This was the best Tigers squad Klausing had ever coached. He’d gone undefeated each of his last five seasons, but none of those teams, he believed, held a candle to these boys. His roster was deep with talent, all of it backed by experience. And unlike some all-star squads, these boys had discipline. After their lap, before the buzzing crowd, Klausing sent the boys to warm up. John “Doughboy” Gay, one of the best high school backs in the country, led the team in drills.
When warm-ups ended and anthems were dispensed, the game finally got underway. One thing was apparent after the opening kick: North Braddock wasn’t cowed by the hype. North Braddock’s defense looked good and an early threat by Braddock came to nothing. Braddock fans felt uneasy. They were used to seeing points on the board. High school games in the ’50s were typically low-scoring. Teams fought hard for points and games often turned on a single play. Braddock, though, regularly dispatched opponents by huge margins. Fans realized this wouldn’t be a regular game. Scott’s defense was rigid. Gay had a few brilliant runs, breaking for 15 or 20 yards. On ensuing plays, though, the heavy Scott line dug in and disrupted Klausing’s intricate blocking patterns. Frustrated, Braddock punted again and again.
When the ref blew the whistle for half time, North Braddock had the lead. The Tigers hadn’t looked sharp and Klausing knew it. The team’s fans were encouraging, but locals, many with money on the line, traded queasy looks in the stands.
It was not lost on the players that throughout the game, two men in street clothes had been following their coach. The officers stayed close to Klausing, alert for anyone brash enough to make good on the anonymous threat. Coach had forgotten all about it. His team wasn’t performing. For a coach who would eventually be inducted into eight separate halls of fame, there was little else to think about. As he jogged off the field, a man leapt out in front of him. He blocked the coach’s path and raised a dark object. The plainclothesmen on Klausing’s flank wrestled the man to the ground. Fans just above the fracas looked on in disbelief. The officers slapped handcuffs on the assailant and jerked him to his feet. It was only after a moment of confusion, the man pressed helplessly against the bleachers, that Klausing saw the microphone. It was a reporter known as “Sir Walter Raleigh.” His name was John Christian and he worked for WAMO, a radio station in Pittsburgh. He’d been looking for some halftime commentary.
Braddock High returned to the field with the confidence and poise of an unbeaten team. So did North Braddock. The Purple Raiders were playing inspired football and they kept the lead into the fourth quarter. By the closing minutes, the Tigers were down 12 – 9. Worse, North Braddock had the ball and was marching for what looked like a game-ending score. Klausing had to take chances. With North Braddock 25 yards out, he brought 10 players to the line. That left one defender to cover the pass. Klausing was gambling that with 10 men, his team could push North Braddock out of field goal range.
Players bore down and the North Braddock quarterback let the ball fly. It was a rushed pass thrown off balance. The ball sailed through the air and fans on both sides held their breath. The pass fell into the hands of the lone Braddock defender — an interception. The stadium erupted.
Great teams practice their two-minute drills religiously. How an offense performs with the clock winding down is imperative to its success. In a bad omen, the Braddock quarterback, John Jacobs, was promptly sacked on his own 9-yard line. Klausing had the best back in the region in John Gay, but with the clock ticking there was no time for the ground game. Jacobs was a talented quarterback and Klausing trusted him.
The defense knew to watch for the pass and Jacobs had trouble locating a man. There are a few traits that all great coaches share. Among them is a willingness to deviate from a plan. Throwing long balls to a blocking end who could barely catch a cold is never a coach’s first idea. Klausing saw an opportunity, though. Ray Henderson was getting free in the flats.
Ray “Butch” Henderson had terrible hands. Klausing must have known before the game that drastic measures would be necessary. As the team was taping up in The Paramount earlier that afternoon, he’d told Henderson about a favorite trick of NFL receiving great Ray Berry. Berry wrapped his wrists each game, pulling the tape tight so it cut circulation to his fingers. Half asleep, his fingers relaxed. Relaxed fingers meant soft hands. Intrigued, Henderson had decided to wrap his own wrists.
The gimmick worked. Ray Henderson was suddenly Braddock’s go-to man. Butch quickly caught two passes for 35 yards. The crowd went wild as the boy dusted himself off. Jacobs made two more completions for gains, putting Braddock in Purple Raiders’ territory with just over 30 seconds to play. Down by three, a tying field goal would jeopardize Braddock’s chances at the postseason. There was no overtime in WPIAL football. Klausing called another passing play. Jacobs saw Butch streaking for the back of the end zone. He let one fly. Henderson hauled in the 26-yard pass, a beautiful over-the-shoulder grab for a touchdown. The kid with boards for hands had come through. Half of the fans in Scott Stadium went nuts. The other half looked on in disbelief. The Tigers had done it again.
Braddock went on to beat Waynesburg 25 – 7 in the championship game. When Klausing had arrived in Braddock in 1954, the Tigers were a mediocre team with a long losing streak. Now, in the six seasons the coach hadn’t lost a game. Braddock had become a winning town by association, a point of pride in the region. Klausing went on to a storied career at both Indiana University of Pennsylvania and Carnegie Mellon. He was twice named NCAA Division III Coach of the Year. With an overall winning percentage of .828, he ranks among the most successful coaches in NCAA history. As he was being inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, someone asked for his favorite memories.
“Some talked about playing in the Rose Bowl in front of 100,000 or the Army-Navy game. I got up, and it was my turn, and said playing Friday night against North Braddock Scott was the greatest for me.”
For steelworkers and the American steel industry, things didn’t turn out so well. The Supreme Court upheld Eisenhower’s Taft-Hartley injunction on Nov. 7th, the day after the big game. In a daze, workers returned to the mills.
Things only got worse. With 85 percent of the industry nonoperational during the strike, American corporations found suppliers in Japan and Korea. Imports of steel doubled in 1959. Efficient sea transport was coming into its own and Asian steel was less costly. Over the next decade, the American steel industry went into a freefall.
Braddock’s population declined with it. Younger generations left in search of work. With the arrival of strip malls and the proliferation of the automobile, established workers settled in nearby suburbs. Unknowingly, Braddock’s half-dozen car dealers had sold their customers one-way tickets. In 1950, Braddock had 16,488 residents. By 1970, that number was down to 8,682. The decline persisted. The big stores — none more symbolic than The Famous — closed down or moved on. The smaller shops simply dwindled. Many walked away from their buildings, from the town, leaving empty storefronts and vacant houses in their wake. As of 2011, the Edgar Thomson Works is still operational. The men and women who work there, however, drive out of Braddock when the whistle blows, away from the embattled town that had once been the pride of the Monongahela.