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Lou Sossamon

 

Article Provided by The Gamecock Newspaper
By: Alex Riley
Assistant Sports Editor

Issue date: 11/11/05 Section: Friday Football Blitz

 

 

Lou Sossamon tackles a ball carrier during a game for the New York Yankees. Sossamon played for USC from 1940 to 1942, earning AP All-America honors in 1942.
Media Credit: Photo Courtesy of Lou Sossamon
Lou Sossamon tackles a ball carrier during a game for the New York Yankees. Sossamon played for USC from 1940 to 1942, earning AP All-America honors in 1942.

 

Drive up to the home of Lou and Kathryn Sossamon and you'll see a high-rise retirement complex with small balconies up and down the face of the building. More than 40 separate rooms fill the building, but their home is the easiest one to spot. It's the only one with a Gamecock flag hanging over the banister.

After a standout career high school, Sossamon, a Gaffney native, finished his career in the second annual Shrine Bowl in 1938, which pits the best of South Carolina high school players against North Carolina's best. During the fourth quarter, Sossamon broke his shoulder, leaving him searching for an answer to his collegiate future.

"My father was in the newspaper business, and he had a meeting with the press association in Columbia in January," Sossamon said. "I came down with my mother and father and while they were in the press meeting, I went over to the university to speak to some of the boys from Gaffney that I had known that had gone down ahead of me. I happened to see coach Rex Enright, and he asked if I'd like to have a scholarship. I said yes sir, and I entered the university in January."

That simple offer of a scholarship in passing proved to be one of the best moves Enright ever made as the legendary coach turned Sossamon into one of the greatest two-way players in Carolina history.

"A lot of people don't know that coach Enright was a graduate assistant at Notre Dame," Sossamon said. "He was also a substitute fullback for the Four Horsemen. He was a second father to me. Just an all-around gentleman, wonderful man and of course a great football coach."

When Sossamon arrived in Columbia, the system worked a lot differently than it works today. Players spent their first season on an entirely freshman squad and had to play offense and defense.

"It's kind of amazing to look back at what we had," Sossamon said. "We had one freshman coach by the name of Fred Petosky, who was a three sport All-American at Michigan. He was an All-American in football, baseball and basketball. He was tough as a nut and a real strict, hard-nosed coach. We had one coach and we had one trainer. That was during my freshman year. During my sophomore, junior and senior years, we had maybe three coaches and one trainer. And I think possibly 35 players on our team, at the most."

While the staff was small and the number of players limited, getting to the games was one of the greatest challenges facing the football team.

"We traveled by bus and train," Sossamon said. "Never on a plane. We played Kansas State in Manhattan, Kan. At that time, that was the central point of the United States. We traveled by train to Kansas State. I don't know what day we left, but it took us about a week. About three days to go and three days to come back."

Sossamon's play on both sides of the ball helped the Gamecocks to two of the most historic wins of all-time.

"We played Tennessee in Columbia in 1942," Sossamon said. "They went to the Cotton Bowl that year, and we tied them 0-0 and we played a seven-man line most of the time of defense. We beat North Carolina and arrived back in Columbia around 1 or 2 a.m., and we were eager to get the newspaper so we could read about our win."

During his time at USC, Sossamon and his teammates managed to notch an 18-14 win against Clemson in a Big Thursday matchup, his only victory against the Tigers. Even though it was the only win against their archrival, the accomplishment didn't go unnoticed.

"Coach Enright received a brand new Cadillac automobile after that game," Sossamon said. "Sol Blatt Sr. was the speaker of the House at that time, and he was quite an athletic fan and support of the university. I think he's the one that headed up the organization to buy coach Enright a new Cadillac."

When he left Carolina, Sossamon garnered respect from those who'd seen him play. He earned All-Southern Conference honors in 1941 and 1942, as well as a spot on the 1942 Blue-Gray All-Star Classic. But his most noteworthy honor is one that set the standard for the USC record books, as he became the university's first AP All-American, earning a spot on the 1942 second team.

"It's hard to believe," Sossamon said. "I just came along at the right time to receive the honors that I did. There's a time and place for everything. My time was a very fortunate time."

Following that successful finish to his senior year, Sossamon was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the sixth round of the 1943 draft with the 47th overall pick. Before he even thought of going into professional sports, he married his wife of now 62 years, Kathryn. Though she was a cheerleader while at Carolina, her knowledge of football stretched well beyond her time as a student, as her father, N.B. Edgerton, was coach of the Gamecocks from 1912 to 1915. But duty to his country led Sossamon into the military, as he served in the Navy during World War II.

"Kat and I were married in July of '43 and I went right into the Navy," Sossamon said. "Then I played football in Maryland while I was in boot camp. Some of the finest football players I've ever known were on that team. We were undefeated. From there I went overseas into the Pacific. I was over there when my daughter was born."

When the war ended, Sossamon came home to not only a newborn daughter, but a new career opportunity. Jack White, who was a friend of Dan Topping, owner of the New York Yankees baseball team, talked with Sossamon when he came in to San Francisco and offered him the chance to play in the All-American Football Conference.

"He contacted me in San Francisco and said he was trying to get names together because he was trying to get a professional football team organized," Sossamon said. "I told him I'd be interested. So, he sent a contract back to my home and I signed to play with the Yankees in 1946."

Sossamon spent four seasons with Yankees football team, including playing the Cleveland Browns and quarterback Otto Graham in the 1948 world Championship game, which New York lost by 3 points.

When football finally ended for him, Sossamon returned home to his native South Carolina, working construction with his brother for a few years before working at The Gaffney Ledger, his family-owned, Gaffney-area newspaper. In 1968 he purchased the paper from his father. The paper is being run by its fourth-generation Sossamon, his son Cody.

Sossamon's success in the news business affected the entire state, as he eventually became president of the South Carolina Press Association, like his father and grandfather before him. He also won the first Reid Montgomery Freedom of Information Award.

Sossamon points to his efforts as a member of the USC Board of Trustees as one of his favorite accomplishments.

"When I served on the Board of Trustees, I served on the Intercollegiate Activities Committee," Sossamon said. "I was working to get the university back in to the ACC or SEC. We were trying to feel out if we could get back into the ACC at the time. I made a motion that we turn it over to the interim president to negotiate with both conferences and the first one that accepted to go ahead and do it. I'm very proud of the fact that during my tenure we did get in to the Southeastern Conference."

Aside from success at running a newspaper and handling the business of the university, Sossamon has been honored as one of the greatest athletes to ever come out of the state of South Carolina. He is a member of the USC and South Carolina athletic halls of fame as well has a member of USC's All-Time team. But his greatest accomplishment is none of those things. Instead, he turns and looks out the balcony door with smile.

As Sossamon says, his greatest achievement was "having met my wife Kat at the university.

 

 

 

A pair of Gaffney Gamecock Greats!