100 Years of Football: The 1961 Reitz Panthers

100 Years of Football

 

EVANSVILLE, Ind. (WEHT) With 11 state championships in school history, Reitz football is undeniably one of the most distinguished programs in Indiana.  But through the years, there’s one team that stands above the rest, because they did what no team before or after them could. 

The 1961 Reitz Panthers were the first and only undefeated, untied and unscored upon team in school history. The Panthers were led by Indiana Hall of Fame head coach Herman Byers. Byers recorded winning seasons in 23 out of 27 seasons at Reitz, and expected nothing but the best from his teams. 

“Coach Byers was such a disciplinarian, and I don’t know about the other guys, but I was afraid of him and Ohren. I’ll tell you, those guys, they would scare you.”

Byers was a perfectionist that demanded excellence. So that’s what the 1961 team gave him. 
One after another, Reitz racked up win after win, and kept their opponent off the scoreboard along the way. 

“I don’t think we even realized what was happening, as far as people not scoring on us. They just didn’t score. That just seemed natural to us. Until about halfway through the year, Coach Byers made a comment to us and said, ‘Are you aware that we’re unscored on and we could conceivably go the rest of the season unscored on if you guys work hard at it.’”

But those shutouts were less about their defensive dominance, and more about the dominance of the running game. Reitz would only pass the ball a couple times a game, relying on clock management to beat their opponents. 
“If you don’t have the ball you can’t score.”

With two all-state running backs in Don Hansen and Danny Jones, plus a stellar offensive line, Reitz bullied teams, never giving up a single point along the way. But they had their close calls. In one game against North, defensive end Bob Johann recalled a Husky player stepping out of bounds just yards away from the endzone.  And In the final game of the year against Bosse, Reitz was playing its second-string defense when the Bulldogs marched down the field and passed the ball to a wide open receiver.

“He goes out in the flat, and the quarterback apparently did a fake dive to get the line off. he just throws the ball over the top and it goes right over his head and drops right in front of him. All he had to do was stick his hands out.”

Nau had the chance to catch up with that player recently, and he was relieved that he didn’t spoil a historic season.  “He said I was so happy I didn’t catch that pass. How horrible it would’ve been. We weren’t in your league at all. For me to catch a pass because Coach Byers was substituting the rest of the kids so they could play, what a disservice to football.”

Call it luck or call it fate, but there’s no taking away the accomplishments of the 1961 Panthers.  And it’s those historic accomplishments that make putting on a Reitz uniform that much more special. 
“As long as you can stand on the sideline in a Reitz uniform, never playing a game, you’re doing something that other kids just dream about.”

(This story was originally published on August 17, 2021)

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