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|Brasher part of Ferriday dynasty|
Arkansas Sports Hall of Famer Tommy Brasher only spent two years in Ferriday. But they were two years he will always treasure.
"It was a lot tougher leaving Ferriday than it was El Dorado," said the 70-year-old Brasher from his home in Redmond, Wa. "
Brasher was part of two of the four straight state football championships at Ferriday High during the 1950s and the 54-game unbeaten streak, which still stands as a state record today.
"When you were a kid in Ferriday, your whole life was Ferriday Bulldogs," Brasher said. "There were a lot of people patting us on the back, but we didn't pay much attention to that."
Brasher said he and his teammates were too busy focusing on what Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame Bulldog coach Johnny "Red" Robertson and his assistants wanted them to do.
"First of all you didn't want to get in trouble with Coach Robertson, which we didn't always succeed in," Brasher said.
Brasher's family moved from El Dorado, Ar., to Ferriday when Brasher was in the eighth grade.
"My dad (Ferry "Fuzzy" Brasher) was transferred here for two years," Brasher said
Ferriday High's football team just won its second straight state championship in 1954 and Brasher would be looking to crack the lineup as a freshman in 1955.
"It was kinda tough just coming in because that little town was pretty clannish," Brasher said. "I just got up and went to school and kept my mouth shut."
Brasher was about 5-foot-9, 160 pounds as an eighth-grader and grew to about 5-10, 175 the following year.
The 1955 team included seniors Max Fugler, Manson Nelson, Guy Hill, Tommy Purvis and Buddy Long, who would all go on to sign Division I scholarships.
"Max had a lot of maturity for a high school student," Brasher said. "You never see that kind of maturity in a high schooler nowadays."
The Bulldogs entered the season with a 25-game winning streak.
"The streak was very important to all of us, but we never talked about it," Brasher said. "We put a lot of pressure on ourselves as far as one guy making sure the next guy was doing the right thing."
The only game in 1955 the Bulldogs didn't win by more than a touchdown was a 26-20 victory over Class 2A Springhill.
At halftime of their annual Thanksgiving Day game with Tallulah, Robertson told the starters to take a shower, put on their regular clothes and watch the rest of the game (a 47-25 victory) from the stands.
The Bulldogs beat Redemptorist (Baton Rouge) 14-0 for the state championship.
"We had a great team," said Brasher, who was second-team fullback behind Tommy Purvis. "I got to play a lot because most of our games were over by halftime."
Ferriday defeated Westlake 53-19 of Lake Charles in the semifinals. Westlake was the last team to beat the Bulldogs, defeating Ferriday in the 1953 season-opener.
Brasher remembers what happened before the Redemptorist game, which was played in Municipal Stadium in Baton Rouge.
"I remember we stopped in Baton Rouge to eat for a pre-game meal," Brasher said. "Coach bought us some T-bone steaks. I cut into mine and blood came out. I called the waitress and started to say to take it back. Next thing I know, I heard Coach Robertson say, 'Eat it.' So I ate it."
Brasher said Robertson's success came from the fact he emphasized fundamentals.
"Whipping people was what he believed in," Brasher said. "He made sure we went out to not only win, but whip our opponent. That was something I carried with me through 41 years of coaching. Another secret to his success was his ability to use his players in the best way. He didn't have all that many plays, but he had a play for everybody. He had the end around with Tony (Brocato), who was a big guy and he wanted to get him the ball somehow. Warren Enterkin was a good receiver, so he had passes designed for him. He did a good job utilizing various people."
Brasher said Robertson also emphasized weight lifting.
"Coach Robertson was ahead of the game in the weight program," Brasher said. "There was no such thing as weight program in El Dorado. When I went back, I had to lift on my own at the Boys Club."
In 1956, Doug Watkins joined Robertson's staff as Johnny Emmons accepted the head coaching job at Farmerville after serving as an assistant coach in 1955.
"Coach Robertson asked me and Donnie (Daye) to help (Watkins) move in," Brasher said. "He said we were just loafing around, so he sent us to help the new coach. We helped him unload furniture"
In Brasher's sophomore year, he took over as starting fullback for Purvis., while also playing on the defensive side.
"I liked playing offense and defense," Brasher said. "I didn't want to come off the field. I just wanted to go out and play."
Ferriday beat Delhi 20-13 as Brasher scored the winning touchdown with no time left on the clock. With the game tied at 13-13 and Delhi inside Ferriday territory with 10 seconds remaining, Bear running back Bobby Leech took a pitch from Bear quarterback Buster Harrell and was hit by Butch Bateman when he attempted to pass it. Brasher intercepted the pass and ran 70 yards as time ran out. Brasher was carried from the field by his teammates after kicking the extra point.
"The ball fell right in my hands," Brasher said. "That could have been anybody. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. I guess they weren't willing to settle for a tie. That was not the best play choice. I just caught the ball and took off with it. I had nobody chasing me. I think the quarterback and running back were kind of stunned. That was definitely one of the strangest plays I had ever been associated with."
The 42-game winning streak was tainted a bit the next week, but still alive as Ferriday and defending Class 2A champion Jena played to a 13-13 tie.
"That was bittersweet, but it still wasn't losing," Brasher said.
Ferriday defeated St. Amant 13-0 on Melz Field for its third straight Class A title and fourth straight overall. It also marked the 54th straight game without a loss.
"St. Amant was a whole different world. I remember we stopped in Baton Rouge to eat," Brasher said
St. Amant defeated St. Francis of Houma and then had a bye to get to the championship game.
It marked the fourth straight year the Bulldogs shut out their opponent in the championship game.
Brasher returned to El Dorado his junior year.
"My mom and dad were ready to go back home," Brasher said. "There were a certain amount of people who thought El Dorado was recruiting me, but that didn't go on back then. It was really hard leaving. Ferriday's football team was very important to me."
There were no playoffs at the time in Arkansas, only a Big 9 Conference consisting of the nine biggest schools, similar to the Big 8 in Mississippi before they went to playoffs. Sportswriters voted on the mythical state champion.
"Our only loss my junior year was to Little Rock Central, 28-0," Brasher said. "That was by far the best high school team I had ever seen. They had 4,000 kids in their high school. We lost by 28 points, but it wasn't even that close."
El Dorado went unbeaten in Brasher's senior year, tying the defending state champion Little Rock Central team, which had two other losses. El Dorado was voted No. 1.
Brasher ended up losing only one game through high school. In the eighth grade, his junior high team in El Dorado went unbeaten.
"We just assumed we were going to win," Brasher said of the seemingly invincible teams he played on. "That was the attitude in Ferriday of the whole school and the whole town. We knew we would be champions."
Brasher was recruited by Arkansas, Ole Miss, LSU, Oklahoma State, Tulane, Louisiana State and several other schools.
"It came down between LSU and Arkansas," he said.
Brasher was an all-conference selection as a linebacker at Arkansas from 1962-63.
Brasher finished his career with 106 tackles as a middle guard. He recorded 68 tackles and five pass deflections in 1961. He had 38 tackles in 1962. Arkansas was 8-3 and No. 8 in the nation in 1961, and 9-2 and No. 6 in the nation in '62.
The Razorbacks went 5-5 in 1963. The 1961 and '62 teams each earned a spot in the Sugar Bowl. He helped the 1962 unit lead the Southwest Conference in total defense (200.1) and rushing defense (90.7), and the 1961 defense lead the league in passing defense (62.9).
"Coach (Frank) Broyles was a young, energetic coach," Brasher said. "We had a defensive coach named Jim MacKenzie who worked with Bear Bryant at Kentucky and Coach Broyles in Missouri. He was an outstanding defensive coach.
Brasher left Arkansas to become head coach at Oklahoma where he had turned things around after succeeding Gomer Jones, but after a recruiting trip one day he arrived home and fell dead. He was 37 years old. If he had lived longer he would have become a big-name coach."
Brasher was a college teammate of Cowboys' owner Jerry Jones and former Dolphins and Cowboys head coach Jimmy Johnson.
"They were younger than me," Brasher said. "I got married after my sophomore year so I didn't live in a dorm with those guys."
Brasher was not drafted.
"I was too small and I ended up tearing up my knee my senior year," he said.
He then began a long, successful coaching career.
"I knew in the ninth grade that I wanted to be a coach," he said.
Brasher returned to his hometown of El Dorado to coach high school football as an assistant for one year.
"Actually I was an assistant coach in everything," he said with a laugh.
After a brief stint as an assistant high school coach in Galveston, Brasher took the head football coaching job at Hot Springs High School.
He then joined the Arkansas coaching staff in 1970.
Then came assistant coaching jobs at Virginia Tech, Louisiana-Monroe (1974 and 76), the Shreveport Captains of the WFL in 1975 and SMU from 1977 to 1981.
He then made the jump to the NFL in 1982 as an assistant coach with New England.
Braves was named defensive line coach for Philadelphia in 1985, then moved on to the Atlanta Falcons until 1989. After this he went to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to coach for one year in 1990. He coached the Seattle Seahawks defensive line from 1992-1998. Then he went back to the Philadelphia Eagles from 1999, until 2005, when he retired.
In 2001 Brasher was awarded the Eagles Ed Block Courage Award, presented to selected players or coaches in the NFL who are voted by their teammates as role models of inspiration, sportsmanship, and courage. It is named in memory of Ed Block, a much-beloved humanitarian and trainer for the Baltimore Colts, the award is administered by the Ed Block Courage Award Foundation.
Brasher received the award after being told he had cancer in the side of his neck just below his right ear. It had been growing for weeks, ever since he felt a small bump while taking a shower at training camp.
As the months went by, the bump got bigger and bigger until he went to see a doctor and the doctor uttered the sentence that brings everybody to their knees.
"It's malignant," Brasher was told.
Doctors cut out the cancer which had already invaded his salivary gland. In a 7-hour operation, doctors removed the gland.
But that didn't slow down Brasher, who showed up in the Eagles' coaching booth for an away contest against the New York Giants.
But Brasher was not content to just sit in the coaches box. When he saw the players virtually ignoring what Dave Taub, the assistant who stepped in for him on the field, he went into action.
At halftime, Brasher took the elevator down to the basement and strutted out onto the field. He finished the game on the field.
Then days after returning from New York, Brasher had another surgery — this time to remove 67 lymph nodes. The result is a 6-inch long, vertical scar behind his ear.
"I never feared for my life, I didn't have time," Brasher said. "I needed to be on the field."
The doctors put him on an aggressive recovery plan. Every weekday at 7 a.m. he had to go for a radiation treatment. He did this for six weeks until he had undergone 30 treatments.
He never stopped coaching. The playoffs were coming, and the Eagles were on the first of four runs to the NFC Championship Game. Brasher refused to take time off. And when the offseason came, he worked right through that as well.
Last year he was told the cancer was gone. He greeted this news just as he had the diagnosis.
And the last of the old football tough guys lives on.
Brasher remains as a consultant for the Eagles after retiring in 2006., suggesting offensive strategy against each Philadelphia opponent.
"Coaching in the NFL is a lot of fun," he said. "Andy Reid is a great man and great coach. I had to retire because it was tough with the radiation. Cancer changed my energy and stamina."
Under Brasher's guidance in 2000, the Eagle defensive line became one of the strengths as the unit accounted for 41 of the team's 50 sacks (6th in the NFL).
Defensive end Hugh Douglas earned a starting nod in the Pro Bowl with a career-high 15 sacks, while first round draft pick DT Corey Simon exploded onto the scene in the NFL with a rookie club record 9.5 sacks.
Prior to joining the Birds, Brasher enjoyed a successful seven-year stint as the Seattle Seahawks' defensive line coach.
During his tenure in Seattle, Brasher saw two of his lineman - defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy and defensive end Michael Sinclair - earn multiple Pro Bowl appearances.
Kennedy was selected following the 1992-96 and 1998 seasons, while Sinclair was voted in after the 1996-98 seasons.
Kennedy was also named defensive player of the year in 1992.
"Cortez will end up in the Hall of Fame," Brashser said.
In addition to serving as the Eagles' defensive line coach in 1985, Brasher also held identical posts at New England (1982-84), Atlanta (1986-89), and Tampa Bay (1990). In his one season with the Eagles, two of his defensive ends notched 13 sacks apiece - Greg Brown and a rookie named Reggie White.
Even today, Brasher finds little satisfaction in getting to the NFC championship game four times and Super Bowl once.
The Eagles lost to St. Louis 29-24 in 2001, fell to Tampa Bay 27-10 in 2002, lost to Carolina 14-3 in 2003 before defeating Atlanta 27-10 in 2004, only to lose to NEw England 24-21 in the Super Bowl.
"We got to the NFC Championship game four times and three were very disappointing because I felt we were the better team," Brasher said. "The NFC championship and Super Bowl losses are disappointing losses, you just can't imagine how disappointing. Those are hard to get over."
Brasher had to plan on stopping Michael Vick when he was quarterback at Atlanta. Now Vick quarterbacks the Eagles.
"I think Vick is a great player," Brasher said. "I hate he got involved in the dog fighting, but he is doing everything right now. When we played against him in the championship game I felt if we could stop Vick, we could win the game. We did stop him and did win. But he carried them to the championship basically by himself."
While the NFL has brought him great memories, Brasher said being part of the longest unbeaten streak in Louisiana high school football is something he also cherishes.
"I don't think that streak will ever be broken," he said. "You just don't see that many good players on a high school football team any more. And it was amazing the number we had. There were five guys sign Division I scholarships one year. That's unheard of for a Class A team. That was a really special group and will always be that way for me."
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