If you lined up all the notable people from Hudson, Mich. the queue would stretch maybe two feet. You would have a couple of state supreme court justices and the man who claims that Grover Cleveland was his fourth cousin. That's about it.
The president of the Hudson Chamber of Commerce and some of his cronies had given the subject a good deal of thought. "Custer was raised in Monroe," said one citzen. But isn't that 50 miles away? "Well, to be honest, yes," he answered. Nor could Hudson truthfully lay claim to Buffalo Bill, who did some growing up in Brooklyn, 25 miles to the north and east of Hudson, which is 70 miles south and west of Detroit.
Hudson booster Dick Hazen said it was easy to think of things the town is known for. He was able to rattle off one: "Hudson was the second town in the county to get dial telephones. That's something good." So are the crime stats. The most recent biggie occurred three years ago, when Delaney's Tavern was held up for $125. Murders? "Nope," says Police Chief Mel Tanner. "But we've had a few suicides."
Hudson has worked hard to attract new residents since 1950, when the population was 2,773, but without success. The 1970 census was 2,618. Among those Hudson tried to attract were the pandas given to the United States by China. Stickers were printed that read PANDA CITY, U.S.A. HUDSON, MICH. But no one took them very seriously. Said one townsman, "I don't know what we would have done with them. Nobody knew how to take care of them. Perhaps we could have shot them and then put them on display in a museum."
All in all, Hudson has been a classic example of small-town America, right down to its one traffic signal (two if you count the blinker over by the A&W root beer stand). Until last weekend, that is. That is when the town closed its doors, hung out a GONE FOOTBALLIN' sign and drove north to Grand Rapids for The Game. And that is when Hudson found fame, for on Saturday its team, the Hudson Area Tigers, won their 72nd straight to set a national high school record.
The Tigers trotted out onto unfamiliar artificial turf on an unfamiliar field at Grand Rapids, and they whupped Kalamazoo Hackett in the state Class C semifinals. The final score was 24-14. One of the stars of the game, Fullback Terry Carr, whose 56-yard run was the day's longest, walked off the field holding hands with his girl friend; the band played Varsity; everyone cried (win or lose, you get to cry in high school); and Coach Tom Saylor said, "Our young men met the challenge. We worked hard. We deserve to be where we are because, gentlemen, we earned it." Saylor's wife Madeleine, standing behind him, reached out and hugged him.
It was a victory shared equally by town and team, demonstrating that a modestly financed high school athletic program can have its day in the sun. Hudson plays Ishpeming Saturday for the Class C (medium-small school) championship, and the Tigers are heavily favored. The timing could not be better; this is the first year Michigan has had statewide playoffs.
Saylor was the coach when The Streak began, and he promises that he will not entertain any idea of leaving until it ends. Attempting to describe his coaching style, he said, "Well, sometimes I'm a raging maniac." This could be true. One moment he is slamming his baseball cap to the ground, the next he is calmly discussing strategy with his arm around a player's shoulders. If the rage part be tyranny, the players couldn't care less. Says Quarterback Dan Salamin, "Coach Saylor is only the best coach in the world."
A little hyperbole is excusable. In 1966 Saylor took over a team that had been 1-6-2 the previous season. His record since then is 85-4-1. Two of the losses occurred in his first year. "When I came here," says Saylor, "I knew we didn't have much, but I was determined not to waste what we had." He says he has mellowed now and can even accept the idea that the players needn't walk, talk and act exactly alike.
Hudson's last defeat is sharp in Saylor's mind. Blissfield beat his Tigers 13-0 on Sept. 13, 1968. Friday the 13th. When Saylor had 13 seniors on his team. And when he had predicted his team would win 13-0. "That day," he says, "I became very superstitious."
The Streak's most serious challenge came last year when Grass Lake had Hudson tied 8-8 and only a couple of minutes were left. With the ball on Grass Lake's 12, Saylor outlined a sequence of plays on his last time out, then sent his quarterback to the huddle with this message: "Tell the players I love them." Hudson scored as the gun sounded, and everyone went nuts.
In the week before No. 72 the town was on both a Hudson high and a Hudson High high. John Decker, the man who says President Cleveland was his cousin, remarked, "We're not class-conscious here, because we don't have any. Who cares? This is Utopia. It's a place where a man's word is good. My car is sitting out there with the keys in it."
Herb O'Neill runs a gas station. He used to have pandas painted on it. Not long ago the pandas went under the brush (cost: $150), and today the side of his station says HUDSON, MICH. HOME OF THE NATIONALLY FAMOUS HUDSON TIGERS.
Hudson's biggest problem at the moment, said Mayor Jim Dunne, is rusty water; its biggest joy is you-know-what. "We've had wonderful teams," he said, "and a little luck."
At the pep rally leading up to The Game, two things were apparent: 1) All high school gyms smell the same, and 2) the exuberance of the Hudson students for winning football is unbridled. There was a lot of commotion as the cheerleaders taught the kids how to chant S-P-I-R-I-T and P-R-I-D-E.
Student Jackie Wollet read a poem that said, in part:
The gun is fired,
The suspense is gone
You're now admired
For what you've done.
That was to thank the players for No. 71. Then she stressed the importance of winning No. 72. And, to a frantic ovation, Tom Saylor stepped out and said something befitting the mini-Lombardi he is. It was High School U.S.A. in full throat, the kind of experience that can make a skeptic tingle.
The main watering hole in Hudson is the American Legion hall, located just around the bend in the road from the cemetery. Don Murphy, who is 79 and played for Hudson between 1913 and 1917, was at the hall one evening last week, and he was asked if today's players are better. He conceded only that "they're faster, probably." Murphy said it has been "a little while" since he missed a Hudson game, home or away. He said his last absence was during World War II service. Barney Crittenden laughed and recalled his exploits on the 1925 team which, he says, never won a game.
On into the night it went. Barney, who has an all-conference stomach, said, "See how much fun we have talking about football? That makes it worth something, doesn't it?"
En route to the game, the team stopped for orange juice, and Safety Bill Mullaly offered a prayer, "Thanks for this small snack, and we pray this will be the happiest day of our lives." It was for all, with the possible exception of Mullaly. Kalamazoo scored its first touchdown on a pass over his head.
With an overflow crowd of nearly 14,000 watching, the Tigers were on the prowl early, causing a fumble on Kalamazoo's first play from scrimmage. Eight plays later Greg Gutierriz went over from inches away, the run for the extra points was good and Hudson led 8-0. The Tigers did everything off a straight T formation, with sure handoffs and nothing silly like a pass.
Late in the period the Kalamazoo quarterback, Andy Koestner, threw his bomb, a 76-yarder to Lonnie Henegar, and there was Mullaly on his stomach.
In the second quarter Gutierriz, who is not sure whether his first love is football or his 1932 candy-apple-red Ford, ran for 13 yards and his second TD. Four minutes later Carr was on the loose after he appeared to have been hemmed in. At the half the score was 24-6.
But Kalamazoo came out and ripped up Hudson in the third quarter. The Hudson offense broke down; the defense seemed to be on the field all the time. Kalamazoo's Jeff Rubleski crashed over for a score, Hudson's offense messed up again and Kalamazoo was heading toward another touchdown when it failed on a fourth-and-one play.
Still, Hudson needed a few heroics to save the win. The key play was made by Tim Decker, son of insurance man John. He intercepted a pass inside his own 20 as Kalamazoo once again was driving in the fourth quarter. Decker said he was trying to block the ball, but when he saw it floating lazily downward he thought it made sense to just go ahead and grab it.
With 1:17 to play, Salamin, who was in the entire game (at halfback on defense) despite having scalded his right leg earlier in the week with water spilled from a teapot, intercepted another Kalamazoo pass. And then the game was over, and the Hudson players and fans went nicely bananas again.
Losing Coach Dick Soisson was philosophical. "If you put out 100% there's no reason to be ashamed," he said. "We put out 100%." When Saylor gives the 100% spiel, it goes like this: "If you win and don't give 100%, you satisfy no one but the scoreboard." But perhaps satisfying the scoreboard isn't that bad.
Pete Adkins is the coach at Jefferson City (Mo.) High School, whose record of 71 between 1958 and 1966 was broken by Hudson. What about the loss that ended it all for Jefferson City? "We weren't prepared to lose," he says.
Saylor, who gets his mind off The Streak by running a summer doughnut business, frets about that. "It's hard to get ready to win and talk about losing," he says. Yet in a clever way he is doing just that by telling his team, "As long as there is enough time on the clock, nobody is going to beat us." So when Hudson loses, he might say, "We would have won if only there had been more time." He could say this even if they needed three days and a star in the East.
Assistant Coach Ray Curran sometimes thinks about defeat, too. "I might cry," he says. "I don't know."
In victory or defeat Hudson graduates never go on to big-time college football, seldom even to little-time. That is a fact the mention of which makes Saylor bristle. "Nowhere does it say that a high school football coach's job is to build players for colleges," he says. What Saylor tries to instill is giving one's best and having good manners, virtues that are alive and well in Hudson, Mich. Curran says, "We're proud, but we're not going to strut."
Years ago there was a radio program, Jack Armstrong, The All-American Boy, about a high school kid who raced about doing good and correcting wrong. The theme song went:
Wave the flag for Hudson High, boys,
Show them how we stand.
Ever shall our team be champions
Known throughout the land.
That Hudson High was fictional, but even so, Jack Armstrong never dreamed of 72 straight.
Spanning Main Street, a banner salutes the team that has made everyone forget pandas.
In the big game with Kalamazoo, Hudson's Mark Luma bobs up with a recovered fumble.
Barney Crittenden was certain of victory.
Coach Tom Saylor blended emotion, tactics.
Police Chief Mel Tanner tiger-striped his car.