John David Abbott met recently at the Holiday Inn in Alvarado to talk about his playing days in the ’50s at North Dallas High School.
First of two parts
David Abbott enjoyed success on the football field at Spence Junior High before going on to North Dallas. During their time from Spence to North Dallas, Abbott and teammate Paul Delfeld won 34 football games, including the city championship at Spence.
In 1952, their first season at North Dallas, the Bulldogs went 9-3 and advanced to the state Class 4A semifinals against Lubbock, falling 42-14 at Texas Tech’s Jones Stadium in Lubbock.
Abbott was the starting right halfback for the Bulldogs, and said he was knocked out in the game against Lubbock. Delfeld played left halfback behind Ernie Manicchia in ’52.
The 1952 Bulldogs football team that advanced to the Class 4A state semifinals. (Photo provided by David Abbott)
In 1953, Abbott was hurt in an early scrimmage and missed the whole season, while Delfeld had an outstanding season, earning all-state honors. The Bulldogs went 9-1 in 1953 and their only loss was to Woodrow 14-13. With the win, Woodrow won the district title. In those days, only the first place team advanced to the playoffs.
Sitting at a table at the Holiday Inn in Alvarado, Abbott recently recalled the fun times at North Dallas. The conversation ranged from swimming as a 6-year-old in the indoor pool at North Dallas to behind-the-scenes stories about the football team.
On the table, Abbott had several scrapbooks of his playing days at North Dallas. Abbott had stories to tell about life at North Dallas in 1952-53:
With North Dallas currently undergoing a major renovation, Abbott said he remembered the boiler room in the basement. That’s where the team stored its equipment in a storage room down there, he said.
“There’s no place else to store them. It was this. There was nothing for us,” Abbott said. “Everything was bulky; shoes, helmets, leather helmets, B-team wore leather helmets in ’52, the year I started. Except at North Dallas, they were real old, real white, beat up and painted white 10 times. But they weren’t that much worse than the Wilson helmets we had. We’re still getting concussions and face damage.”
The Bulldogs’ Paul Delfeld, David Abbott, Robert Burgess, and Edgar Phillips talk with Coach Rufus Hyde before the ’53 season. (Photo provided by David Abbott)
North Dallas football Coach Rufus Hyde would send the players down to the storage room to get their equipment, Abbott said.
“Hyde would sent us down there two or three at a time. You’d go down there, and Atkins would be up in there, or Croft… Croft did it one year … He’d look at you and say, “what’s your waist? You look about this size,’ and he’d throw some hip pads down.
Then let me see, ‘How tall are you? Here, I think these shoulder pads will fit you. And here, you need a couple of thigh pads.’
‘What size shoe do you wear?’ He’d look around and say, ‘Here take these.’ They aren’t 8, coach. And he’d say, ‘I know. Just take them to the dressing room and trade with somebody who has your size. And keep trading until you get the right size shoe.’
“We never did. We never did,” Abbott said.
Everybody had blisters, Abbott said, but they used a gel product called Toughskin to help with the blisters. He remembers fullback Tony DeGrazier’s fight with the blisters.
“If you had blisters, you’d put it on your blisters and all around. It made a thick coating of skin, like skin, the coating of jelly. It was hard,” he said. “You were supposed to wait for it to get hard. It probably took 15 minutes to get hard, so your blisters wouldn’t hurt. I never had time for that. I didn’t want to wait, so I put my socks over it. It still would heal up.
“The socks would heal up with it, but then I couldn’t get the socks off. It would be stuck, so you’d have to peel that off and peel off the blister,” Abbott said. “For Tony, it hurt too much for him to really play well.”
Most of the players on the 1951 Spence city championship team went on to North Dallas. Abbott is No. 45 and Delfeld is No. 40. (Photo provided by David Abbott)
Abbott said the men’s locker room was better at Spence than it was at North Dallas.
“The old men’s locker room was tiny. Just had baskets. Had a grim shower in it,” he said. “Terribly humid. Coming from Spence, Spence had a little bit better thing. Actually, we had a place to put our clothes and hang them up. When we came over here, we just wanted to play ball. We didn’t care about the provisions of it.”
Abbott pointed out that the 1953 Viking yearbook was dedicated to the 1952 football team.
The 1953 Viking yearbook was dedicated to the 1952-53 football team that advanced to the 4A state semifinals. (Photo provided by David Abbott)
“We were successful at Spence. We were successful at North Dallas,” he said. “I thought it would go on forever. The Viking dedicated the book to us. That’s the team.”
In looking at a photo from his collection, Abbott pointed out that the difference in carrying a football.
The Bulldogs’ ball carriers included Harold Giddens (31), Paul Delfeld (25), and David Abbott (33). (Photo provided by David Abbott)
“I was the fastest guy on the team. Why was I faster than Delfeld? See how he carries the ball?” Abbott asked. “He has to carry it next to his body because his hands weren’t very big. I palmed the ball so I could swing both hands when I carried, but he couldn’t. He had to hold the ball here, so he couldn’t run as fast as I could. We were both dead even in track.”
Abbott pointed that in the spring 1953, the Bulldogs competed in a sprint-medley relay team, with Delfeld and Abbott running the 220, David Kingcaid followed and ran the 440, and Leslie Larson ran anchor and the 880. Together, they won the gold medal in 1953 at the Texas Relays, one of the biggest track and field meets in the state.
Abbott said over the years, he’s has five operations on his knees. He hurt his knee in an early scrimmage and was out for the 1953 season.
“I’ve had both of them replaced, that’s thanks to North Dallas,” he said, talking about his knees. “I had one finished off on the handball court, but it started in the Hillcrest game when I first got hurt.”
And while he couldn’t play, he could still run, he said.
“In 1953, I could run straight. I couldn’t cut. Running straight, I’m almost as fast as I ever was,” he recalled. “So, they’d go out and I would go out in my shorts. I would watch them work out. I couldn’t work out with them. At the end, they would have the wind sprints. The positions ran together. So I ran with the halfbacks, and I was faster than any of them. Even hurt. It’s a 40-yard dash.
“So at the end of practice, no matter how long or how tired, we would run wind sprints. And the guy who won the first race could go in. So we ran a 40-yard win sprint. I won, I wasn’t tired. So I ran around with them. I ran a second wind sprint, and as I got done, I wasn’t tired. I was going to run around with them again. So it occurred to me as I was doing it. Now, I’m vindictive. I’m mean. I’m the bad guy. I ran two more wind sprints with them. So after the fourth one, they were all giving me the evil eye. They couldn’t go in. They couldn’t go in unless you were the winner. I kept going around because I wasn’t tired. I kept finishing first. It was one of the dirtiest things I did. But that’s one of the fun things.”
Then Abbott recalled a story about his future wife, Lynette.
“So, this little girl here. In 1952, I started the fourth or fifth game of the season against Woodrow in the Cotton Bowl. And I played,” he said. “At the end of the ballgame, in the Cotton Bowl, mind you, this little girl came out on the field to tell me I played a good game. That was 70 years ago. We’re starting our 70th year together. We went steady for seven, eight years. So that’s what I did in 1953.”
The Abbotts have four daughters, two grandchildren, and five great grandchildren. David worked in sales. They left Dallas in 1969, and spent 13 years in Michigan. His last job was in Whitney, where he currently resides.
Abbott then held up a photo his girlfriend and now wife, Lynette lightfoot, who was one of the lead singers in the operetta at North Dallas.
David Abbott holds up a photo of Lynette Lightfoot, who was one of the leading singers in the operetta at North Dallas. She went on to become David’s wife.
And that reminded Abbott of the 14-13 loss to Woodrow in 1953. Woodrow scored the go-ahead touchdown with 47 seconds left in the game.
“They scored on a throw-back pass against my position. If I been there, I would’ve run it back for a touchdown and we wouldn’t beat them 20-7,” Abbott said. “Unfortunately, I was sitting in the stands with my girlfriend. But it paid off, didn’t it. She really takes good care of me.”
John David Abbott shows his running form before the 1954 season.
Abbott compiled a list of football things that only a North Dallas player could understand. Here is the list:
REMEMBERANCES THAT ONLY A NORTH DALLAS BULLDOG FOOTBALL
PLAYER COULD HAVE _
- The agonizing five seconds after you put on a workout jock and T-shirt and pads that were wet from the previous one-day, two-day, or three-day workouts.
- The ammonia smell after the third day
- You had to have help to pull your jersey over your shoulder pads.
- The first day with rookies asking which side the thigh pads went on.
- The loud “thunk” when you snapped your chin strap.
- Socks that would not stay up when wet.
- Many got knocked out in the first Wilson plastic helmets. The Rydell helmets were better.
- That wonderful mildew smells.
- The difficulty of tying shoe strings with our hip pads on.
- Low top shoes.
- White nylon with aluminum tip cleats.
- Everybody wore hip pads.
- No face guards.
- We first played in leather helmets.
- Dressing before a game and going outside to wait for the bus to be cooler. Then, lying on the hot sidewalk to relax.
- Genuine University of Texas burnt orange jerseys for the Lubbock game.
- The plane ride to Lubbock.
- The police escort that sped us to Jones Stadium with sirens blazing.
- The square shoulder pads on the Lubbock team.
- The first time to put black grease paint on your cheeks to cut down on the sun glare.
- Scabs on the cheeks of the linemen (particularly Golightly).
- Opponents pulling your leg hairs in pileups.
- Butterflies before and until the kick-off.
- Everybody asking, “What’s it on?” after the huddle.
- The apparent discipline in getting only a few water breaks.
- Salt tablets.
- TCU spread offense (Dutch Meyer).
- Hyde to Burgess. “That’s a shot!”
- Manicchi never going to school on Mondays.
- O.S. giving a quart of ice cream to football players after a win (not many knew about this gift).
- Workouts in the rain.
- Water boys with glass milk bottles in wire mesh crates. The day the water boy fell and both teams were on hands and knees picking up glass.
- Over your head ——45 —–6 —–hold it.
- Wind sprints where only the winner gets to go shower.
- Driving under the little two-lane R.R. bridge to get to Dal Hi Stadium.
- Tough skin that wouldn’t dry, so you put on socks and then couldn’t get them off.
- The L.A. Rams pro football team worked out at N.D.
- The glorious day that Spence beat the North Dallas “B” team (Croft was livid).
- The sadness when we left the Dal-Hi playing field for the last time.
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