Sharp Movie Rewind: Remembering the Titans’ Miraculous Cover in the 1971 State Championship

Sharp Movie Rewind: Remembering the Titans’ Miraculous Cover in the 1971 State Championship article feature image
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Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images. Pictured: Denzel Washington.

  • "Remember the Titans" is one of the best based on a true story sports films out there.
  • So of course we had to put some odds on the Titans' state championship game.

Every so often we’ll take a break from analyzing real-life events and look back at some of our favorite sports movies with the intention of setting odds on the film’s pinnacle game or event.

With Super Bowl 53 just around the corner, we break down the ultimate battle on the gridiron between two of the biggest and baddest high school football programs the world has ever seen.

Without further ado, here’s the story of the 1971 T. C. Williams high school football state champions: “Remember the Titans.”


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The early 1970s were a tough time to be a minority in Alexandria, Va. This was especially true for the black students that integrated T.C. Williams high school during the fall of 1971. There were plenty of things much more important than football going on at the time, but that didn’t stop a community from rallying around the Titans.

Longtime T.C. Williams head coach Bill Yoast racked up 15 winning seasons over the years and was accordingly nominated for the state’s hall of fame. However, coach Denzel Washington Herman Boone wound up taking over as the top dog (with Yoast as defensive coordinator) due to rezoning in the area.

 

Together, Boone and Yoast helped turn the Titans into one of the most-dominant high school football teams the nation has ever seen. Still, their hierarchy in the record books could be boosted if we can determine just how shocking their championship run really was. After all, good teams win, but great teams cover.

Let’s take a look at a few key events from the film to help set some odds for the 1971 Virginia state championship game between the T.C. Williams Titans and the George C. Marshall Statesmen .

The Setup

“We will be perfect in every aspect of the game. You drop a pass, you run a mile. You miss a blocking assignment, you run a mile. You fumble the football, and I will break my foot off in your John Brown hind parts and then you will run a mile. Perfection. Let’s go to work.” — Coach Boone

The Titans used their preseason camp as a chance to bond and come together as a team. There were plenty of ups and downs throughout that process, but nothing raised more eyebrows than Boone’s at-times reckless approach to coaching.

Boone won several state championships during his time in the North Carolina high school circuit and deserves some benefit of the doubt. Still, even Yoast felt the need to clarify that, “This is a high school football team. We’re not in the marines here.”

The team truly came together after they were forced to jog to Gettysburg cemetery (anyone that got lost was told to hitchhike back home). The defense in particular was set up for dominance thanks to returning All-American linebacker Gerry Bertier, while the offense was slowly starting to find their identity within Boone’s limited six-play offense.

“In Greek mythology, the Titans were greater even than the gods. They ruled their universe with absolute power. Well that football field out there, that’s our universe. Let’s rule it like Titans.” — Coach Boone

The Titans faced some early adversity in Week 1, but eventually escaped with a victory thanks to a strong performance from running back-turned-safety Petey Jones. This was the first, but not the last, time in the season that the coaching staff simply put an offensive player on defense as an adjustment.

Of course, Jones wouldn’t have been needed if it wasn’t for the piss-poor performance from liability Ryan Gosling Alan Bosley, who literally told his teammates that the receiver he was covering was “too fast” and he “can’t stick with him” after just one drive into the season.

The team’s questionable depth in the secondary became a moot point shortly before the halfway point of the season, as quarterback Jerry ‘Rev’ Harris broke a bone in his wrist after being drilled due to a blown blocking assignment.

Luckily, transfer rules were fairly lenient back in the day, so California high school superstar Ronnie ‘Sunshine’ Bass was able to seamlessly take over under center. Sunshine wasn’t the perfect fit in Boone’s veer-option offense, but the southpaw’s rocket for an arm helped keep secondaries honest for the remainder of the season.

The Titans finished with a 10-0 record in the regular season and earned the right to compete in the Northern Virginia Regional Championship Game. The offense had grown more explosive after the shakeup under center, but the defense was arguably the best in the state after racking up nine shutouts throughout the year.

“I’m not gonna talk to you tonight about winnin’ and losin’. You’re already winners ’cause you didn’t kill each other up at camp.” — Coach Boone

The Regional Championship turned out to be a complete s**t show. The refs called an absurd amount of questionable penalties during the early portions of the game, but then seemingly decided to let the boys play and do whatever they wanted from the second quarter on.

For example, Boone received a 15-yard penalty for arguing with the refs during the first quarter, while the Titans’ team captain was later not penalized for sprinting to the opponent’s sideline and calling out the opposing head coach.

The Titans went on to win 44-to-13 and clinched a spot in the 1971 Virginia State Championship game against legendary head coach Ed Henry, who had (allegedly) racked up over 250 wins during his 30 years of coaching.

The Odds

Action Network offers Live Odds for the NFL and college football, while BetLabs has plenty of historical data on both as well. We’re less versed in the history of high school football gambling, especially games that occurred 47 years ago.

With that said, there are three key factors to consider before setting a line for the State Championship game.

  • The Titans lost their two-time All-American linebacker for the final game after Bertier was tragically involved in a car accident.
  • Petey pulled himself out of the Regional Championship after being frustrated with the aforementioned consistent early-game penalties.
  • The Titans literally ran only six plays on offense. This is especially problematic due to the increased likelihood for enhanced scouting in a playoff game.

The Titans’ devastatingly effective defense would be without two of their key starters for the biggest game of the season. Coach Yoast remained confident thanks to an early-season scouting report he received from Coach Boone on George C. Marshall’s offense, but this was easily the Titans’ toughest test of the season.

Spread: Titans vs. Statesmen (-3)
Over/under: 36.5

The public immediately faded the undefeated Titans and pounded the favorites. The over was also widely hammered, as fans were very aware of just how bad the defense had looked without Petey in coverage earlier in the season.

The Result

The Roanoke Stadium State Championship game started with a bang, as the Statesmen marched straight down the field and found the end zone on their opening drive.

They relentlessly targeted Alan with Petey sidelined, although it’s fair to question just how well Yoast had prepared his defense. The Statesmen shifted to a shotgun formation on the first play of the game, and the Titans’ defensive coordinator’s idea of a solution was to simply say out loud, “Shotgun? Who do they think they are, the New York Jets?”

The Titans were lucky to enter halftime trailing by just seven points. Once again, the Titans’ solution in the face of adversity was to substitute unprepared offensive players on defense. The good news was Alan mercifully gave his spot back to Petey in an effort to save the season.

The plan amazingly worked, as Sunshine recorded an interception and the Titans were able to cut the lead to 7-3 by the end of the third quarter.  All-American defensive end Julius Campbell (who very recently passed away at age 65) later saved the game during the final minute with a forced fumble on a chase down tackle that would make LeBron James blush.

The game would’ve been over if the Statesmen running back had more of a Todd Gurley approach to playing the position.

Alas, the Titans had one final shot to win state. Coach Boone risked Rev’s well-being by putting his injured quarterback in for the game’s final play, but he was rewarded after “Fake 23 blast with a backside George reverse” resulted in an electrifying 75-yard walk-off touchdown run.

The Titans won 9-7 and awarded Statemen -3 bettors one of the worst bad beats anyone had ever seen in a championship game. It’s safe to say bettors will remember forever the night they faded the Titans.