“(He) seems to churn those legs straight ahead all the time, but he has no peer in slanting, angling and cutting back without losing a bit of speed.”
The late Fred Russell, a longtime sportswriter and sports editor for the Nashville Banner, was talking about none other than Hartsville’s own Phil Dickens — also known as “Phantom Phil!”
In the late 1920s and early 1930s, Phillip Dickens was a standout Trousdale County High School athlete. He set at least one Tennessee high school record when, in his junior year at TCHS, he scored 93 points in one game!
We wrote about that accomplishment in last week’s article.
But he may have set another record for our high school when he also ran 105 yards for a touchdown! As a reminder — a football field is only 100 yards long!
An article in the Knoxville News Sentinel from 1936 reported about the winning run down the full length of the field and then some.
“Someone asked Dickens what was the longest run he ever made in a touchdown.
‘I ran 105 yards for a touchdown in my junior year at Hartsville, against Gordonsville,’ said the Phantom, his eyes sparkling as he recalled memories of his High School days. ‘I was back to punt, fumbled behind the goal line, but recovered the ball and then made the run.’ ”
We might also point out that football was Phil Dickens’ second choice when it came to playing sports. His favorite sport was baseball and he was written up in several state newspapers for considering playing professional baseball after college!
However, he was such an outstanding football player for the University of Tennessee that in 1936 he was named to the All-Southeastern Conference team and was also named to the All-America team for that year.
Our picture this week is the drawing done for the Knoxville News Sentinel for that recognition.
The drawing includes several small cartoon images that make fun of his ability to run without getting tackled and includes his listing on the University of Tennessee’s board of famous athletes.
The image of his running, and note the old-style football helmet, is from a photograph of Dickens made while at UT. A large copy of that photo hung for years in the hallway of the old high school and now hangs in the County Archives building in town.
Wouldn’t that make a great statue to stand at the end of the Victory Bridge in town!
Despite his love of baseball, Phil Dickens did tuck his football experience and expertise under his arm and carry it to a career as a football coach.
After first doing some assistant coaching, he became the head football coach at Wofford College in 1947. In 1953 he moved north and for three years was the head coach at the University of Wyoming. Then he finished his career as the head football coach at the University of Indiana, serving in that capacity from 1958-64.
That’s right. Our own local, homegrown standout athlete — Phil Dickens — led the Indiana Hoosiers football team!
He would stay at the university after passing off the head coach’s job to someone else, serving in the athletic department until his retirement.
Phillip Dickens passed away in 1983.
We will finish with this quote about Dickens by the Knoxville newspaper sportswriter Bob Wilson:
“I have known Phantom Phil ever since he’s been at Tennessee. During his four year on the Hill I have seen much of him and have been in close contact with him on many trips. I can say this for Phil Dickens, that there never has been a football player at Tennessee any finer, cleaner or with higher ideals than the Hartsville boy.”