By Jerry Byrd
He didn’t win the Heisman Trophy, as John David Crow of Springhill and Billy Cannon of Istrouma (Baton Rouge) would do many years later, but Louisiana’s first high school football superstar was Christian “Red” Cagle of Merryville.
He was recruited by Texas A&M, which was then coached by Dana X. Bible, but Cagle decided to play college football at Southwestern Louisiana Institute in Lafayette (which is now the University of Louisiana-Lafayette).
As an 18-year-old sophomore in 1923, Cagle threw a scare into LSU with a superb passing performance as his field goal gave SLI a 3-0 lead over the Tigers until the fourth quarter, when the Tigers blocked a punt and scored a touchdown on a desperation pass to salvage a 7-3 victory.
In three years at SLI, Cagle returned 10 kicks for touchdowns and set a career scoring record of 182 points that stood until Brian Mitchell broke it in 1989.
Somehow, Cagle still had three years of eligibility at the United States Military Academy at West Point, and he became a national celebrity in those three years
He was the first player selected on legendary sports writer Grantland Rice’s All-America teams three times.. He was also the captain of the 1929 Army team, and was selected national “Player of the Year.” (The Heisman Trophy didn’t exist at that time.)
In the history of the United States Military Academy at West Point, only three football players were three-time All-Americans. Two of them, Felix “Doc” Blanchard and Glenn Davis, were Heisman Trophy winners in 1944 and 1945, respectively. The other was “Red” Cagle.
At both SLI and Army, Cagle was famous for starting a sweep around one end and reversing his field, often after he crossed the line of scrimmage, to break loose around the other end.
Army was coached by Lawrence “Biff” Jones, who later coached at LSU, and was a heavy favorite to beat Notre Dame at Yankee Stadium on November 10, 1928.
Before the game, Notre Dame coach Knute Rockne told his team about the deathbed request of Notre Dame’s George Gipp the previous year.
“The day before he died,” Rockne said, “George Gipp asked me to wait until the situation seemed hopeless, and then ask a Notre Dame team to go out and beat Army for him. This is the day, and you are the team.”
After a scoreless first half, Cagle led Army to the game’s first touchdown with runs of eight and 10 yards, and a perfect 40-yard pass to Ed Messenger. Johnny Murrell scored the touchdown on a two-yard run. Cagle later gave Army another scoring opportunity in the final minute of play with a 55-yard kickoff return. But Army had third down at the Notre Dame one yard-line game when the game ended.
West Point officials learned that Cagle was married before his senior football season, and he was required to resign for violating the policy which stated no cadet could possess “a horse, moustache or wife.”
Cagle took a coaching job at Mississippi A&M, which later became Mississippi State. But he left coaching to play with the New York Giants of the National Football League for three years.
He later got into the insurance business, staying in New York. In December of 1942, he slipped on the icy steps of a subway station and struck his head on the floor. No one realized the seriousness of the injury until it was diagnosed as a skull fracture. He died of complications, including pneumonia, at the age of 37.
Jerry Byrd is the former sports editor of the Bossier Press-Tribune and an award-winning columnist. You can contact him by E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org