Lewis leaves legacy beyond infamous play

Published 10:40 am Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Greenville native Tommy Lewis, one of the state’s legendary football figures and a long-time Huntsville businessman, died Sunday after a long illness at the age of 83.

Lewis, a former University of Alabama football star, is perhaps best known for an incident during the 1954 Cotton Bowl when he stepped off the sideline to knock over Rice running back Dicky Moegle, who was otherwise about to score on a touchdown run.

Though Lewis was also remembered for saying “I know I’ll hear about it the rest of my life” on the Ed Sullivan Show in New York shortly after the incident, those close to him know that the moment never once defined the remainder of his life.

Email newsletter signup

His nephew, Bill Lewis, recalled fond memories of an uncle who had a passion for family, life and Alabama football—well after the famous incident.

“We were a pretty close family, and they used to come to Greenville or we would go to Huntsville two to three times a year,” Lewis said.

“I couldn’t wait to get my Christmas present from uncle Tommy, and it was always something pretty cool that had to do with Alabama football.  If he was able, he did not miss a home Alabama football game.”

Lewis was an equally large fan of Greenville football, and he left an indelible mark on the school as a running back by holding the high school rushing record until Tommy Powell usurped his title some 30 years later.

Lewis would often watch old recordings of his uncle’s games, though he spent the vast majority of his life talking Alabama football with him.

But throughout all of the talks, the infamous play was a subject he remained conspicuously quiet about.

“He didn’t talk about that much, at least around me,” Lewis continued.

“He talked a lot about Alabama football, but not that play.  He admitted that it embarrassed him.  The sad part is that he was a really, really good fullback for Alabama.

“He was a starter, co-captain and the sad part is that he’s remember for that one play, and he was a stud on the football field.”

Lewis was a letterman at fullback from 1951-53 and was the alternate captain of the 1953 team, which included future NFL Hall of Famer Bart Starr, who remained one of Lewis’ closest friends.

Former Alabama coach Harold “Red” Drew called him “the best player we’ve got” in 1953, his senior season.

His junior year, the Tide went 10-2 and beat Syracuse 61-6 in the Orange Bowl, then Alabama won the SEC title the following year, earning an invitation to play Rice in the Cotton Bowl.

Lewis, who helped found the Huntsville Quarterback Club, serve on the board of the Huntsville Boys Club, the Administrative  Board of the First United Methodist Church, the selection committee of the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame and was enshrined in the Huntsville-Madison County Athletic Hall of Fame in 1990.

Throughout all of his accomplishments, Lewis is certain that his uncle’s legacy will live on as something more than that Cotton Bowl moment.

“He served on numerous boards.  He was a very successful businessman, so it wasn’t just one heat-of the moment passionate play that defined him,” Lewis said.

“He was much more than that.”