Sports Of All Sorts Scattered Between The Dots……Jesse Powell Of The 1972 Undefeated Miami Dolphins Gone Too Soon….By RC

Many times in my writing I have referenced the fact that I grew up in a small West Texas cotton farming community of Roaring Springs (population 453 in1967). But the truth of the matter is that I actually grew up in an even smaller community called TeePee Flat some ten miles just east of Roaring Springs. As with so many west Texas communities the flat was just a collection of cotton farms sitting on about a hundred acres of land where if the rains came just right a man could raise a family of three kids fairly easily. Unheard of these days! …………………..The reason that I say all this is because just about a quarter of a mile, or two farms, up the highway from my house, lived an elderly couple named John and Mary Farris. Their children had grown up with my Dad and his family all in TeePee Flat. The oldest daughter of the Farris family, Bertha, married a gentleman with the last name Powell. Bertha and her husband welcomed a son into the world named Jesse. Like so many of us from the flat, he was born in Matador, Texas. At some point following his birth the family moved to Spur…………….Jesse grew up in Spur and became a sports hero for the Bulldogs. After the football season of 1964, he was named all-state at the tight end position. Following that year he was a “walk on” player in football at West Texas State University (now West Texas A&M) for the legendary Joe Kerbel. Spur, Texas is located in the foothill country just below the Caprock of Texas and well within a hundred miles of Lubbock and the home of the Texas Tech Red Raiders. How the Raiders missed on a shot to recruit Jesse or what it was that caused them to not bring him into their class of recruits is beyond me………………………….At West Texas State he flourished as a defensive end in the scheme of Coach Kerbel and under the tutelage defensive ends coach Lee Harrington. While I was principal at Comanche, Coach Harrington and I became friends because his daughter Leah Franco taught with, me and her sons Weston and Cole played for the Indians. He had retired from education to be at the boy’s games……………………… Many times Lee and I would stand at the fence prior to the Comanche games and talk about the players that he had coached at WT. I had been a student at the Canyon, Texas campus during his final year there and his prize pupil that year had been Jesse Powell. A couple of years before Jesse’s senior season Lee had another defensive end named Jimmy Campbell who would be drafted by the San Diego Chargers. Talk about a pair of book ends for defense! Running outside on the Buffaloes was almost unthinkable with those two on the field and their great coach on the sidelines……………………Before I go any further about the legend of Jesse Powell and what he could do on the gridiron, let me talk about him as a person. I had arrived on the WT campus in the fall of 1968 after spending a year at Cisco Junior College. I was not a football player even though I wanted that desperately. I did the next best thing that I could to learn the game and that was to hang around the players as much as possible. When I got to West Texas I knew that Jesse was a star player for the Buffaloes along with Eugene “Mercury” Morris and Duane Thomas. I didn’t expect to ever be able to meet him, much less become friends with him even though our families had a history together. However during the first week of class I was in a class called Individual Sports where we learned the techniques of golf, tennis, badminton, handball etc. I was teeing up a golf ball on the driving range when this 6’4” 230 pound guy walks up to me and asks me if I am Ronnie Clifton. I swallowed hard because Jesse had no body fat on him, was cut like a Greek God, and had that tough looking football face with a battered nose that was the result of him wearing a facemask that protected very little unlike those of today. I replied that I was and he stuck out his big hand and introduced himself as Jesse Powell. It was like shaking hands with a pair of vice grips. However I soon learned that he was one of the nicest guys that I ever met on campus. And he didn’t just treat me like that; he was that way to everyone. His stardom while leading the defense of the Buffaloes had certainly not inflated his ego one iota………………………After picking up where our families had left off, we became good friends for the remainder of the year. I had received no scholarship offers to play football out of high school and I knew that I wasn’t anywhere close to being in a league with Jesse Powell but I often wondered if I had tried out and went through all the training whether or not I could have played at least some at WT. In the spring semester Jesse and I ended up in yet another class together. This one was gymnastics and wrestling. When the wrestling segment of the course came around I was placed in a bracket with seven football players. I wrestled my way to the final round of the bracket and was defeated rather handily by, you guessed it, my friend Jesse. We were walking away from class that day headed to the student union building and he asked me why I wasn’t playing football. I told him that I wasn’t recruited and didn’t try out because I didn’t think I was good enough to play. He paid me one of the highest compliments ever when he told me that there was no doubt in his mind that I could have made the Buffaloes roster. I was so proud of what he had said to me, this coming from a team co-captain and a guy who would be inducted into the school’s Hall of Champions in 1988………………………Jesse, Mercury and the boys turned in an 8-2 record that year, one of the best in Buffalo history considering the schedule that they played. Mercury Morris was an unbelievable running back for West Texas in 1968 when he finished off a career where he had the highest total rushing yards for a three year career with 3,388. He also set the single game rushing record with a 340 yard performance. In 1967 he was runner-up for the national rushing title to a guy named O.J. Simpson from Southern Cal. His backfield mate was none other than Duane Thomas who would later on shine with the Dallas Cowboys. But in 1968 Thomas was overshadowed by the swift and elusive Morris. It was fun watching those guys play football……………….In the 1969 draft the Miami Dolphins took Mercury in the third round which was a steal. But an even bigger steal was the drafting of Jesse Powell in the ninth round. I remember Coach Kerbel being interviewed after Jesse was drafted and the reporter asked him if he thought Jesse was tough enough to play in the NFL. Coach Kerbel responded with a classic when he said that he didn’t know if the NFL was tough enough for Jesse. Coach Harrington echoed that same sentiment when I reminded him of the Kerbel comment………………… Both these guys were key figures in the undefeated season of the 1972 Dolphins. It made me ever so proud to have known and been friends with two of the players on that team. Later on Morris would become a member of the only trio of running backs who each gained at least a thousand rushing yards in a season in professional football. And Jesse, well he was a major contributor as a special teams member. Many Cowboy fans will remember Bill Bates and how he would just give his body up on those special teams; well Jesse Powell did the same for the Dolphins but he did so on a 6’4” 240 pound frame. And man could he run. At the intramural track meet at WT his senior year he had won the 100 yard dash, not 100 meter dash, in 9.9 seconds. That is flat out moving for a man his size. So I was not surprised at how well he could cover kickoffs and punts. He was also the backup linebacker for both outside backers and started a few games. His career was just beginning to take off when a knee injury cut a promising career short in 1973. According to the Lubbock Avalanche Journal at the twenty year reunion of the 72’ Dolphins, standout wide receiver Paul Warfield named Jesse as the most unsung player on the team……………………….The last time that I had the opportunity to visit with my friend was at Frazier’s Restaurant in Aspermont in 1973 where I was coaching at the time. I went in to my favorite eating spot during that summer and there sat Jesse Powell. I was so happy to see him and there on his finger was that big Super Bowl ring. I showed it to all my friends in the restaurant. None of us could imagine ever seeing one of those much less the player who had won it. But as I was flashing that ring around Jesse sat back trying to remain out of the limelight as was his most genuine nature. He had high hopes of getting more playing time and becoming an even bigger part of the Dolphin defense but his knee injury would have none of that……………………….So last Saturday when I picked up the paper and read where he had passed away in a Lubbock hospital I was deeply saddened. What an athlete, what a friend, what an outstanding person. I was both proud and honored to call #56 of the undefeated Miami Dolphins, the only undefeated team in history, my friend. I am sure for all those who have become his friends will agree that there have been few better than Jesse Powell when you combine his great talent both on and off the field……………………………………………RC

About Ronnie Clifton

Ronnie Clifton was a Texas Football Coach for 29 years. In addition to football, Clifton also served as the head coach in basketball and both girls and boys track. “I loved being involved in and playing sports as a kid, and I soaked up every ounce of available information about any sporting event; I also love to write. What better combo for me than becoming the writer of a sports blog?”
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One Response to Sports Of All Sorts Scattered Between The Dots……Jesse Powell Of The 1972 Undefeated Miami Dolphins Gone Too Soon….By RC

  1. Harrell Gilbreath says:

    Great story Ronnie!

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