
Daye was usually the headhunter on the punt team, whose job it was to get down the field fast and try to knock the ball loose from the punt returner.
"I remember when we were playing Tulane and Tommy Davis punted one about 48 yards, but they called a penalty on us," Daye said. "Tommy was mad and when we got back he said he was going to punt it further. And he did, but they called another penalty. We ended up with three straight penalties. I got back to the huddle and I told Tommy, 'Look, you shank this one out of bounds and I will buy everybody beer tonight.' He said he was going to punt it to where he did the first time. And he did, he kicked it about 65 yards. I was sucking air that time. I got over to the sideline and Coach Dietzel chewed my butt out for not sprinting down the field. And I'm thinking, 'Man, you gotta be kidding me.'"
"I remember that well," Dietzel said with a laugh. "Tommy kicked it over the Tulane players' head twice. It was the darndest kicking exhibition I have ever seen."
The Tigers cruised to an undefeated season capped by a win over Clemson in the Sugar Bowl in 1958. LSU was named the national champion in both the AP Poll and the Coaches' Poll. It was the first recognized national championship for LSU in the poll era.
"It was unreal that year," Daye said. "Nobody thought we would win a national championship. It just worked out and the ball bounced in our favor several times that season."
In 1959, Daye was moved to the White Team and the fullback position.
"I was more like a running guard," Daye said. "When you have a Heisman Trophy winner on one side and somebody like Johnny Robinson on the other, there's not a lot of need for somebody else carrying the football. But I was satisfied with blocking. I was an excellent blocker, took a lot of pride in it and loved it."
Daye said he enjoyed playing defense just as much.
"I loved hitting people," he said
Daye led the team in tackles as a junior, totaling 50 individual stops.
LSU beat TCU 10-0 in its second game.
"They had a guard with half an arm," Daye said. "He had a nub below his elbow. I would rush from my linebacker spot and he would stick his arm straight out and his nub would catch me in the solar plexus every time. He knocked the breath out of me a few times."
LSU defeated Baylor 22-0 on October 3, 1959 in a game that was played in Shreveport at the Fairgrounds Stadium in a driving rainstorm.
Following a 35-yard run, Daye caught a short touchdown pass from Warren Rabb that helped the Tigers start out the season 3-0.
Of course, the 1959 football season will be well remembered for Cannon's infamous 89-yard punt return with 10 minutes remaining on Halloween night in Tiger Stadium.
As the defending national champion, LSU entered the game undefeated at 6-0, including the win over ninth-ranked TCU. The Tigers had given up just two field goals and were ranked No. 1 in the country.
Ole Miss, coached by Johnny Vaught, was also unbeaten at 6-0, with five shutouts and had allowed just seven points to Tulane.
The Rebels were ranked third. Dietzel plastered copies of a newspaper story, in which Rebel fullback Charley Flowers declared he "would outgain Cannon," all over the Tiger dressing room. "Go to Hell LSU" leaflets were "bombed" by a plane over the LSU campus on the Thursday before the game. Vaught recalled that Dietzel was a B-29 pilot during World War II and said, "I thought his flying days were over."
"I think Coach Dietzel probably dropped all of them," Daye said.
The Rebels scored their three points on a field goal by Bobby Khayat in the first quarter on fourth-and-goal at the Tiger 7. Khayat later became the chancellor at Ole Miss.
The game also ended with a dramatic goal line stand by the Tigers.
Once LSU took the lead, Vaught summoned third-string quarterback Doug Elmore, a sophomore, to try to ignite the Rebels' offense. Elmore responded, guiding the Rebels from their own 32 to the LSU 23 against the Chinese Bandits, LSU's defensive specialists. Dietzel then brought in the White Team for the classic do-or-die situation. Elmore drove the Tigers to the 5-yard line, knifing three yards before being stopped by Daye.
On third-and-goal at the 2, Jim Anderson was stopped for no gain.
When Elmore slammed off tackle on fourth-and-goal at the 2, Rabb stopped him before Cannon finished off the tackle one yard short of the end zone, giving LSU possession with 18 seconds remaining.
Ole Miss punted on third down a few times in the game, and even once on first down.
"I was thinking, 'What in the world are they doing,?'" Daye said. "But I found out later they were trying to keep the Chinese Bandits on the field to run the offense. There was a substitution rule back then and the Bandits actually had to run a few plays."
The substitution rule in the 1950s kept players from re-entering the game only twice each quarter.
Dietzel said in practices the White team practiced offense half the time and defense the other half. The Go Team practiced offense three-quarters of the time, while the Bandits practiced defense three-quarters of the time.
"But the thing about it is the Bandits would run the same play on offense over and over, so they had it down," Dietzel said. "They actually did a decent job when they were in there.
"I think they also figured since we had already fumbled three times we would make another mistake," Dietzel added about the Rebel strategy. "But we didn't make a mistake the rest of the game."
Dietzel remembers another instance where the Bandits were forced to run a play in another game.
"Darryl Jenkins was quarterback of the Bandits," Dietzel said. "He rolled out once, waving the ball out. He came off the field and I asked him what he was doing because we don't throw the ball. He said, 'I know that, but they don't know that.' I told him we didn't even have anybody down the field."
As for LSU's only score of the game, Gibbs punted on third down to Cannon, who had drifted back to the LSU 5 and fielded the ball on a bounce at the 11. Several yards upfield, he shook off a tackle and maintained his balance.
Richard Price made a vain attempt at Cannon at the 19 and Jerry Daniels slipped off of him as he was picking up steam. Somehow, at the 25, Cannon emerged from a mob of players trying to swarm him.
Eight Rebels had gotten at least a hand on Cannon by the time Gibbs, at the LSU 45, was the only Rebel left who could stop him from scoring.
There was some painful suspense for Tiger fans who spotted a red handkerchief near midfield on the play. The suspense lasted until the referee's arms went up to signal a touchdown, a sign that Ole Miss had been in motion on the punt and LSU had declined the penalty.
Daye was on the opposite side of Cannon on the field during the infamous punt return.
"Billy wasn't supposed to return that punt," Daye said. "I went away to the left. I was surprised to see him in the end zone. By the time I got there some boy jumped out of the stands and ran and beat Billy on the back. I don't know if he was for us or them. He was smashing the heck out of Cannon. That was the best lick on the run."
Cannon told this story to LSUsports.com.
"There was a guy in the stands that was in the box seats that jumped out onto the field," Cannon said. "He jumped on my back and he was beating me to death. One of my teammates, Donnie Daye, came over and pulled him off of me. He was so happy and going crazy. He was just going crazy and the whole stands were going crazy."
Dietzel said there was a reason Cannon was not supposed to return the punt.
"Our team didn't have an offense that was extravagant," Dietzel said. "If somebody would have lined up four wide receivers against us I would have asked what in the world are they doing. Our biggest variety in our wing-T offense was spreading the split end out to one side. We were all about possession and position. People laugh when Cannon tells them he wasn't supposed to catch the ball inside the 15-yard line on a punt. That's because we were a very good defensive team. We only allowed 29 points in 1959. If we got a touchdown and field goal, we felt the game was over. We also did a good job on kick coverage. I learned from Gen. (Robert) Neyland at Tennessee at a clinic that a tight punt formation was better than a spread punt formation."
The 1959 team was ranked first in the country in both wire-service polls until losing to Tennessee, 14-13, in the eighth game of the season, but suffered a 21-0 loss to Ole Miss in the Sugar Bowl, two months after the top-ranked Tigers beat the third-ranked Rebels 7-3.
It was so cold the day LSU played at Tennessee that the Tiger football managers had to send out for extra gear.
LSU had played Ole Miss the week before at Baton Rouge with temperatures in the 70s, but found temperatures in the 20s when they got to Knoxville.
The Vols were 4-1-1 going into the contest.
LSU led 7-0 at the half.
"There were some very disappointing circumstances in that game," Daye said. "We still feel like we won that game in Neyland Stadium, but we had it taken away from us."
The key moments came in the third quarter, when the Vols exploded for 14 points in a matter of minutes, getting a couple of big breaks and converting them into scores. Jim Cartwright intercepted a Warren Rabb pass and took the pigskin 59 yards down the west sideline for a score.
On the next series, Ken Sadler forced a fumble and Neyle Sollee scored on a 14-yard run for a 14-7 Vol lead.
The Tigers recovered a fumbled punt that struck Bill Majors in the shoulder, and the Tigers found the pigskin at the Vol 2-yard line. On third down, the Bengals got the ball in the end zone and it was 14-13.
LSU decided to go for two points. The Tigers ran a pitch right to Cannon, a play that had been diagrammed in a Knoxville newspaper earlier in the week. Initially, it looked as if Cannon would score easily. Wayne Grubb, Charley Severance and Bill Majors made the stop.
"Johnny and I blocked the end off tackle," Daye said. "Johnny had him posted up good and I drove him into the end zone. I looked up and Cannon was right off the edge of it and hit the ground in the end zone. One official threw his hands into the air. I reached up and grabbed Billy around the goal line and started hugging him. Then another official came up and called it down by motion stopped. It was just one of them deals that you still have to live with. It cost us the SEC and maybe another national championship."
LSU then accepted a bid to the Sugar Bowl for a rematch with Ole Miss, although the players were against playing the team from Oxford again.
"We voted numerous times not to play them, we wanted to go to the Orange Bowl," Daye said. "We would have spent 10 days in Miami. But we found out later that the administration had made a deal to play in the Sugar Bowl."
The following year, Daye was named as a captain for LSU's season-opener with Texas A&M his senior season in 1960. The Tigers shut out the Aggies 9-0, but lost their next four straight. They finished 5-4-1.
Daye was selected to play in the Blue-Gray game at the end of the season.
"Fran Tarkenton was the quarterback and Pay Dye, a guard, also played," Daye said. "Alabama had a player named Bobby Boston. We were getting dressed to go out and he walked over to me at my locker and took his teeth out and put them back in his locker. He told me he had gotten them all kicked out."
Dietzel and Shug Jordan were the coaches.
The Blue won 35-7 in a game played on Dec. 31, 1960.
"The North team was huge," Daye said. "They had 250-pounders up front. And it rained the whole time. They pushed us all over the place."
Daye had an offer to play for the Dallas Texans in the AFL in 1961.
"I was married to my wife Penny at the time and Coach Dietzel offered me a job coaching the freshman team at LSU," Dietzel said. "I had worked in the oil field and had not finished school. If I would have played pro ball, I would have been a defensive back, which would have been a big adjustment from linebacker. I wish now I would have given it a whirl. But I didn't think I could play because of my size. I took the coaching opportunity."
"A lot of people said Jimmy Taylor would never play pro ball," Dietzel said. "A lot of other people said (Roy) 'Moonie' Winston was not big enough to play lineman or fast enough to play linebacker. He was an All-Pro for many years. Donnie was one of those fellas who could do many things real well."
Daye coached a year-and-a-half at LSU before taking the job as defensive coordinator at New Mexico State. He beat out Lynn Leblanc for the job.
"Coach Mac (Charlie McClendon) offered me a job three years later, but they couldn't pay me what I wanted because it was a budget year and I needed to work."
Daye, who was a business major, then went into oil field business.
"I told Penny when I first went into business that I was fortunate to do well coaching, but it just didn't work out," Daye said. "But everything eventually worked out for the best."
The Dayes have four grandsons and a great-grandson who plays youth football..
"I love watching him play football," Daye said. "It brings back a lot of great memories."
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