ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – In 1972 the O’Brien Bulldog football team became Texas’ first ever state champs in UIL 6-man competition. Preceding that year, the league had not held a state match for that class of football. Then head Coach C.H. Underwood says he had every confidence in his boys, but with so much on the line, he was uncertain if they would come out with a title.
“I remember thinking in my mind, ‘reckon this is the one we can’t overcome,'” Underwood told KTAB/KRBC. “They had a 190-pound running back, we averaged 147!”
O’Brien was playing the Jarrell Cougars on Coleman’s field. Seeing as The Bulldogs had not lost a single regular season game in four years, the outcome is pretty obvious in hindsight – even if the other teams and coaches didn’t give them much of a chance.
“People were laughing at us because we were so small, the other team outweighed us by 30 pounds a man… They’re whispering, ‘man, poor old O’Brien. They’re not gonna last very long, this game’s not gonna last very long.’ Well, it didn’t. Third quarter, we called the game on them,” recalled Underwood.
With a final score of 60-14, the O’Brien Bulldogs put those taunts to shame and took home the state title which sat proudly on school grounds in a trophy case. There, it inspired many others to follow in the tradition of excellence.
“Everybody wanted to be as good as the ’72 bunch,” Underwood gleamed.
In 1976, the O’Brien School District consolidated with nearby Knox City. Due to dwindling attendance, the O’Brien campus was recently closed. In the move from one campus to another, that victory was nearly lost to time.
“That trophy case with all the state stuff was left here, and we thought, you know, it’s gonna be a disaster to see that trashed,” said Underwood.
Coach Underwood, Assistant Coach Ben Grill, and a few other true Bulldogs reached out to the Big Country Athletic Hall of Fame in Abilene, hoping they could give a home to their history, “And he said, ‘you bet. We’d be tremendously happy to get this trophy case of mementos for the first 6-man state championship.'”
The trophy case and all its historic contents now stand in the Big Country Athletic Hall of Fame located inside the Abilene mall, just a few feet from the display dedicated to Coach Underwood. While the O’Brien Bulldogs may never take the field again, their story will persist.
“What brings communities together? The celebration of success or disaster… A celebration like the ’72 State Champ brings a community together, and it did,” Underwood added.
The O’Brien Bulldogs are also known for originating the triple option play in 6-man football. Coach Underwood told KTAB/KRBC his team would make an onside kick after every single score – most all of which they recovered. This led to 6-man briefly changing the neutral zone from 10 yards to 20, to keep O’Brien and teams like them from scoring so often. Though, the neutral zone has since been changed to 15 yards.