Former foes recall first 'battle'
By BY LYDIA GRIMES – Features writer
With the Miller-Neal football game coming up, everybody is looking ahead to an exciting Friday night at the stadium. But, it is also a time of looking back at previous games, especially for those who once wore the blue or the red. Scotty Byrne and Ed Blair are two of these men. They played in the first "Battle of Murder Creek" in 1946.
Miller and Neal were not scheduled to play that year, but a special game was arranged for the benefit of the hospital, then Escambia Hospital. Miller was scheduled to play Evergreen on Nov. 15 and Neal was to play Flomaton on the same date. Flomaton and Evergreen agreed to cancel their contracts with Neal and Miller and play each other on Nov. 15, while Neal and Miller would play the charity game on Nov. 22. The game was played on Rotary Field, which was located near the present-day Brewton Elementary School. Some extra seating was brought over from Neal and reserve seats went on sale for the big event.
Miller was the odds on favorite to win the game as they had just come through a season of seven wins and one tie.. Neal had won four, lost three and tied one.
This was a hopeful time for the nation. World War II was over and things were getting back to normal. One could buy 25 pounds of flour at the A&P Grocery store, an eight-pound sack of oranges sold for 39 cents and bread cost 11 cents a loaf. The Fair Store had ladies' suits on sale for "up to $35." Robbins and McGowins had just received a shipment of dolls to sell for Christmas. The "Magic Skin" doll could be bought for either $7.95 or $9.85 (depending on the size). The dolls' bodies "felt just like real skin."
Nobody knew that a tradition would be born that year on the field where the game was played.
It was reported that 1,000 people showed up for the game but there was no report as to how much money was raised for the hospital. There was a chilly wind blowing that hampered the teams' ability to hang on to the ball and fumbles marred the game. Miller scored once in each of the first three periods of play. Neal fumbled twice on potential drives that looked like sure-fire scores. The first quarter saw Neal move from its 12 to the 34 where Ruel Gibson fumbled and a Miller player recovered.
After a series of plays, the ball was on the Neal 11-yard line and Miller fumbled. Hillary Grice took over the ball and ran to Miller's 41 to save what had looked like a score. Miller held and Grice kicked the ball dead on the 7-yard line.
Two plays later, Scotty Byrne pulled off an end-around play and ran 90 yards with beautiful blocking all the way. Miller scored again in the fourth quarter to win the game 25-0.
Byrne, Dick Jernigan and Paul Strickland stood out on the Miller team while Grice and Gibson showed up well for Neal. It was a time when there were not too many rules to play by and not many different plays. Players played both offense and defense and the numbers they wore had nothing to do with their position.
Thomas Ed Blair was only 15 that night. He said he does not remember the game too well except that Miller was known as being able to throw the ball, so he was shifted to tackle.
Blair grew up in Escambia County, graduated from W.S. Neal in 1947 and went into the military in the 11th Airborne Division of the Army. He served during the time of the Korean War but never went overseas. He went to St. Louis, Mo. where he met and married his wife. They later moved back to Brewton where Blair worked for Jernigan's Furniture for a while and then worked a short time for Firestone. He later settled into a job at the post office where he retired about eight years ago.
His wife died a little over a year ago and they were the parents of two sons and three grandchildren. One grandson plays ball for Central of Phenix City, one is married and one is at Troy State University.
Blair lives in East Brewton and is somewhat of a history buff. He has several Civil War items and letters that he is very proud to show. He lives in East Brewton and lives a quiet life. All of his children live elsewhere and are not around all the time for him to enjoy.
Scotty Byrne grew up in Escambia County as the son of a sheriff and, later, tax collector. He grew up in the depression and when World War II started in 1941 he was only 15 years old. In 1943, he told a little fib to the draft board and convinced them that he was 18 years old. His parents were divided on him joining the service.
Byrne doesn't talk too much about his time in service. He said it was too long ago to remember what happened. The truth is that he was trained in South Carolina and shipped overseas - first to Africa and then to Italy. He was right in the middle of some pretty intense battles. He was in the 88th Infantry Division of the 351 Regiment, an anti-tank company which was used to clear mine fields. He was with the first troops that went into Rome. He was wounded and awarded the Purple Heart.
After the war was over, Byrne came back to Brewton and finished high school at T.R. Miller in 1947. He went to Southern Mississippi for a while. He came back to Escambia County and worked with Veteran's Affairs. In 1958 he was elected sheriff of Escambia County. He took office in 1959 and remained the county's sheriff until 1983. He doesn't have too much to say about those years except to say that it "was just a job."
He was certainly active during some of these years. He played semi-pro baseball with the Alabama State League which consisted of small towns all over south Alabama. He was a pitcher and played some outfield and infield utility with the Brewton Millers.
His game these days is golf. He is a member of both the Atmore and the Brewton Country Clubs and plays as much golf as he can.
He is married and has two sons, Chip Byrne and Bradley Byrne. One son is a judge in Escambia county while the other works in law enforcement. He has five grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
Byrne said he has lived an ordinary life, but to many his life would appear very interesting. These days he spends a lot of time playing golf. He starts each day with breakfast at McDonald's with his friends.
This week when the T.R. Miller Tigers meet the W.S. Neal Blue Eagles, they might try to remember how this rivalry began some 56 years ago. It was all done as a charity game to raise money for the local hospital and the spirit of that game should continued into the future.