“This is your time. Their time is done. It’s over. I’m sick and tired of hearing about what a great hockey team the Soviets have. This is your time. Now go out there and take it!”
-Herb Brooks, US Hockey Coach
As I mentioned earlier, my dream as a kid was to play quarterback for South Side High School. I also dreamed about beating our big rival, North Side. I spent countless hours in my backyard pretending to play against them. I dreamed about throwing touchdown passes against them or kicking the game winning field goal against them. There were several things about North Side that made me want to beat them really bad. The northside of town looked down on the southside, they were a bigger school, they were AAA and we were AA, my father had played for North Side and so did all of my uncles and cousins on the Brantley side of the family. A lot of the coaches and administrators at North Side were former coaches, teammates, and friends with my father and my relatives. They sorta reminded me of the Soviets, the “evil empire” as President Regan called them, and they needed to be defeated. I would get so worked up and I would make myself hate them! It made me play better, it made me practice harder, and it gave me motivation. If I was doing a workout I would always do an extra rep because I would tell myself that the North Side quarterback did that number of reps and I needed to beat him! I owe North Side’s QB’s a huge debt, they have no idea but they probably motivated me more than anyone else! If I thought they threw 10 out routes one day during summer workouts then by gosh I was going to throw 11! If I thought they ran 20 sprints then you better believe I was going to run 21!
After a very even series up until the early-1980’s the Indians were starting to take control. South Side had won six out of seven games in the mid-late 1970’s but then North Side had won four out of the last five during the early 1980’s and held a 13-8 overall lead. My favorite memory growing up of South Side football was a cold, rainy night in 1978 at the “Reservation.” The Indians and the Hawks battled to a 6-6 tie in regulation and in overtime Randy Carson handed off to Teddy Austin who dove into the endzone over the top from the one yard line for the victory! Me and my friends reenacted that play probably over a hundred times in my yard over the next few weeks. I dreamed about playing QB for the Hawks and beating North Side!
North Side had a great program. They had great coaches and great players. The 1980’s were their best years and they were tough to beat. Coach O’Neal Henley had taken them to new heights in the early 80’s and then became their principal, he was followed by another great coach in Bud Sikes for the remainder of the decade. I had a tremendous amount of respect for both of them. Not only were they great coaches, they were great men. My dad and my uncles had played with Coach Sikes and for Coach Henley at North Side when they were in school. My Uncle Walter was close friends with Coach Sikes and would joke around with him that the only way South Side could beat North Side would be with “a Brantley” at quarterback!
My sophomore year was a great game against North Side. I think we were probably pretty big underdogs but we played them really close. The difference in the game was really two failed extra points and they were my fault. North Side scored first but then I hit Rodney Batchelor on a 35 yard touchdown pass in the back right corner of the endzone in the second quarter. We ran the “swinging gate” on the extra point and I was the kicker. They gave us favorable numbers so I went for the big play by rolling right and throwing the ball to the corner of the endzone. The pass was broken up and we trailed 7-6 at the half. After another failed two point try after I hit Donald Hill for a TD we trailed 14-12 at the end of the third. After falling behind 21-12 early in the fourth quarter we drove the ball into Indian territory twice but failed on two different fourth down attempts. To this day I believe that if the score had been 21-14 instead of 21-12 we would have converted on at least one of those drives and won. But, it was not to be. I received a lot of attention from the newspaper and the television for my two touchdown passes and a few key scrambles and runs but the loss really stung. I cried pretty hard after the game.
My junior year we trailed 7-0 at the end of the third quarter but a disastrous ending to the game left us with a 28-0 loss. I was devastated! We probably played the worst game of the season that night. We didn’t block, we didn’t tackle, and we played with no heart. We played like we didn’t care. I was embarrassed. I only completed 3 passes and I did a poor job of leading the team. I felt like I let a lot of people down because of my poor play. I learned a lot that night though, one thing was that I never wanted to have that empty feeling ever again after a game.
Because of the performance my junior year, the entire off-season before my senior year was devoted to beating North Side. Everyday in the weightroom, running the bleachers in the gym, doing grass and bag drills, or wrestling, our focus was on winning that game. The week of practice leading up to that game was one of the most intense, focused, fun and energetic that I have ever been a part of as a player or coach. On Monday of that week we did so many up-downs at the end of practice that we all lost count. Several players were vomiting and some passed out. A few were crying! It was the hardest practice I had ever been through. It was brutal. But it got our minds right! There would not be a repeat of the year before. You can suffer the pain of discipline or the pain of regret! There would be no regrets!
No matter what it took, we were going to win! That week there were signs put up all over school with the drawing of a watch and the words, “it’s time”! Those were also the last words Coach Hayes said to us in his pre-game speech. Just before we went out he exclaimed, “it’s time”! The electricity in the air that night was amazing. I was a team captain with Dexter Brookins and during the coin flip you could feel the confidence from our side and you could feel the doubt from their side. It was a blowout. We out hit them, out tackled them, and out blocked them! We were the most physical and the fastest team that night. We intercepted two passes and recovered a fumble. I threw two touchdown passes, one each to Donald Hill and Greg Collier, and Kevin Newborn had some incredible runs behind the blocking of Shaw Williams, Reggie Pierce, Scott Lott, Carthel Hill, Mike Diggs, and Todd Birk. LaMont Wortham, Dexter Brookins, Jimmy Shanks and Carthel HillI were dominating on defense. I also kicked three extra points, had a two-point conversion, and I kicked a field goal. 32-14 Hawks! My high school football dreams had come true, it played out just like it was in my own backyard!
After the game my sophomore and junior year, Coach Sikes hugged me and whispered in my ear that I was a great player. He would also say, “South Side is not supposed to beat North Side in football”. I know what he meant, they were a bigger school, they had a lot more players than we did and we were big underdogs. He was trying to ease my pain and make me feel better and I appreciated the sentiment. But, after we won my senior year, I could not resist, Coach Sikes and I hugged after the game and I whispered in his ear, “North Side was not supposed to beat South Side in football this year!” He smiled and nodded. I was 17 years old and a smart-ass! What else can I say?
One disclaimer on North Side, I know I made it sound like they were all bad. They were not all bad. My beautiful wife and best friend is a North Side alumni and former North Side cheerleader, who would have ever believed that? Wayne Brantley marries a North Side girl. The best, brightest, loveliest, and most beautiful person that I know was an Indian cheerleader! I love Lisa Green Brantley more than life itself. So, to North Side High School, I tip my cap!
(Above) Lisa Green Brantley cheering for North Side and Wayne Brantley in 1986
(Below) Now she is my biggest cheerleader!
I want to give a very special thank you to all of the people who helped make my days as a Hawk very special. The coaches were Jerry Hayes, Johnny Growe, Jay Smith, Gene Cain, Jr., and Barry Tignor. My favorite and best teachers were Mrs. Neisler, Mrs. Tedford, and Mrs. Doris. They impacted me in a great positive way. I owe all of you a debt of gratitude and I am forever grateful! I also want to thank all of my teammates. I love you my brothers! I have a little piece of all of you with me!
Builders of Men!
Left to Right-Gene Cain, Jr., Jay Smith, Johnny Growe
Gene Cain: One of the most unselfish and caring coaches I have ever been around. He was willing to coach any position, do any job, and you could tell that he cared about the worst player on the team as much as he did about the best player on the team. He was a true servant leader. In a lot of ways he is the epitome of South Side football. His father coached at South Side for many years, his brother played QB for South Side in the early 1980’s and he coached at South Side for a long time! We were all blessed to know Coach Cain.
Jay Smith: Coach Smith was probably the smartest coach I have ever been around. He really knew the game. He was great at designing plays, blocking schemes, and defense. He was a great motivator as well. He really knew how to get you to play hard and tough nosed. I used to love having conversations with him and hearing him tell stories about players he had coached in the past. You could really tell that he was interested in you and wanted you to be successful. I was always impressed about how professional and competent he seemed. I would trust him with my life!
Johnny Growe: Words really cannot express how much Coach Growe means to me. I think about him everyday. He was our wide receiver and defensive backs coach in football and our head baseball coach. I loved being around him and I spent more time with him than any of the other coaches because of the position I played and the fact that I also played baseball. He had a dry sense of humor that kept you laughing all of the time and you knew that he really cared about you. He invested in his players unlike anyone I have ever known. You really wanted to please him because you liked him so much as a coach and you respected him so much as a man. He was a great teacher of the game and I learned a ton from him on the field and off. Role model is probably the best definition for him. True role model.
Jerry Hayes: Everyone needs a Coach Hayes in their life. He was hard as nails but I knew he cared about me and wanted me to be successful. There were times when I thought he might kill me and there were times that I was scared to death of him. But, without him I don’t know what or where I would be. He molded me into a man and I am thankful for all of the hard lessons. When I think of him it is almost in reverence. He is that big to me. Nobody has had a greater impact on south Jackson, Tennessee than Jerry Hayes. He is Knute Rockne, General Neyland, Bear Bryant, and Nick Saban all rolled up into one. It is a source of pride for me that I was his first QB at South Side and nobody can ever take that away!