Friday Night Legend: A.L. Brown’s Howard Hall
By Mike London
KANNAPOLIS ó Howard Hall likes to brag to his grandchildren that he used to be the best quarterback in A.L. Brown history.
“That’s because I was the first one,” Hall said with a laugh. “For two years there (1952-53), I was the only one they’d had so I was the best.”
Hall, 74, still near his playing weight and still a regular on the Irish Creek golf course, is being modest.
He was the versatile co-captain of the basketball, baseball and football teams and winner of the Wonders’ prestigious Lug Leazer Award for his work on the gridiron in 1953. Hall weighed less than 150 pounds, but he was quick, he was slick running the option, and he had a mean streak on the field.
“Knocked out Concord’s biggest guy my senior year,” Hall said with his perpetual smile. “But how I knocked him is out is something you can’t print.”
Hall attended J.W. Cannon High until A.L. Brown opened its doors in 1952 about 50 yards away from Cannon. Hall had not played football at Cannon where’d they’d used the smashmouth single-wing offense. That was not his cup of tea, but then he heard coaches Tuck Gudger, who handled the line, and Ed Edmiston, who instructed the backs, were switching to the Split-T offense for the 1952 season. Like Jimmy Chitwood in “Hoosiers,” Hall decided it was time to play some ball.
He got a late start in his football comeback because Kannapolis won the American Legion state championship and advanced to the regional. Hall claims catcher George Suggs fired the ball back to him harder than he ever threw it to Suggs, but he was a fine right-handed pitcher and made the All-State team.
That Kannapolis roster included future NFL back Billy Ray Barnes and future Pittsburgh Pirates hurler Ron Blackburn.
“Billy and Ron went to the pros,” Hall said. “I went to the mill.”
First, he helped A.L. Brown athletics get started in the right direction.
“My first day of football, Coach Edmiston took me home with him for lunch and said I was his quarterback,” Hall said. “He was a nice man, very humble, and I got to eat.”
Brown’s first scrimmage with its experimental offense was at Catawba against coach Bill Ludwig’s big Boyden boys.
“I was scared and I ran fast,” Hall said.
After the scrimmage, Ludwig told Brown’s coaches their quarterback was going to be a handful for everyone. That analysis proved accurate.
Hall took charge, and the Little Wonders beat 10 straight foes for a perfect season. They topped Mooresville for the Victory Towel and Concord for the Victory Bell. They even beat Albemarle, and Albemarle rarely lost.
“We didn’t pass often, but I was 13-for-13 before my 14th got intercepted,” Hall said. “I liked to let those other fellas run it down to the 1-yard line, and then I’d tell them they could take a little break and I’d sneak it in.”
Hall earned a permanent role in Brown’s football history when he led a 27-13 win against Concord, the first victory since 1941 by a Kannapolis team against the Spiders. Hall threw two TD passes, rushed for 65 yards and baffled the Spiders with his fakes.
“The thing about option football now is it’s easy to see who’s got the ball,” Hall said. “I was good at faking, and I’d fake right down to the whistle. If you faked out a man, that was as good as blocking him.”
The Concord Tribune named Hall its Player of the Week, no different than the Daily Tar Heel declaring Kyle Singler its Citizen of the Month.
Hall’s senior year in 1953, the Wonders added a fast, strong sophomore fullback named Leroy Scercy to the attack.
I remember playing Mooresville in ’53 when Edmiston and Dan Hamrick were our coaches,” Hall said. “They told me to give the ball to Leroy every time until they stopped him, and they haven’t stopped him yet.”
Another time, Hall ran the wrong way, but wound up following Scercy into the end zone.
“My back was to the line of scrimmage calling plays so I got a little confused on directions,” Hall said. “I remember I ran the wrong way once, but then I circled around and just followed Leroy for a TD. Leroy told me, ‘You did that on purpose.’ ”
Brown mashed Concord 32-0 his senior season, but Hall’s fondest memories are Wonder fans singing “Happy Birthday” to him and the night he changed a play call.
“I’d called a jump pass to the outside and then a player came running into the huddle with a play from the coaches,” Hall said.
“This fellow who brought in the new play was fast and ran hard when he had the ball, but he didn’t block much. He was supposed to get the ball. I called for a vote and the guys said, ‘Howard, stick with the jump pass.’
“I threw the pass for a touchdown, but when I got to the sideline, Coach Edmiston didn’t say nothing about the touchdown. He wanted to know why I was changing plays on him.”
Brown went 9-1 Hall’s senior year. The loss was 26-0 to Albemarle and a single-wing machine coached by Toby Webb.
“Albemarle figured out from the year before if they stopped me on the option they would stop us,” Hall said. “Every time I ran the ball it was minus-5. People were crying. It was the first time we’d lost.”
Hall finished his football career with an eight-game winning streak and moved on to basketball.
“No one dunked, and I wasn’t worth a lick,” he said. “I was a captain and scored less than the subs. I could bring the ball up the court and pass to the people who could score.”
After graduation, Hall did what people did in the 1950s. He got married and went to work for Cannon Mills. He put in 43 years, mostly as a supervisor in the spinning room. He started dating his wife Millie in high school, and the retired nurse is one of the town’s leading citizens and a permanent member of the school board.
Members of the original QB’s family continue to excel in sports. Hall’s grandson Nick Buckwell starred for Brown’s golf team and made the Appalachian State squad this fall. Sophomore Tyler Buckwell is next in line.
Hall’s house is a 9-iron shot from the scoreboard at Memorial Stadium, but he has no plans to attend Brown’s game tonight.
“My kids and grandkids will drive 200 miles to watch a football game,” he said. “They’ll tailgate at Brown games on Fridays and Appalachian games on Saturdays, but I’ve never been that much of a spectator. If I can’t play, I don’t like to go. I’ll listen to the Wonders on the radio.”