1992 rolled around and Cliff Christl of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel sent out requests to 300 current and former coaches, players and sportswriters to submit their thoughts on who they thought where the best ever in Wisconsin high school football. The voters were to help create an all-time first team and second team of great players and recognize the top coaches. The voting was to be done on the basis of a player’s high school career and not what they did in college or if they made it to the pros. Some voters didn’t keep post high school graduation efforts out of their lists. The lists were to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the formation of the Milwaukee City Conference in a 1993 article and it would take time to collate the replies. A few schools had been playing football for several years before the conference was formed in 1893, most notable Delafield St. John’s Military Academy and Madison High School. From the polling of the group a first and second all-time squad was finalized along with the best coach of the last 100 years.
There were a total of 44 names on the two all-time offensive, defensive teams plus a kicker and a punter for each of the two teams and 136 other names were on the honorable mention list. A few players made it onto the first or second team at one position and then on the honorable mention list for another spot. Tom Straka of Madison West (1977) made the first team defense as a defensive back and the second team as a receiver. Todd Gregoire of De Per Pennings (1973) made the second team as a kicker and honorable mention as a linebacker. Bob Petruska of Lake Mills (1946) earned the spot as the punter on the all-time second squad and honorable mention as a running back. Jim Melka (1979) of West Allis Hale made the honorable mention list at running back and linebacker while Jum Strzykalski (1940) of Milwaukee South Division was also named to the running back and linebacker spots on the honorable mention squad. All fine players as were those others who only were mentioned once (Hopefully I didn’t miss anyone else). Well, I did find another who stood out and he’s what the blog is about.
Now, the player who received the most overall votes and was listed as the Player of the Century was Kenosha (1950) native Alan Ameche. I believe that Ameche was a great fullback with some decent speed. He led Kenosha to the mythical state title, then won the Heisman at Wisconsin and was a good NFL player. He took a handoff from Baltimore Colt quarterback Johnny Unitas to run into the end zone to win the NFL title in 1958 in a sudden death final, billed at that time as the greatest NFL game ever. He wasn’t in the league of fullbacks such as Cleveland’s Jim Brown (Who in my thoughts, no one was or ever has since been as good of a running back) or the Packers Jim Taylor. But he was solid. NFL back. I’m old and have watched a lot of pro games on TV and regretfully, only two in person and I never remember watching Ameche. But I did see a lot of Brown and Taylor.
When I was doing my blogs on the 1950’s I spent a lot of time going through the Kenosha News newspaper. While Ameche was in an era where high school players went both ways, I failed to find notations about his defense. He was probably good but maybe not as notable as a few others on that great 1950’s team. Yet, I still listed him as the Player of the Decade. Looking over the list of great players from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story one player did stand out above all others. That was Waukesha’s John Anderson.
John Anderson…Waukesha Freeman 1973
The All-Century Team listed Anderson as a first team linebacker and on the first team offense as an end. He was the only player noted to make both first team squads. On top of that he made honorable mention as a kicker and as a punter. Again, the only player to make the listings in four categories and his voting status was nearly 20-years after he played his last high school football game. He did go on to have a very good career at the University of Michigan where he played as a linebacker. He was drafted in the first round of the NFL draft by the Green Bay Packers. He ended his career as having the most tackles by a Packer and he tied Ray Nitschke with 25 career interceptions. But I’m keying in on his high school days.
So, what made so many people vote for John Anderson in four different categories?
First, he was a tremendous blocker on the Waukesha offensive line as well as a very good receiver…33 receptions for 416 yards and nine touchdowns. Standing 6’3, 205 he could have had many more receptions if the team passed a lot and also tossed the ball downfield more often. But, in a run first-offense he was outstanding. On defense he made 86 tackles, recovered three fumbles, forced seven fumbles, intercepted five passes, knocked down six passes and blocked two kicks while sitting out many games shortly after halftime due to the team being so far ahead. As a kicker he was 43 of 48 on extra points and four of six on field goals, including a 45-yarder. Overall, he scored 111 points on the season. And while the Freeman newspaper didn’t report punting game totals in their box score’s he is thought to have averaged between 41-42 yards per punt and had the knack of placing the ball just so there would be no return or out kick the coverage.
Maybe his top game was the second of the season, a 43-0 rout of Wauwatosa East in which he caught five passes for 70 yards including a 33-yard touchdown, returned an interception for 60-yards for a score, recovered a fumble and returned it 18-yards for a touchdown, he was 5-6 on extra points, kicked a field goal and made 12 tackles. This as his team overcame six of their own fumbles.
Four weeks later in a 34-6 win over Wauwatosa West, an undefeated team that was 5-0 coming into the game and ranked #10 in the UPI poll Anderson twice kicked his Blackshirts team out of danger when stopped in their own territory with punts of 57 and 54 that could not be returned by West. A few minutes later on defense he helped stop the West team by forcing two turnovers that led to Waukesha scoring.
The 1973 season was magical for Waukesha for the first seven games. They had defeated Wauwatosa West to drop them from being in contention for the conference title but game eight was a matchup against South Milwaukee, a game neither team would forget. The Blackshirts had given up only three touchdown, 20 points, and had five shutouts in their first seven games. South Milwaukee was good but not spectacular as the two faced each other. The Rockets turned miscues into opportunities they just outplayed Waukesha, 54-35. Kevin Kuckevar for the Rockets scored four times on a 70-yard punt return, a 65 and a 63-yard pair of scoring runs and a 65-yard reception. John Luby had an 85-yard kickoff return for another South Milwaukee score. The Blackshirts won their final game and did finish #6 in the UPI final poll but the loss in game eight was a heartbreaker. You can see all the scores in my June 7, 2021, blog on the great Waukesha teams…” Waukesha-1964-1976”.
As the season ended Anderson was getting a lot of recognition for his great senior season. First, he was named Player of the Year the Suburban conference and earned honors as an end, linebacker and kicker. Next, he was the Waukesha County Player of the Year in the Freemans ratings. Then he was named Player of the Year on the Milwaukee Sentinel All-Area Team and that was followed by earning All-State honors in both final listings by both the UPI and AP polls. In the UPI poll he was listed as Honorary Captain.
He was more than just a football player. He was named All Suburban conference in 1973 as a junior and 1974 as a senior in basketball. He again earned honors by the Waukesha Freeman newspaper as the county’s basketball Player of the Year (He averaged 14 points and 12 rebounds as a power forward) in 1974. Besides starting three seasons for coach Ken Holub on the football team he also started three seasons for coach Dick Hughes on the Blackshirts basketball team. Anderson was a very good tennis player and was the teams MVP as a senior leading his team to the state tournament. The Milwaukee Pen and Mike Club (An organization of writers and broadcasters) named him the 1974 Player of the Year.
As a junior in 1972, Jim Anderson earned All-Suburban Conference for football as he caught 16 passes for 250 yards and four scores while kicking 25 of 28 extra points and two field goals.
Because of his overall talent, a guy who it seemed to be that he could do just about anything on the football field he gained a lot of notice and caught the attention of voters on the All-Century team. Now, thirty years after the article and as I’ve noted in other blogs and my book that there were a lot of players who could “do it all.” But maybe, just maybe, John Anderson is/was truly the best ever.