AJC sportswriter Todd Holcomb gives a fascinating glimpse into Atlanta history with his article Tuesday on Brown High School's 1949 state football championship.
Legendary Georgia Tech quarterback and coach Pepper Rodgers, who died May 14 at age 88, led the Brown Rebels to the Georgia title with a 41-13 upset over Glynn Academy at Grady Stadium, which had recently opened. Rodgers also starred in basketball and baseball for the school, which opened in 1947 in Atlanta's West End.
Holcomb gives an in-depth account of Brown's season and how Rodgers and six other members of the team went on to play for Georgia Tech coach Bobby Dodd's 1952 national championship team.
A longtime chronicler and historian of Georgia high school sports, Holcomb begins his article with the 1949 death of "Gone With the Wind" author Margaret Mitchell, who was struck by a taxi while crossing Peachtree Street. Holcomb notes that much of the Atlanta of that era seems as far away as the Old South of Mitchell's novel.
Segregation remained in force - Holcomb points out that Brown couldn't play black high school Booker T. Washington's powerhouse team - and Atlanta's future as a big-league sports city lay far in the distance. The Braves still played in Boston, and Atlanta residents took the streetcar to Ponce De Leon Park, where they cheered on the minor league Atlanta Crackers. Atlanta's interstates had not been built, and the city was much smaller. The annexation of Buckhead and other areas would come in 1952.
But the city made a significant change with the opening of Brown and several other neighborhood high schools in 1947. That followed the closure of Boys and Girls High, Tech High and Commercial High, which had been in existence since the early 20th century.
Grady High, the site of the stadium where Brown won the title, is the only 1947 school still going as a high school. The other buildings have been converted to other purposes. The Brown site is now a middle school.
The 1947 schools completed in the City League, and also played Catholic power Marist, then located in downtown Atlanta. Holcomb mistakenly says that Marist was located where the Basilica of the Sacred Heart now stands. The school's site was next to the church, which opened in 1880.
In chronicling Brown's accomplishment, Holcomb quotes then Constitution sportswriter Jesse Outlar, who went on to a long career as the newspaper's main sports columnist, although The Atlanta Journal's Furman Bisher received more recognition. Holcomb also treats fans of old-style florid sportswriting with a few vintage quotes from longtime Constitution high school sportswriter Charlie Roberts.
Holcomb ends the piece with a poignant Boys of Summer look at the Brown players' lives after high school. Or. in their case, Boys of Autumn. Only two remain. Holcomb wonderfully evokes their championship season.