Conquerors all, three generations of Cougars football united on Friday night to be honored by a city which has made gridiron success a badge of honor.
Members of the 1986 Class 5A finalists, the 1996 Class 4A state champions and the 2006 Class 4A, Division II state champs arrived at Etheredge Stadium, and while Father Time may have sapped speed, strength and game-altering abilities, the players, coaches and supporting staffs from each team were beyond overjoyed to share memories of building the foundation of a program which has won five state titles and made 10 appearances in the state championship game.
For members of the 1986 team, the feeling of returning to Etheredge Stadium evoked a flood of bittersweet memories. It was here where the birth of the Cougars dynasty began during a dramatic 32-27 win over Willowridge that sparked an 11-game win streak that reached a tragic crossroads on the night of Dec. 4, when head coach Hugh Massey was killed in an auto accident on the Galveston Causeway hours after being named District 24-5A coach of the year.
Facing a valley of overwhelming grief, the Coogs hit the Astrodome the following day to defeat Aldine MacArthur in the 5A, Region III finals, and fended off Austin Reagan in the state semifinals before losing to Plano in the state title game.
The game marked the first time Massey’s son, J.P., returned to Etheredge since the 1987 regular season opener in which the city unveiled a monument to his father. Massey and his three children also came back to shoot footage for a documentary he is working on.
“I think this project is a healing process for a lot of people,” said Massey, who lives in the Fort Worth area. “This is not a story just about my father. This is the story about the city and the men my father helped mold. I feel this is a story that is going to tell itself.”
Massey said he expects the documentary to be completed before Christmas of 2017.
“What comes back is the flood of emotion every time I’m here,” said Mike Little, who quarterbacked the ‘86 team en route to earning all-state honors. “I think of the Friday nights out here with my teammates and the work and dedication we put into making that season so special.
“It’s always good to get together and catch up with everyone,” added Little. “We’re all parents and have done well, but it’s great to share the stories from such a remarkable season.”
The 1996 team delivered the second of three straight 4A titles for coach Alan Weddell, finishing a 14-2 campaign with a 34-3 rout of Denison in the Astrodome. The championship game marked the fourth of six straight trips to the state finals while also a part of a 16-year run (1991-2006) in which La Marque won at least 10 games.
For James Thomas, who played defensive back for the 2006 team, Friday presented an opportunity to reunite with his “band of brothers” who finished 15-1 and brought home the program’s most recent state title.
“It’s awesome to see everyone,” said Thomas, who lives in the Dallas area and brought his wife and two children down to attend the event. “After we lost to Pearland (in Week 3), I think we became closer and became an unbreakable family. That game defined us because it helped us realize we can overcome any obstacle. I love being with this group. They’re always going to be my family.”
Bryan Erwin, who spoke to the current Cougars before kickoff, capped off a remarkable five-year run in La Marque with a 34-14 win over Waco in the 2006 state 4A, Division II championship game, marking his second state title with the Cougars.
La Marque advanced to the regional finals in each year of Erwin’s reign, including the 2003 state 4A, Division II championship team which was rated as the second-best team in Galveston County football history in a 2005 piece from The Daily News.