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So long Shotwell: The greatest show in town

Jerry Cabluck's image of Wildcat quarterback Jim Lindsey appeared in Sports Illustrated in 1970.
Jerry Cabluck’s image of quarterback Jim Lindsey appeared in Sports Illustrated in 1970.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This Saturday at 6 p.m., Abilene Christian University will play its last home football game at Shotwell Stadium. The historic venue will carry on as the place where Abilene and Abilene Cooper high schools play, but next fall ACU moves into new Wildcat Stadium for its first season of on-campus football in more than 50 years. 

Saturday night, Oct. 24, 1970, music legends Chet Atkins, Floyd Cramer and Boots Randolph performed at Taylor County Coliseum. Likely it was an entertaining concert (I don’t know because I wasn’t there), but the biggest show in town that night was across the street.

Lindsey was college football's all-time passing leader when his career ended.
Lindsey was college football’s all-time passing leader when his Wildcat career ended.
That’s where the top-ranked Arkansas State University Indians invaded P.E. Shotwell Stadium to battle the nationally ranked Abilene Christian College Wildcats in a Southland Conference showdown with national implications.
(“They’d never schedule that concert to conflict with a high school game,” James Norman, the Wildcats’ director of sports information that season, told a reporter from New York.)
From my seat in the pressbox at Shotwell, where I’ve been for 49 of the Wildcats’ 57 full seasons there, it was the GOAT (greatest of all time) – the greatest Wildcat football game ever at Shotwell. Raise your hand if you were there, along with Sports Illustrated and 11,999 other college football fans.
Coach Bennie Ellender’s Indians (their mascot now is Red Wolves) came to town with the latest two Southland championship trophies. They were undefeated at 5-0, ranked No. 1 in the NCAA college division (before the days of Divisions II and III) by the Associated Press, and ranked second in the UPI coaches poll, which had the University of Tampa – coming off a victory over the University of Miami Hurricanes – ranked first.
Coach Wally Bullington’s Wildcats were 5-1 (having lost their season opener to Howard Payne before taking five straight wins in Bullington’s third season) and rated 8th by UPI and 12th by AP. Seven players now in the ACU Sports Hall of Fame were on Bullington’s roster that night. (And three more hall of famers were on the sideline coaching, including quarterback guru Ted Sitton.)
Former Sports Illustrated photographer Jerry Cabluck is now retired and working in prison ministry in Fort Worth, Texas.
Former Sports Illustrated photographer Jerry Cabluck is now retired and working in prison ministry in Fort Worth, Texas.
Sport Illustrated reporter Skip Myslenski and photographer Jerry Cabluck spent two days in Abilene to contribute to SI columnist Pat Putnam’s article on college division football in the upcoming Nov. 2 issue of the magazine.
Record-setting quarterback Jim Lindsey – and his talented set of receivers featuring Ronnie Vinson and Pat Holder – led the Wildcats. He was nearing the end of his Wildcat career as college football’s all-time passing leader and the cause of no small amount of anxiety on the Indian sideline that night.
Before the game, Arkansas State assistant coach Bill Davidson told Myslenski, “They can’t drink, they can’t smoke, they can’t dance. Why did they stop there? Why didn’t they put in a rule against quarterbacks?”
Fortunately, there was nothing in the student handbook prohibiting quarterbacks. Unfortunately, the Indians prevailed 28-23 in this intense battle – called “one of the hardest fought games ever seen at Shotwell Stadium” by Abilene Reporter-News sports writer Steve Oakey. The outcome was always in doubt, and virtually every play was as intense as each pitch in a 1-0 World Series game.
Lindsey played for the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League after graduation.
Lindsey played four years in the Canadian Football League for the Calgary Stampeders and Toronto Argonauts. He helped Calgary win the 1971 Grey Cup championship.
That night Lindsey recorded Abilene Christian’s first 400-yard passing game by throwing for 414 yards and three touchdowns (all to the “incomparable” Vinson), but Arkansas State never trailed, and the Wildcats’ fourth quarter comeback came up five points short. Lindsey led his team on an 81-yard scoring drive that ended with 5:05 to play to pull within five, but a final drive that started at 1:55 was unsuccessful after a third-down QB sack.
“This was one of our best games ever,” Bullington told the Reporter-News after the game. “I’m extremely proud of our football team. They kept their poise under pressure.”
Putnam, writing in “They Don’t Play No Mullets Down There” in the next issue of Sports Illustrated, said, “Go down to Abilene, Texas, sometime and catch Jim Lindsey, the nation’s all-time total offense leader. Not small college, not big college, but all college … Lindsey is a God-fearing riverboat gambler, and you don’t find that kind everywhere. He is a reverent man in a reverent school – Abilene Christian – but he tends to forget the Sermon on the Mount when he goes into battle, like Saturday night as he passed for three touchdowns against the percentage players of Arkansas State, the AP’s very top small school, No. 1 in the NCAA division.”
The Nov. 2 issue – still available online in SI Vault – included Cabluck’s classic photograph of the surfer-blond-haired Lindsey spinning a football. “This guy’s the greatest,” Cabluck said that weekend of Lindsey. “You don’t have to worry about good ‘pix’ of him.”
Pat Holder was one of Lindsey's favorite targets.
Pat Holder was one of Lindsey’s favorite targets.
Ellender, a hall of famer at Arkansas State who died in 2011, called Lindsey “the best quarterback I’ve faced.” Ellender added, “He could have easily ducked his head and left the field, but he sought me out, held his head high, and offered congratulations. It was a tribute to the outstanding young man Jim Lindsey is.”
The Indians finished 11-0 (capped by a win in the Pecan Bowl in Arlington) and were ranked No. 1 in the final polls to earn the 1970 national championship (before the NCAA instituted a playoff system), and Ellender left after the season to become head coach at his alma mater, Tulane University.
Sitton, Lindsey’s quarterback coach who died earlier this year at the age of 84, said the Sweeny, Texas, native had “everything a coach looks for in a quarterback … I wish I could say I taught Jim all he knew, but really he taught me all I know about throwing the football.”
Lindsey’s career ended two weeks later at Shotwell Stadium when he suffered a broken left collarbone early in the fourth quarter of a 21-7 win over The University of Texas-Arlington. With two games still to play, and an average of 300.8 passing yards per game, surely he would have been the first collegiate quarterback to throw for 9,000 yards in his career.
The 1970 Wildcats finished 9-2 (after 8-2 in 1969), and Lindsey was 21-9-1 in his three seasons.
Forty-nine seasons in Shotwell’s venerable pressbox (and a few more games in earlier years in the stands, the first Shotwell game I remember was 1960 Homecoming with my dad and uncle against the University of Southern Mississippi). Twenty-five as director of sports information and 21 as a member of the highly acclaimed ACU “stat crew” after three on The Optimist staff. Wow! That’s a lot of barbecue sandwiches!
So now that string of Wildcat games at Shotwell Stadium that started on Halloween in 1959 with a one-point Homecoming victory over Trinity comes to an end Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016, against Northwestern State University in another Southland contest. A few Wildcats will return to cheer for their alma mater one final time at Shotwell.
One who will be there in spirit is Lindsey, another GOAT (greatest of all time) – the best quarterback ever at Abilene Christian. He threw for 8,521 yards and 61 touchdowns for the Purple and White. Yes, he was a reverent man who made an impression on Myslenski (and everyone else he met), who reported to his editors in New York, “Despite constant requests not to, Lindsey insisted on calling me ‘Sir’ during our whole talk. For real.”
Ronnie Vinson was a standout receiver for the Wildcats.
Ronnie Vinson was a standout wide receiver for the Wildcats.
Myslenski said Lindsey had “the confidence of a bluff poker player.”
“Sure I’m confident,” Lindsey told him the day before the game. “It’s the only way to be. I don’t think that’s being conceited. It’s just a fact. If you’re scared, you’re whipped before you start. Then there’s no sense going out at all. I love being a leader. It’s the only thing. It’s all I’ve ever known, ever.”
(Lindsey played quarterback on all of his football teams since the eighth grade.)
A daily reader of the Bible, Lindsey added in his conversation with Myslenski, “I like to read about Christ. They criticized him, spit on him, beat on him, did everything to him, and he kept cool. It just proves you can’t lose your temper. Guys try to badmouth me, call me dirty names, tell me how they’re going to break me in two, and I just have to put it out of my mind and go back to the huddle.”
Lindsey, who died Sept. 9, 1998, at the age of 49, once told a crowd of high school students on the Abilene Christian campus, “I’m not a football player who just happens to be a Christian. I’m a Christian who just happens to be a football player.”
He also told Myslenski, “I feel God gave me all that I have. And I know he can take it back at any time. I just feel grateful for what’s happening to me.”