There was no playoff system for Ohio high school football 50 years ago.
So when the Springfield Catholic Central Tornadoes finished 10-0 in 1963, their final place was determined by a 24th ranking among the state’s 680 teams in the final Associated Press poll.
“At this point, it would be more like the AARP poll,” running back Dick Copeland quipped at the team’s Sept. 14 induction into the school’s Athletic Hall of Honor.
And in that spirit of good humor and camaraderie, team members gathered the night before in the Knights of Columbus Hall on Bird Road to size up their achievement of half a century ago.
Mike Moone, whom coach Mickey Hannon recalls weighed more than 200 pounds “and ran like a deer,” traced the beginnings of that season’s success to CYO ball and coaches like Ben Gorsuch.
In junior high, “we played against one another with a lot of passion, and we looked forward to when we’d be on the same team,” he said.
Closer to the unblemished year, said Moone, “the big change we had was our new coach.”
Not far removed from his own Central playing career, Hannon was 24, two years out of Xavier and in his second year of coaching. Retired after a long career, he now says his inexperience proved a plus and a minus.
“I didn’t know how loaded we were,” he said. “We were really talented, and I really had no idea.”
He also said “I was so young, I did a lot of things that were stupid. But a lot of them worked.”
Perhaps by the same token, “I was fearless,” he added. “You tend to become more conservative as an older coach.”
But among his players, many of whom had seen him play, he also had a strong reputation.
Said quarterback Bob Armentrout, “Everybody looked up to Mickey because Mickey was tough.”
Some team members connect their success with a tough lesson they learned in a 56-24 schooling by Columbus Watterson at Wittenberg University Stadium in 1962.
“They were bigger than we were — stronger, faster tough,” said Moone. “They had a lot of swagger about them, and they took a few cheap shots.”
Blanked in the first half, with Hannon’s encouragement, they played Watterson even in the second half and “sort of grew up,” said Moone. “We realized there was some real talent on the team.”
That somehow led to a first for the group: informal summer practices at Hallinean Field.
“There were no visitors’ bleachers back then, and that whole side (of the field) was open and flat. We had a good place to work out.”
And the work paid off.
In the opening 46-6 thrashing of Shawnee High School, “we surprised everybody,” Moone said. “We were. faster and we executed better.”
But game two was a squeaker.
“All three Central touchdowns came via the air route and all were scored by senior end Bill Hill,” the Springfield News-Sun reported.
It took the third, a 52-yarder, to hold off Northeastern 20-16, a game Mickey Hannon called “the biggest personal victory of my career.”
But the year was young.
After a 30-0 victory over Northwestern in which Dick Copeland and Mike Moone each scored two touchdowns, Hannon told reporters “I don’t feel good about this game.”
Injuries that game to Hill and sophomore quarterback Bob Miller were part of a pattern of injuries that both dogged the team and showed off its strengths.
“If someone went down,” said Hill, “somebody else came in that could do it.”
Perhaps the best example came the next week against Lima Catholic, a game that nearly ended the perfect season.
“My recollection was that it was a huge defensive game for both teams,” said Mike Legge, one of the players who did play offense and defense.
One of the strongest defensive players on Central’s behalf was Jim Meyer, the 1963 team MVP, the 1964 team captain, and a starting linebacker as a college freshman for Bill Edwards’ vaunted Wittenberg Tigers.
The difference in the Lima game proved to be a kind of gimmick play executed just as another injured player, Copeland, was leaving the field in an ambulance.
It was made possible by a rule change that year allowing the quarterback to be eligible for a pass. Taking a handoff from Armentrout, Legge started a sweep around one end, then stopped and threw a wobbly but adequate pass back across the field to his quarterback, as a wall of blockers formed.
“It never did work in practice,” said Armentrout.
But that time it did, and Armentrout ran for a 65-yard touchdown, then called a 36 slant and talked to his fullback, Stan Erter.
“I told Stan, ‘Whatever you’ve got to do, do it. You have to score an extra point.’ He ran over two guys and we won 8-6.”
“If there was one play that saved our undefeated season,” said Moone, “that was it.”
What Hannon called a “listless” performance in a 18-0 win over Dayton Carroll came with a silver lining he mentioned to reporters: “This marks the first game this year we have played without someone getting injured.”
Next came sweet revenge against Watterson.
With black gloves, gold helmets, red jerseys and gold pants,” they looked like warriors,” recalls Erter. But “about 10 plays into the game, we started taking care of business.”
Tied at 16 in the third quarter, the Tornadoes came up with a turnover and pulled away to a 20-point victory in which Moone scored three times, once on a 77-yard run, and Armentrout on a 59-yard reprise of the quarterback eligible play.
Next was a homecoming challenge.
“St. Charles had a history of being a very big, very tough, very physical team,” Legge said.
And with the crowd 10-deep, the Tornadoes showed a full house at Hallinean Field that “were were just as tough, just as big and just as physical,” he said. “It was a good feeling.”
Erter scored on what the paper described as “jolting runs of 15 and 16 yards,” Hill caught nine passes, two for touchdowns, one a spectacular grab in the midst of three St. Charles defenders.
“During that season there were some catches you could only dream of, stupid stuff,” he said.
In a season of shared stardom, the 40-18 thrashing of Hamilton Catholic was John Kaeser’s night, the back running for 229 yards on 14 carries, including a 63-yard touchdown.
Bob Miller, who as a sophomore played when Armentrout was injured, said the teams’ senior leaders made that kind of performance possible.
“I started the first three games because Bob (Armentrout) had broken his wrist,” said Miller, who went on to play quarterback at Wittenberg.
“It was very scary for a little sophomore boy, and I remember vividly (the seniors) all closed ranks, ad said ‘we are going to win.’ I will tell you being able to quarterback that team was like driving a Maserati.”
Moone, Hill, Legge and Mike Trump drove the car over Newport Catholic on the final turn, and Legge intercepted four passes, one for a 55-yard touchdown, as the team took the checkered flag with a 38-0 blanking of Middletown Fenwick, a victory that will always give Central’s team warm memories of South High School football coach Lowell Storm and his Wildcats.
“They were ranked in the top five almost all season, and in their ninth game they got beat,” the lone loss of the campaign, recalled Armentrout.
Even in the face of that hurt, “he had the whole team come over and watch our last game,” said Hill.
Erter said the South team not only showed class that night but opened up its training facilities to Central players, who had little by comparison. Hannon said he also sought Storm’s advice before that game on defending the new run-and-shoot offense used by both Middletown High, which the Wildcats had played, and Middletown Fenwick.
Players involved offer different explanations for the perfect season: an inspiring and smart coaching staff that included fiery assistants Bobby Rankin and Mike Costello and a calming influence in Tommy Myers; a broadly talented, teachable mix of players; an odd brand of seniors who, although individuals and contrarians, exuded enough confidence to forge team unity.
Hannon mentioned another element: “In order to be undefeated, you have to have luck.”
Legge offered the tidiest explanation, describing the 1963 season as “just one of those events that could only happen once in lifetime. All the right people came together at the right time in the right place, and the result was a 10-0 season.”
Fifty years later, it still is.