Everybody loved Wes Abrams

MIKE BURKE

Allegany Radio Corporation Sports

The last great star from Cumberland’s most famous and most important high school football game, the 1948 Turkey Day Game, is no longer with us.

Wes Abrams, the great Allegany running back for the ’48 Campers, and one of the finest gentlemen who ever lived, passed away peacefully at his residence last Monday.

I met Mr. Abrams a grand total of three times, yet I heard about him all of my life. If anybody deserved to pass with peace, it was the great Wes Abrams.

See, my brother and I grew up in South Cumberland in a Fort Hill home. Our mother graduated from Fort Hill in 1948; our father graduated from Fort Hill in 1949. They were contemporaries of Wes Abrams’, who married the movie-star-like Ann Linn, who graduated with my mother in ’48 from Fort Hill.

Our parents agreed on very little, if anything – other than Wes Abrams (Allegany guy) being one of the kindest gentlemen either one of them ever knew. Didn’t matter which side of town you grew up on or lived on … Everybody loved Wes Abrams, who wouldn’t have looked out of place on a Hollywood silver screen himself.

This was the heyday I grew up hearing about – 1948; specifically, the fall of 1948 when Fort Hill and Allegany both had 9-0 football teams headed into the Turkey Day game, and then drew over 10,000 fans at the gate for the first time in the history of Cumberland scholastic sports.

The players and the friendships that endured despite wanting to beat the devil out of each other on the field remained, and remain. Those players were, and remain, friends and will be forever, even though they were such fierce competitors against one another.

I don’t know. I grew up thinking Fort Hill had lost the game 6-6.

How do you grow up thinking somebody lost a game, 6-6? When your father, after setting a Cumberland City record for most extra points in a season, misses the extra point that would have given Fort Hill a 7-6 win in the final game of the season against the main arch rival, and he is reminded of it darn near every day of what would be a long life.

So, I just always figured both sides of town, particularly the players in the famed 1948 Turkey Day Game between undefeated Fort Hill and undefeated Allegany that ended in that 6-6 tie, felt that way too.

Yet after talking to Wes Abrams in April of 2018 on the occasion of the death of his dear friend and fellow Touchdown Twin, former Ohio State University head football coach Earle “Lefty” Bruce, I discovered that perhaps the great J. Suter Kegg, legendary sports editor of the Cumberland Evening and Sunday Times, was right all along.

Suter was always steadfast in his belief that that game should have ended in a tie, and he was delighted to his final day that it did.

It wouldn’t have been fitting otherwise, he said. You just would have had to have been there, he said.

Wes Abrams was there. He was on the field playing.

“That’s a good analysis,” he said in a telephone interview from his Rockville home. “Fort Hill had a great team. Great players. No doubt about it, when I think back, they had outstanding players, and I knew every one of them. I went to a lot of their games. It was a great time in my life. Of course, I enjoyed playing football, and that was a great game. Nobody deserved to win or lose. I think a tie was a good thing for both.

“I can go right down the lines, and it was evenly balanced for both teams. That it ended 6-6 was an ordained thing. I thought it was meant to happen.

“I love Cumberland. I have great memories of Cumberland.”

By the time Wes Abrams finally made the Allegany football team …

“I was cut that morning,” Abrams said of the first morning of freshman tryouts. “My sophomore year I did better. I didn’t get cut until the next day. I finally made the team my junior year and played end. Then they moved me to back my senior year.”

… When Wes Abrams was finally playing running back for the Allegany Campers and Coach Bob Pence in his senior year, he and Bruce formed a backfield on a 9-0-1 team that combined for 40 touchdowns, with Bruce scoring a City record 23 of them. Just as Bruce is forever known in Cumberland as Lefty, Bruce and Abrams will be forever remembered as the Touchdown Twins.

“It was great,” Abrams said. “Just playing with Earle … Just great playing with that whole group. Earle would take the kickoff. We had a lot of laughs. Great team to play with.”

That Bruce was cut out to be a coach was pretty evident in high school, according to his friend.

“He was a good coach.” Abrams said. “He called our plays in the huddle at Allegany, and he caught the pass that scored against Fort Hill — Earle on an end-around pass.

“Bob Pence called a play every now and then, but he turned it over for the most part to Earle.”

Abrams, who coached football at Romney High for three years and in Florida for 11, coached John F. Kennedy High to the 1977 Maryland state championship, beating Fort Hill, 8-7, in the semifinals.

“I had four players that went to the pros from that team,” Abrams said. “While I’m glad our game in ‘48 ended in a tie, I’m really glad we won the game in ‘77 against Fort Hill.

“Charlie (Lattimer, the former Fort Hill head coach, who also played in the 1948 Turkey Day Game against Abrams for Fort Hill) wasn’t, of course. But he was always such a good friend. We exchanged films before that game, and I don’t believe that was something he did very often.”

The great Earle (Lefty) Bruce, the best friend in the whole wide world of everybody’s favorite, Wes Abrams, was named Outstanding Athlete of the 1949 senior class at Allegany, as well as Man of the Year.

“But I kidded him,” Abrams said with a laugh. “ ‘Yeah, you won those, but they’re kind of meaningless. I was named best dresser.’

“Earle and I met in the seventh grade. Both of our fathers were from Pittsburgh. I talked him into going to St. Mark’s so we could play church league basketball together. We went everywhere together.

“I have so many great memories of Cumberland. I love Cumberland.”

I met Wes Abrams three times – once over the phone. I heard about one of Allegany High School’s finest for most of my life from both of my parents, contemporaries, but graduates of crosstown rival Fort Hill High School.

Guess what? All of Cumberland loved Wes Abrams, too.

Mike Burke writes about sports and a lot of other stuff for Allegany Radio and Pikewood Digital. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at mike.burke@wvradio.com and follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT