ABILENE HIGH EAGLES (1954–1957)
ABILENE HIGH EAGLES (1954–1957). Football plays an important role in the culture of Texas. Local football teams create an identity for their communities. During the 1950s, the roll of football and community identity fit well with the political and cultural climate of America during the Cold War. Football came to be seen as the embodiment of the physical and mental characteristics of the country during a period of exceptional military and economic growth. To many Texans, a winning football team served as proof of a community’s prosperity, which in turn extended to all aspects of life. The Abilene High School Eagles (also known as the Warbirds) epitomized the nature of football in Texas and America in the 1950s. During that decade, the city of Abilene experienced significant economic and physical growth. The culmination of this growth occurred in the mid-1950s with the opening of Dyess Air Force Base just west of Abilene.
At the same time, the Abilene High School Eagles (AHS) football team experienced unparalleled success. From 1954 to 1957, the team won a national record forty-nine straight games, three straight state championships, and six straight district titles. In the Abilene area, these accomplishments received more attention than national events, including the Cold War and civil rights movement.
Led by second-year coach Chuck Moser, the Eagles won their first two games of the 1954 season and defeated Highland Park High School from Dallas and Sweetwater High School. The following week, though, AHS lost to Breckinridge High School 35–13 on October 1, 1954. The loss disheartened many Abilenians over their team’s potential success on the season. Little did the Abilene boosters know, their team would not repeat the loss for the next forty-nine games, a winning streak that lasted for more than three years.
The success of the team dominated the minds of the people of Abilene. When Abilene High faced Odessa High in 1954, the Eagle Booster Club chartered a special train to carry 700 fans to the away game. Several weeks later, another charter train took 650 fans to a game in Midland. Sometimes local football could supersede world events in the minds of some Texans. When the Soviet Union undertook a series of atomic tests in 1954, for example, the topic paled in the level of concern for Abilene residents, as evidenced by the extensive coverage in the Abilene Reporter-News regarding Coach Moser and how he viewed his team’s depth as they prepared for the 1954 playoffs. The 1954 state championship game against Stephen F. Austin High School from Houston existed as the most important event in the city that year. The Abilene Reporter-News ran a full-page team photo following the victory. The paper also dedicated its first three pages to the game and included another photo of quarterback H.P. Hawking’s game-winning pass to Twyman Ash in the closing minutes of play.
The 1955 team continued its winning ways. Led by star running back, Glynn Gregory, the Eagles became the focal point of the season for every team they faced as their opponents sought to be the ones to stop the winning streak. At the same time, Abilene’s growth from the new airbase led to the construction of a new campus for Abilene High and expanded seating at Fair Park Stadium. Another example of the prominence of the Eagles in the community occurred when the team played El Paso High School in the bi-district round of the 1955 playoffs. For the game, the Abilene school district chartered a plane to fly the team to El Paso. For many of the young men on the Eagle squad, the trip marked their first time to fly on a plane. A few weeks later, 7,000 fans traveled in a caravan to the 1955 state championship game in Fort Worth. Afterwards, many students declared the 33–13 victory over the Tyler Lions as the greatest day of their lives. The victory even pushed President Dwight Eisenhower’s heart attack to the back of the Reporter-News.
The team’s dominance in 1956 saw the Eagles average more points per game in their first seven contests than all the points their opponents scored together. Despite facing some adversity entering the playoffs when quarterback Harold Stephens broke his leg, the team still steamrolled the competition, even with backup quarterback Gervis Galbraith not completing a pass in any of the games. The third title tied a state record for most consecutive championships, a feat witnessed by 10,000 Abilene residents who drove to Austin for the final game.
The record win streak came to an end during the 1957 season. Early on, the accustomed success continued, which to the citizens of Abilene remained more important than events like the Soviet launch of Sputnik, which the Abilene Reporter-News relegated to the back of the paper. After advancing to the semifinals of the state playoffs, the Eagles tied Highland Park 20–20. At the time, no overtime existed in Texas high school football. Because Highland Park “penetrated” AHS’s side of the field five times to the Eagles’ three, Highland Park advanced. For many, the mood of mourning following the game and resembled that of some catastrophic disaster. Yet when the team returned home, their friends and family came out to show their support. For three miles entering town, the people of Abilene lined both sides of U.S. Highway 80 with their cars to greet the team.
By the end of the decade, the town’s growth brought a second high school, Abilene Cooper, to the district. The change divided the single community identity built around the Abilene High Eagles. Moser resigned as coach in 1960. Even so, for that four-year period, the group dubbed “the team of the century” by the Dallas Morning News in 1999 and recognized as one of the greatest in state history, allowed the people of Abilene to proclaim themselves, “kings of the world.” Beginning in the late 1980s, former players on those championship teams met for annual reunions. Moser died in 1995. The high school houses a museum that preserves mementos of their historic championship run.
Abilene Reporter-News, December 20, 1955. Rob Fink, “Kings of the World: Abilene High School Football in the 1950s,” West Texas Historical Association Yearbook 81 (2005). 100 Years of Texas High School Football (Dallas: Dallas Morning News, 1999). Al Picket, Team of the Century: The Greatest High School Football Team in Texas (Abilene: State House Press, 2004). Rick Sherrod, Texas High School Football Dynasties (Charleston, South Carolina: The History Press, 2013).
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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.Handbook of Texas Online, Rob Fink, "ABILENE HIGH EAGLES (1954–1957)," accessed January 24, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/xra01.
Uploaded on April 29, 2017. Modified on April 30, 2017. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.