Red Shirt Professional Athletes

Most Ouachitonians know that the Red Shirts and Ouachita athletics are practically synonyms, but few know how just many Red Shirt athletes have gone on to play professional sports. While information is spotty for the early years, here are eleven Red Shirts who became professional athletes:

The earliest pro prospect from Rho Sigma was Joe Strickland. The Strickland brothers, Joe and Fred, were two of Ouachita's standout athletes in the early Thirties -- and both charter members of Rho Sigma. Known as the "Strychnine Brothers," they dominated opponents in basketball and were both repeatedly named to all-state teams. Fred was also all-state in football, while brother Joe was a star of Tiger baseball teams of the early Thirties. Joe Strickland was given a tryout with the Cleveland Indians in May 1935 before graduation. Strickland played for the New Orleans Pelicans, the Indians farm team in Louisiana, but there is no record of him being called up to play for the Indians.

C.W. (John) Floyd, a Rho Sigma Founder of Record and one of Ouachita's all-time greatest football players, was next in line for the pro ranks. Floyd was unanimously selected all-state in football all four years at Ouachita and was team captain of both the Tiger and all-state teams as well. He set records in the discus throw and was one of the Arkansas college track stars of the era. After graduation in May 1935, Floyd went to the Boston Redskins, forerunner of today's Washington Redskins and the 1936 NFL champion. His hometown newspaper reported that Floyd became homesick for cornbread and greens and left Boston to return home to Nashville, Arkansas. However, it's more likely that Floyd left because he was unlikely to get any playing time with the Redskins. Floyd was behind NFL Hall of Famer Cliff Battles at fullback, probably the best player in the NFL at the time.

Another Red Shirt charter member, Augustus (Gus) Albright, signed with the old St. Louis Browns major league baseball team in the late Thirties. However, his career was cut short by the outbreak of World War II. Albright never resumed his professional sports career, instead becoming one of Arkansas' premiere outdoorsmen and sportswriter for the Arkansas Gazette.

Ouachita fielded some of its best football teams in the early Forties. William H. (Big Ed) Neal, 6-4 and up to 300 pounds, was a nightmare for opponents. His size, although commonplace today, was enormous for a small college team in the Forties. Neal transferred from LSU to Ouachita, and then to Tulane, where he finished his collegiate career. He was drafted by the Green Bay Packers in 1945 and played six seasons with the Pack before being cut. He was recruited by Green Bay's arch-rival Chicago Bears and played there until he was injured in 1951.

A colorful 27-year-old rookie in 1945, Neal terrorized quarterbacks. Bulldog Turner, who played for the Chicago Bears in the Forties and Fifties, described him:

 "Ed Neal weighed 287 pounds stripped. His arms are as big as my legs and hard as a table." Neal broke Turner's nose five times during the course of their many encounters. Neal, who worked as a blacksmith in Wichita Falls, Texas during the off season, used to break two or three of the then-new plastic helmets every week. He was said to be the kind of guy who could pop the top off a beer bottle with his bare thumb.

Red Shirt Charles (Chuck) Taylor, one of Ed Neal's teammates at Ouachita, played professional football for the Brooklyn Dodgers of the old All-American Football Conference in 1944. The AAFC, along with the later American Football League, were the only serious rivals to the National Football League. The AAFC operated from 1946-49. Several of its teams were absorbed into the NFL when the AAFC ceased to exist.

Carl Blanchard (Snoz) Allen was another early Forties Red Shirt who went on to the big leagues in football. Allen was all-state in 1941 and 1942 and honorable mention Little All-American in 1943. After World War II, Allen was recruited and played one season (1948) for the Brooklyn Dodgers of the AAFC, the same team that had recruited fellow Red Shirt Chuck Taylor a few years earlier. Allen had been a teammate of Taylor and Neal.

Ouachita's football program slumped in the Fifties due to cutbacks and lack of money for scholarships. It wasn't until the Sixties that Red Shirts began to enter the pro ranks again.

Walter (Jigger) Ramsey Jr. played for the Tigers from 1963-66. Ramsey, son of Tiger football player and Red Shirt alumnus Walter (Jiggs) Ramsey Sr., was the team captain of the Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference championship team of 1966. He was a linebacker for three years but moved to nose guard before his senior season. As a nose guard, he was selected All-AIC. After graduating, Ramsey went on to a stint with the "Purple People Eater" Minnesota Vikings, but a knee injury cut his pro career short.

From Ouachita Baptist's team to America's Team, the journey of Red Shirt alumnus Cliff Harris is one of the most well-documented treks in Ouachita athletic history. Among his many honors was a nomination to the NFL Hall of Fame. The exclamation point to that journey came when Harris was inducted into the Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor in a ceremony at halftime of the Cowboys game with the New York Giants at Texas Stadium.

Harris was signed as an undrafted free agent prior to the 1970 season, but he would more than hold his own in a standout 10-year career that included six Pro Bowl selections and two Super Bowl titles. There are only five players in Cowboys history to be selected to more Pro Bowls than the Hot Srpings native and Des Arc High School graduate. He was also a member of the NFL's All- Decade Team for the 1970s.

During his 10-year career under legendary Cowboys head coach Tom Landry, Harris participated in five Super Bowls, including the Cowboys first world championship with their victory in Super Bowl VI. Only one other player in NFL history has appeared in more Super Bowls than Harris. With Harris in the defensive backfield, the Cowboys' defense ranked in the top ten in the league each of Harris' ten seasons, including leading the league in 1977. In the secondary, he made the first of six consecutive Pro Bowl appearances in 1974. Known as "Captain Crash" for his body-rattling hits, Harris was at his best in the playoffs, finishing his career with six interceptions and four forced fumbles in 21 playoff games.

Harris played at Ouachita Baptist from 1966-69 under legendary head coach Buddy Benson and was joined by Benson along with former teammates and other officials from Ouachita Baptist at the Cowboys game on the day of the Ring of Honor ceremony.

"This all started at Ouachita," Harris said reflectively as he joined the Ouachita contingent on the Texas Stadium field prior to kickoff. "From the Peanut Bowl to the Super Bowl, it's been an incredible journey, and only people at Ouachita know how long that journey was."

Besides being a member of the Cowboys Ring of Honor, Harris was recently nominated to the Professional Football Hall of Fame. He is also a member of the NAIA Hall of Fame and the OBU Athletic Hall of Fame.

One of Harris' teammates, Tiger quarterback and fellow Red Shirt Barry (Hot Dog) Bennett of Aberdeen, Maryland, was signed by the Pittsburgh Steelers around 1971, but there is no record of him playing with them. Bennett played quarterback and handled kicking chores for the Tigers, with stats that are high in OBU records books forty years later.

Gary Benson, son of long-time OBU football coach Jesse (Buddy Bob) Benson, is another Red Shirt athlete who has been involved in professional sports. A starter at safety from 1974-77, Benson was twice named All-AIC. After graduation, he reported to camp with the Denver Broncos as a free agent. He had tryouts with a couple of other NFL teams and played briefly in the Canadian Football League. Ironically, his greatest professional sports success came in a sport he didn't play in college, basketball. Benson had a long and colorful career as a professional referee in the National Basketball Association. By the end of the Nineties, he was even selected as the "most-hated official" by fans who both feared and respected him. Benson officiated over 800 regular season games and the Schick Rookies Game on All-Star Weekend, retiring after 15 seasons in the NBA. He was inducted into the Arkansas Officials Association Hall of Fame in 2003.

Donaldson, Ark. native Chad Breashears was selected in 62nd round of the 1991 amateur entry draft by the San Francisco Giants as an outfielder.

As of this writing, a couple of recent graduates are playing in the pro ranks. Tiger running back Tyron (Tony) Taylor, a fall 2008 graduate, is a fan favorite playing for the Fairbanks Grizzlies of the Indoor Football League, and Tiger quarterback Eli Cranor, a 2010 graduate, is currently playing professional football overseas, leading the Carlstad Crusaders of the European Football League to the Swedish national championship in his first season.

This list of Rho Sigma's pro sports figures almost certainly is incomplete. However, for a small private college and a small local fraternity, the eleven named here are a solid record of athletic achievement. When it comes to athletics, Red Shirts come to play!