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Recalling the true story of a football play that went the wrong way and then went viral before viral was a thing. This was 1988. David Lee Herbert, the coach at tiny Tishomingo High School in northeast Mississippi Hill Country, called a play that gained international renown. Here’s the rest of the story.
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Tyler: Hello and welcome to the Crooked Letter Sports podcast with your hosts, Mississippi Today sports columnist, Rick Cleveland, and myself, Scorebook Live Mississippi reporter Tyler Cleveland. Thanks for joining us today. This is a show where we talk about Mississippi sports and the folks who play them
Today we’re going to be talking about small town, Mississippi football. We’re talking 1-A , Friday Night Lights action in Mississippi. Dad, I know this is one of your favorite sports to cover and watch. What do you think is so special about Friday night football in these small towns?
Rick: Well, it is the most important thing that happens in that town. I’ve always said that the two most important days in small town Mississippi is Friday nights and then Sunday mornings. Those are the two big things. You’d go to high school football on Friday night and you go to church on Sunday morning. And for a lot of people in between you go hunt deer or go fishing. But in small town Mississippi, there’s nothing like Friday night when the whole community gathers for a ball game. And for me, there was nothing better than covering the state championship game, won a game when. You know, two towns would converge on Jackson for the state championship game, and you might have 500 people in the stands and 25 people on the field, but it was the most important thing in every one of those lives at that time, you know.
You know today, Tyler, we’re going to talk with one of the people who was involved in maybe the best 1-A football story of, of all time in Mississippi.
Tyler: Yeah. We’re talking with Dave Herbert, the, quarterback on the 1988 Tishomingo team who famously ran an interesting play. They had to run back for a safety to tie the game so they can win it by six in overtime. We’ll let Dave tell the story, but I know it was one of your favorite columns you ever wrote.
Rick: Well here’s the thing. It was a, this is a town of 300, 350 people up in the Northeast corner of the state. And this game made international news. So without further ado, let’s get into our conversation with Dave Herbert, who was the quarterback of that Tish team and his father, David Lee Herbert was the head coach.
Rick: We’re joined now by Dave Herbert, who was part of one of my favorite stories in the history of covering Mississippi athletics. It’s just an amazing story and we’ll, we’ll get to it. But Dave, you were the quarterback, your dad, David Lee Herbert was the coach. Would you explain the situation going into the game
Dave: We were going into the, it was the last game of the year and we were, it was kind of a three-way tie between us, Faulkner High School and Smithfield High School. We’ve kind of all beat each other so it was coming down to a point, you know, point system. And, so going into the game in order for us to make the playoffs, we had to win by, I believe it was four points or more.
And if we, I think it was six points or more than we were, we’d be district champions. So that’s kind of the situation that we were going intointo that ball game. So that was the, like I said, it was the last game of the year.
Rick: So we get down to the final seconds of the game and the score is?
Dave: 16 to 14.
Rick: And you’re ahead.
Dave: We’re ahead.
Rick: And there’s time for one play.
Dave: Time for one play. You know, we held them, they punted and we drove the ball down the field to about the 40 yard line, the 35 40 yard line. And so it got down to about seven seconds. I think we had run a, seems we run a screen play or something and got out of bounds, stopped the clock.
We didn’t have any timeouts. Then that’s when we were waiting for the next play to come in, you know, back then, you know, you had players running to play in and out. Right. You know, we didn’t have signals or anything like that, you know, back then, or at least we didn’t. So we did the old fashioned way, you know, tell the player, the play and they’d run tell me. But it was about seven seconds and, you know, time for about one play.
Rick: And the play that your dad sent in?
It was kind of unusual, but, I just remember one of my tight ends brought the play in, and think it might’ve been Jeffrey Daniels. But anyway, he come in and said, “All right, this is what your daddy said to do.”
“Your daddy said to take the ball and run it to the end zone down at, to tie the game.” So I said okay. I just remember telling everybody what we were going to do. And then that’s kind of when the chaos started in the huddle and, took a few minutes, but it, you know, we finally kind of got it called.
You know, they, some didn’t want to do it. Cause you know, we were ahead, you know, why are we doing this? And you know, you kinda end up, during the middle of the game you kind of forget you got to win by a certain amount of points to make it to the next week. So, you know, winning by two wouldn’t have done much other than just giving us a win.
Rick: So you turned and pitched the ball to a running back?
I changed it a little bit just strictly because you know, we, you know, back then we didn’t do shotgun or, you know, snaps or anything. Faulkner, you know, they were big, fast, and we were not very big on the line and, and I wasn’t very fast. So I kind of changed the play a little bit. I just told my running back. I’ll turn around and toss it to him and have him run it back and down it. So it, you know, it took a few minutes. We got, I think to delay of game penalties, trying to explain what to do and you know, like I said, some didn’t want to run it. So it took us about two delay of game penalties and I finally just told them to line up, let’s run it.
And then we ran it. Got the safety. It went into overtime. They got the ball first in overtime and, we have them on four downs. So then we got the ball, run the same play three times and scored on the third one, that made it 22 to 16. Then we won by six. So we won the district and went to the playoffs.
Tyler: So there was some indecision in the huddle is what you’re telling me.
Dave: Yeah, it was a lot of it. My tackle told me, you know, “yo daddy has gone crazy.” So there was some discussions like that, you know, in the huddle. But we finally got them to run it and it turned out to work.
Rick: Well as Paul Harvey used to say, now you’re going to hear the rest of the story. First of all Dave, tell him about your daddy, your daddy’s the coach and he’s well into ALS at that point. Right?
Dave: Right. My junior year he started having symptoms for ALS and then I guess it was probably, I think it was in 87 right before Christmas, he was diagnosed with it. So going into the senior year, He just coached, he didn’t teach any more. He just coached. And I believe it was basically a volunteer status. He had one of those little scooters, he would ride in at home games. They built him a place off the press box, where he could drive it up. And sit up there by the press box and, watch the game. And they had headsets and he would communicate with the assistant coach down on the field. And then on the away games, you know, being in small schools, you know, you don’t have a very big stadium.
So, parents had a flatbed truck. And so he would park the truck by somewhere along the field and they would pick daddy up and put them up there on that truck. And he’d watch it from the truck and same thing with the headsets. So he would call the game they’re playing from there.
Rick: It’s incredible. I remember hearing about it the next day and I was a columnist for the Clarion Ledger in Jackson at the time. And I remember writing a column about it. And then the next day I’m taking my son to school and Paul Harvey’s show comes on, you know, national news and hear it, you know, he tells the story. And then the NFL, Brent Musburger. I remember him doing the story. Tishamingo is a town of about what 300, 330 people?
Dave: Somewhere right up on there 300, 400 people. Very small Northeast corner of the state.
Rick: It’s got to be one of the biggest things that ever happened in Tishamingo.
Dave: Yeah, probably was. You know, at the time it was just a, you know, quiet little town, quiet little place, not alot happening. And, you know, those next two weeks were pretty eventful as far as, you know, the story getting out. We played on a Thursday. That Thursday night partner always played their home games, we played at Faulkner and they always played their games on Thursday nights. And so by Saturday, Saturday is when the TV station started calling and CBS, ABC, wanted of the game film. And so then Sunday, it was on that NFL Today show. And then, like you said, Paul Harvey had it. And, then the newspapers, you know, back in those days, the newspapers were the way of communicating. And in the following week, people were sending us newspaper clippings. I think we got some from Singapore to, I don’t know how many countries. All over the United States and the Governor of Mississippi at the time. And of course all the colleges and everything. So, it was quite eventful.
Rick: Yeah. Again, there’s a whole nother rest of the story because as I recall, doctors had given your dad what, four or five years to live?
Dave: Yeah. But that’s about the average, you know, anywhere from two to five years.
Rick: But he went on a lot longer than that.
Dave: He went on for 18 years and passed away in 2005.
Rick: I’ve always thought, Dave, that, whenever I’ve told this story or written about it, that obviously there’s a lot of heroes. Your dad’s a hero. You talking the players into doing what he had told you to do. But your mom, her part in this was truly epic. Talk a little bit about that.
Dave: Yeah. She stayed pretty busy. She tried to, you know, well, during the game she would sit with, with him. Cause he had some limitations as far as being able to use his hands and that kind of stuff, you know, during that year. But, she would sit with them and during the games and that kind of stuff. And then I think she taught one more year and then retired to. Take care of him. So that became her full-time job and everything. So, you know, it was tough, but, you know, we made through it and everything. So, but yeah, she was, she was pretty tough herself.
Rick: I remember her telling me that after a while, as the disease progressed, that they communicated by him blinking his eyes and then it got to where those muscles didn’t work. And she said that she knew him so well that she could read his mind, knew what he wanted, what he needed.
Dave: Yeah, after few years it got the point of where, you know, basically eye movement was really the only thing he had at the time. And so they had a little system as far as poly communicated with that. And then when he couldn’t really blink very well, the eye movement itself is kind of how they, you know, if he needed something, that’s kind of how you knew he needed something. But they had such a routine down and, you know, everything had a time and, and everything. So she pretty much knew what, you know, when he needed something. And so that’s, you know, pretty much how they communicated.
Tyler: Dave, how often would you say you told the story and over the years and I mean, I’m sure it’s something you get asked about.
Dave: Yeah. You know, after about the first, I guess first, several years, you know, everybody kind of, you know, knew it. And, you know when we did it, we didn’t think nothing at the time about it. I mean, it was just another football play to win a game. You know, we didn’t necessarily think it was that big of a deal and at least daddy didn’t or whatever. But it, you know, even as you know, what’s it been, 30 years, you know, people still remember. You know some like to hear the story. We had a book written about it not too long ago by Al Ainsworth . You know, kind of re invented the story again. Opened that up to a new generation of sports fans that may not been around during that time, but it’s still amazing that people remember it.
Rick: Yeah. I was honored when Al asked me to write a forward for the book and I did. And why don’t you tell, can people still find the book?
Dave: Yeah. I believe it’s probably still on Amazon. Al lives up in, I believe Southaven. And he did a very good job on telling the, kind of the story of the game, but also the backstory. You know, kinda how mom and daddy lived and that kind of stuff. But I think you can still find it on Amazon.
Rick: And the name of it?
Dave: Playing For Overtime by Al Ainsworth. He did a good job on it. And of course you did a great job on the forward and we appreciate that.
Rick: Again, I’ve been writing sports in Mississippi for 55 years and it certainly would be on the first page of my favorite stories that I’ve ever gotten a chance to tell.
Dave: Well, we appreciate that. And you know, the older I get, it is fun to talk about it. It’s a, you know, we had a little book when Al release the book in 2019, we did it up there at Tishomingo. And so we got to see the guys, see most of the guys that played on that team. So that was, that was fun.
Rick: Tell us what you’re doing now.
Dave: I am the Athletic Director at Discovery Christian School over in Florence. And I’ve been there for about a year now. I’ ve been out of teaching and coaching for a while and decided to get back into it. So I am the athletic director over there and really enjoying it and were a part of the MAIS school system. But it’s a, it’s a good little school, fun, been quite enjoyable watching these kids play and watching the school grow as well.
Rick: I’m sure you still use lessons you learned from your dad every day.
Dave: Oh yeah. You know, things that he used to do or things he had always told me, you know, if you ever got into coaching or teaching, you better do this or, you know, or do that and so, try to remember those life stories. And you know, main thing is making sure that, you know, we’re there for the students and the athletes and, you know, give them what they need to perform.
Rick: You’ve never had to go the wrong way yet. Have you?
Dave: No, I haven’t. We’re actually starting football this year. We’re starting out in eight man football and you know, I’ll be, , dealing with some of that. You know, hopefully it don’t come down with that, but you know, it is definitely in the playbook,
Tyler: Your dad obviously influenced you as a coach and administrator, teacher. Is there anything anecdotal, something he taught you maybe that specifically that you use today?
Dave: Yeah. You know, he always liked small schools. He never, didn’t care to go to the, you know, the big 5-A, 6-A type. He always loved the 1-A levels and, you know, coming in there and taking over, making it better than what it was. And, but, you know, regardless of, you know, we always had about 20, you know, 23, 26, 27 players on our teams and one player is not any more important than the next. And, you know, I always find a role for a kid. You know that, , you know, they all wanna play. You know, and they’re all different levels of skill, but no matter what, what the kids think, they all have a role whether it’s on special teams, whether thats on the kickoff coverage or, or field goal, you know, everybody had a place.
I never put them in a position to where they can’t succeed. You know, those type things, and I try to remember that as well. And I try to make sure that, you know, just because you may not be on the starting 11 or starting nine in baseball or whatever that, you know, just cause you may not start, you still, you know, have an important role on this team. And you know, so those are the kind of things I remember.
Rick: What I’ve always loved about 1-A, and I’ve written this many times, the 1-A state championship game is my favorite event of the year. And what I love about it so much, it’s that you go out there and like you say, there’s maybe 18, 25 players, something like that, somewhere in there. And, you have 145 pound guards, 120 pound cornerbacks. You have kids playing on the field in 1-A games that would be walking the hallways if they were at Madison Central or Brandon, you know, but they’re a big part of the game. And the other thing is, and I’m sure it was the true at Tisch when the whole community is so involved in the program and with the team.
Dave: You know, that makes it fun too. You know, Friday nights, pretty much if you wanted to find somebody, you better go to the ball game and that’s what made it fun as well. Cause you’re so, you know, the community knows who you are and Saturday morning, the first thing they’re asking, you know, if you had an away game or whatever, you know, how did it go? Or what did you think about the game? And, you know, it was always those kind of things, that’s what made it fun. You know, as far as being in a small community. I think we had two people over 200 pounds and I was one of them and, you know, my offensive line were you know anywhere from probably 140 pounds, my center, I think he went 140 pounds and had one tackle that weighed about 230 pounds. But everybody else was about 160, 170 pounds. And you know, you go to big school like that, they’re not even, you know, they may not even leave the sidelines, but you know, but that’s what, you know, that’s what makes 1-A football 1-A football.
Rick: Yeah. I remember your daddy telling me when he was telling me the story on the phone, he said, “Well, you know, my son’s about the biggest player on the team. And I think he had to use his size to get them to run the play the way I wanted to run it.”
Dave: Like I said, it took a few minutes to get it to where we can run it, but, you know, I just finally had to tell them lets just run it.
Rick: Well Dave, we appreciate you being with us and, retelling one of the best stores in Mississippi sports.
Dave: Well, I appreciate you having me and at any time.
Tyler: All right, that’s it for us today. Thanks for listening to this week’s episode of the Crooked Letter Sports podcast, and thanks to everyone who makes it possible. This podcast is produced by Blue Sky Podcasting in Jackson. Feel free to subscribe on your favorite podcasting app. Follow Rick and I on social media @TylerCleveland @Rick Cleveland on Twitter.
And you can always stay tuned to the latest in Mississippi sports by reading Rick’s work in Mississippi Today @mississippitoday.org or Tyler’s with Scorebook Live Mississippi. That’s scorebooklive.com/mississippi. Thanks for listening guys. Have a good one.