J.O. was unforgettable

Published 7:01 pm Friday, May 13, 2022

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“The Most Unforgettable Character I’ve Ever Met” was once a feature of Reader’s Digest. Maybe it still is. If not, it should be. This week, two outstanding youths from local high schools will be honored with the 2022 J.O. “Tip” Colley Awards. 

Dr. J.O. “Tip” Colley was One of the Most Unforgettable Characters I’ve Ever Met.

Dr. Colley was an outstanding athlete at Troy High School and was awarded a football scholarship to Howard College where he played in “money games” against Auburn and Alabama and against a Cuban team in Havana. In 1929, he was in the game when Howard College played Birmingham Southern in the first game at Birmingham’s Legion Field.

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One football season, the men at a downtown coffee table suggested “Dr. J.O. Colley” as a good story for the newspaper.

But Dr. Colley said, “I don’t need to be in the newspaper.”

Each following request was turned down politely.  Then, one day, Dr. Colley stopped to say, “Come by the house. We’ll talk football.”

“Miss Lummie” invited me into the dining room. “I’m so proud he decided to do this,” she said.

We talked about people in Brundidge that he knew before we got around to football. Dr. Colley talked about his family moving to Troy when he was high school age and about being the son of a preacher. Football Coach Hickey Chapman gave him the name, “Tip Top” because he was 6’4” and lanky.

“For our uniforms, we bought horse collars at the hardware store and took them to the shoe shop and had them custom-made into shoulder pads,” he said. “Our leather cleats were made from our brogan work shoes.”

Dr. Colley said he was blessed to receive a scholarship to Howard College in Birmingham and was proud to get a football uniform with shoes.

“But the helmets weren’t worth a thing, so if you got hot you pulled off the helmet and played bareheaded,” Dr. Colley said.

“Miss Lummie” left the dining area and came back with a football photo of Dr. Colley at Howard College. He said, “no” to putting the photo in the newspaper. She put the photo aside.

As Dr. Colley talked about the first game at Legion Field, Miss Lummie slipped the photo across the dining table to me and nodded.

“The stadium was brand new and would hold 12,000 people,” Dr. Colley was saying. “I looked up at the stands and thought the whole world must be there. It scared me to death.”

Among Alabama dignitaries in the stands were Governor Bibb Graves and Senators Howell Heflin and Hugo Black.

Howard College won in a close one, 7-6.

“I was blessed to have the ability to play college football,” Dr. Colley said. “Desire is not enough. You have to be blessed with the ability. God gives you that.”

Dr. Colley talked about blessings and how God gives each one of us a blessing. No blessing, he said, is greater than another. “It’s what you do with your blessing that makes the difference.”

That said, Dr. J.O. Colley’s advice to the candidates for the award in his honor would probably be: “All of you have a blessing. Make your blessing count.”