Yates High '85: the debate continues over whether it was the greatest Texas team ever.
Photo by Chasen Marshall
Twenty-five years ago, Houston was home to, arguably, the greatest high school football team ever to take the field in Texas. During that season, Yates High was unstoppable on offense and impenetrable on defense. The team finished a perfect 16-0, racking up a still-record 659 points along the way. In the 5A state championship, in a game the media said Yates could not win, the team dominated the defending champs from Odessa Permian, 37-0.
It was the first and only football state championship for an HISD school since integration in 1953. On Friday night, the 1985 Yates High team took the field once again, honored at halftime by the school and the city on the anniversary of that impressive season.
"This is really special, and it's just like it was 25 years ago, because chemistry is everything," said Charles Price, the starting quarterback on the '85 team. "I heard (Hall of Fame NFL receiver) Cris Carter say, 'It ain't the Xs and the Os, it's the Jimmy's and the Joe's, man.'"
Members of the 1985 team, and the "First Lady," the coaches wife, Clairence Booker (center).
Photos by Chasen Marshall
The program cover from the 1985 state championship.
At halftime, with Yates leading 27-0, following band performances from both schools, the once state champs got to walk out of the tunnel once again. Smiles abound. One-by-one they were introduced and presented with a commemorative trophy. A moment of silence was held for Johnny Bailey, the star running back from the '85 team, who lost his battle with cancer in August.
When the official ceremony was completed, Smith had the team huddle up around Clairence Booker, Coach Booker's wife. Coach Booker passed away in 1994. Most of the players referred to Clairence as the "First Lady." On behalf of the team, a football was presented to her, with the schedule and scores from that season, along with the complete roster and "Team of the Decade". The 1985 squad was voted the Texas high school "Team of the Decade" by the media. Five players from the team, including Bailey, Smith and Santana Dotson, went on to play in the NFL.
As for that historic night back in '85, Smith can still remember the details from that final game on Dec. 21, 1985 under the bright lights of Texas Stadium. It was cold. "We hadn't played in the cold before. Most of us had gloves on and were worried about catching and holding the ball." Odessa Permian had more fans in the stands. Before the start of the game, the announcer kept talking about Permian and its experience playing in the big stadium, on the big stage.
"They kept saying that Yates had never faced a team like Odessa," Smith said. "We knew Odessa hadn't played a team like Yates."
At the end of the first quarter, the score was still 0-0. It was the only time Yates had been held scoreless. That didn't last long. Midway through the third quarter, the score was 23-0 and Coach Booker was pulling the starters. "He didn't want to keep scoring, he didn't want to embarrass Odessa," Smith recalled. "We were seniors, we wanted to keep scoring."
Two generations of Yates football, 25 years apart.
Of the final score, 37-0: "We didn't expect it to be that close," Smith said.
Following the halftime ceremony, the state champs formed a tunnel for the current Yates squad, before it took the field for the second half. Yates went on to beat Austin, 55-0 -- an '85 state champs-type margin.
The players from '85 still talk about that team. For some, it was the highlight of their lives. For others, just one of those invaluable, irreplaceable moments in their lives. Price has the number 659 as part of his email address.
For one night in early November, 25 years after they were the kings of high school football, they got to live in the moment, under the bright lights, in front of family, friends and fans, once again.
As Maurice Hobson put it: "It doesn't matter if it's in high school, college or the Super Bowl, it feels good to be a champion."