Junction Boys Reunion More Than Football

Charted buses from a Birmingham hotel carrying 25-plus Aggie players from the 1954-57 era and family members arrived at the Paul W. Bryant Museum Friday evening for the reception sponsored by the Alabama athletics department, A-Club Alumni Association and hosted by Paul Bryant, Jr.

Entering from either the north or south entrance all eyes gazed upward at a slight angle to view the montage of photos flashing on 55" projection monitors. Whether the image was of a team picture, individual action shots or post-game locker room celebrations, each evoked precious memories for the captivated honored guests. Wives, sons, daughters and grandchildren were treated to a litany of cherished recollections.

Upper classmen of the 1954 squad are referred to as the "Junction Boys" because they survived the strenuous 10-day summer training camp held in the Texas hill country town. The reminiscing amongst the group was not of the plays, games or scores but reflected the life lessons learned – perseverance, resiliency, toughness, commitment to a goal. They fiercely gripped these ideals over the years applying them to their daily challenges. Football was the game Bryant taught but the life skills transcended the sport. He presented stark options to the team any time a loss was experienced. The setback was treated as an opportunity to be mortar for the foundation of personal growth or a tombstone symbolic of death and submitting to the urge to surrender.

Dennis Goehring and Dee Powell, two walk-on players who earned scholarships, protected the quarterback and defended the goal-line as lineman on the Texas A&M football team. The pair of "Junction Boys" next common experience was an extreme test involving defense but of a more serious nature. A few years later they traded in those uniforms to join the Air Force during a time the country faced grave circumstances. They were assigned to different wings of the Strategic Air Command to fly B-47 Stratojets after completing the pilot program.

The October 1962 Cuban missile crisis had placed the country in peril. Both men were on alert prepared to jet off to Russia with fuel enough for a one-way mission to drop hydrogen bombs on specific targets. "We are talking about something that went a little beyond our football experience," said Goehring. "We put our tails on the line." Those daring young men did not contemplate the consequences but zeroed in on the assignment with an uncompromising level of commitment.

"We had the whole country of Russia covered and the clock was ticking," said Powell, later an Aggie and Tide assistant under Bryant. Literally hours before they were to launch, the Soviet Union acquiesced to the United States demands requiring dismantling of the missile bases under construction or completed and removal of all offensive weapons from Cuba. A different kind of victory was won.

Carl Luna was one of the first time visitors to the stately structure honoring the former Texas A&M and Alabama coach. "He taught you to never quit," said Luna, friends of Bryant's sister and three of his nephews living in Garland, TX at the time he was recruited. "If times get rough, you just keep plugging along. I've done that all of my life." Luna testified the practices at TAMU were just as rough as Junction but the facilities were better. The big lineman and three teammates missed curfew. Bryant said, "Y'all had a good opportunity to stay up late so you must have a lot of energy. Y'all start running until I tell you to stop." The punishment duty began at 6 AM. The quartet of offenders continued until noon before an assistant coach came by to say Bryant had forgotten they were on the track. "We were afraid to stop," said Luna. "We were in fear of him."

John David Crow was the most famous member of Bryant's former TAMU teams and the only player in his entire illustrious coaching career to win the Heisman Trophy. The tough physical running back was honored in 1957 with the prestigious award. A freshman in 1954, he waved goodbye as the two buses headed to Junction and greeted the single one returning from the intense ordeal. Dressed in a maroon blazer addressing the assembled media, he was beaming with pride and joy talking about the man outside of is own Dad he proclaims to be a major influence contributing to all his success. "He was a caring gentleman that knew how to put people in positions to where they could be successful," said Crow, also an assistant to Bryant at Alabama.

Gene Stallings, the other former revered head coach of Texas A&M and Alabama characterized his mentor as a person preoccupied with fostering achievement. "I still think in terms of going out and whatever it is, get it done," replied the former Aggie end. "Coach Bryant was a man's man. He was extremely tough but fair. He gave us all the opportunity to get an education and play football. He demanded excellence."

A smile was the standard facial attire that evening for everyone in attendance. Ruth Ann Stallings, wife of Gene, said, "This is fun," summing up the celebratory reunion held the evening prior to the inaugural SEC Western Division meeting between these two schools so symbiotically adjoined at the hip. If you happen to encounter any Aggie present for this past weekend's reunion in Tuscaloosa at the Paul W. Bryant Museum they will forever remember the hospitality shown by The University of Alabama. Everyone associated with the Crimson Tide will eternally recall with fondness the legend of the "Junction Boys" and all former Texas A&M players privileged to share the incredible experience of being coached by Paul W. Bryant.

John David Crow

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