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There’s more to remember when you lose

The end of another football season had me thinking back a couple of decades to the lesson I learned from an old Tornado halfback.

“Winning is great. Don’t get me wrong,” he said. “But sometimes there are more important things to remember when you lose.”

Now, for those who don’t remember, Medford’s 1944 Black Tornado high school football team was finally back on a roll. Although the old halfback could have told me about all the excitement surrounding his team’s State Championship that year, he instead chose to talk about the year they lost it all — 1945.

The wind must have been blowing some dust the wrong way, because I saw his eyes mist up as he time-traveled back a half century or more. “We were fast,” he said. “We were tough, and we were going to be champions again. No doubt about it!”

The Black Tornado began the ’45 season at Medford stadium on a cold and windy September night. By halftime, a “football track meet” was running all over Albany, 21-0, as 3,000 frenzied fans braved a sudden deluge that turned the field to mud. By the end of the game, Medford won, and won big — 68-0.

“The Tornado wall,” said an Albany reporter, “is going to make it tough to take the State Trophy away from them this year.”

When bandwagons begin to roll, like most bandwagons, everyone gets on board. For the homecoming game against Eureka, the fourth after three overwhelming victories, 5,000 spectators crowded the sidelines, cheering the defending champions to a 38-0 triumph.

A Northern Oregon reporter was stunned. “Oregon football fans are agog at the prowess of the Medford high school team,” he said. “Their one-sided scores are astounding.”

For the Klamath contest, KMED radio offered listeners “Play by Play of the Entire Game Direct From the Field!” When the Klamath Pelicans were buried in a “touchdown avalanche,” a Klamath Falls newspaper reporter suggested the Tornado team be sent to Chicago for the professional football national title.

At the end of its regular season Medford had scored 452 points in eight games, to their opponents 7. The championship was just three games away.

Injuries to key offensive players kept the district final with North Bend close, but the Tornado “huffed and puffed” their way to a 26-13 win. In a home game on Thanksgiving Day, they met Portland’s Grant High, confidently on their way to that certain State Championship.

8,000 fans squeezed into Medford stadium. The Tornado dominated their toughest opponent, but still, they lost, 7-6. The team was just 5 yards away from a winning score when time ran out. It was their first gridiron loss in two years.

In that locker room there were unseen tears that would last a young man’s lifetime. “We really hurt,” the old halfback said. “We let the town down. We let everybody down.”

“Not so!” said the business community and lodge members of the city. At a football banquet the team was presented a large cake with a frosting inscription that read, “M – Our Champs!” But then came the biggest and most unexpected surprise of all. “To celebrate a wonderful season,” the team would be the community’s guests and attend the annual East-West Shrine football game in San Francisco on New Years’ Day.

The old halfback still had mist in his eyes. “They knew how bad we felt and they wanted to help. I’ll never, never forget that,” he said. “They made us feel like champs!”

Writer Bill Miller is the author of five books, including “History Snoopin’,” a collection of his previous history columns and stories. Reach him at newsmiller@live.com.