High School Sports

Best HS defense of all-time? Daingerfield’s ‘83 team could be

The 1983 Daingerfield football team outscored opponents 631-8 during an undefeated state title run.
The 1983 Daingerfield football team outscored opponents 631-8 during an undefeated state title run. Daingerfield ISD

Halftime adjustments can play a pivotal role in a playoff game. But the 1983 Daingerfield Tigers weren’t looking to shake things up at intermission of the 3A state championship game.

The East Texas power smothered opponents with a remarkable consistency that no team has since come close to matching. The Tigers plastered Sweeny 42-0 in Waco on a frosty December night to cap a 16-0 season in which Daingerfield outscored opponents 631-8.

The title game was the 13th consecutive shutout for the Daingerfield defense, meaning no one on the Tigers scored throughout district play and the six-game march through the playoffs. By the end of the second quarter, senior middle linebacker Ladd Freeman knew the outcome was well in hand. What he remembers teammates buzzing about in the Baylor Stadium home locker room was keeping that scoreless streak alive.

“In the state game, the big deal in the locker room at halftime was to make sure they don’t score,” said Freeman, a business owner and welder who lives in Hallsville, 40 miles south of Daingerfield. “We already knew we were going to win the game. We didn’t want them to score.”

There’s no doubting the greatness of a defensive unit that featured five all-state selections, including future NFL standout Eric Everett. But what if someone borrowed Doc Brown’s DeLorean and plopped that Daingerfield bunch on the AT&T Stadium turf to face one of today’s up-tempo, spread offenses?

Doug Pittman, the senior quarterback of the 1983 Daingerfield team, has no doubt that the Tigers defense could dominate in any era. His power I-formation rushing offense averaged nearly 40 points at a time when offenses ran far fewer plays. But going against the Tigers’ D every day in practice was a struggle.

“That defense could stop people, and they could do it today,” said Pittman, who lives in Pittsburg, Texas, and works for the Texas Railroad Commission in Kilgore.

Allen Wilson knows a thing or two about dominant East Texas football programs. The retired legendary football coach won a 4A state title at Paris in 1988 and a 5A title at Tyler John Tyler in 1994. He considers 1983 Daingerfield one of the greatest teams that doesn’t always get the recognition it deserves.

“Those were some special guys,” Wilson said. “They were probably one of the best defenses ever assembled. They were just in a lower classification, so people don’t remember them the way they probably should.”

Daingerfield was only scored on twice, and only one of those scores was surrendered by the defense. Kilgore registered a safety in the season opener when the ball was snapped over the head of Pittman, who was lined up in punt formation. Class 4A Carthage, led by all-state running back and future TCU track star Roscoe Tatum, scored on a long touchdown pass in the second half of Daingerfield’s 10-6 victory in the final nondistrict game.

“I think somebody fell down in the secondary, and they burned us for a 76-yard touchdown,” Pittman said of the Carthage TD. “That pissed the defense off, and they blocked the extra point.”

Wilson points out that rules have changed significantly in the past 34 years, and most of the changes favor offenses. Because of those rules changes and other factors, shutouts are much harder to come by. But great defenses still win championships, he said.

“You can still dominate on defense, but it’s not going to be a shutout,” Wilson said. “But you can hold a team below 20 points. And if you can hold a team to 14 points, you’re going to win a lot of games. Just look at what Alabama does in the college ranks.”

Arlington Sam Houston coach Anthony Criss, who watched Daingerfield play in person during the 1983 playoffs, wonders how the Daingerfield secondary would hold up against today’s pass-happy offenses that hone their skills in 7-on-7 summer leagues.

“They wouldn’t give up only eight points, but they were unbelievable,” Criss said. “But it’s hard to compare eras. Back in the 1980s the best athletes were on defense. Today you put the best athletes on offense. So my only question is, ‘Would the secondary hold up?’ because no one was throwing the ball back then.”

Michael Waldie, athletic director and coach of Daingerfield since February 2016, is constantly reminded of the past. The Tigers have won six state titles in football, including three in the 2000s. Of all the title teams, ’83 comes up most often.

A longtime supporter recently regaled Waldie with a story of winning a bet during Daingerfield’s title game against Sweeny. The Daingerfield fan claims to have bet some neutral observers $100 that Sweeny wouldn’t cross midfield or get a first down in the second half. With time winding down in the fourth quarter, those unsuspecting fans could only shake their heads in disbelief while pulling $20 bills from their pockets.

“I have no way of verifying if this is true,” Waldie said. “But the way it was told to me is the men looked at each other with about two minutes left and gathered together the $100.”

Waldie doesn’t know how that Daingerfield defense would fare today, but he knows better than to bet against them.

“Living in this community, I wouldn’t put anything past that team,” Waldie said. “It would be interesting to see some kind of PlayStation simulation.”