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All-Pro Halfback Lenny Moore says: "You just wanted to do a damn good job for him. He treated you like a man. He'd stay after practice to help anyone who wanted it. Big Daddy Lipscomb would do anything for John. Our defense broke the club record and we were the NFL champions when John was there, and he had a lot to do with our success." Baltimore Tackle George Preas adds, "He had to prove himself, but he did, in quick time, too. It was his hard work and character that won us over."
After four years under Bridgers, NFL Rookie of the Year Ronnie Bull wrote him a letter. "You are not only an excellent coach," Bull said, "but an excellent example to your players. You will always have me behind you because you played a big role in my life."
Never a big person physically nor even a gifted athlete, Bridgers attended Auburn on a football scholarship. His twin brother Frank, now the president of a mechanical engineering firm, remembers him as the most competitive person he knew there. "In our senior year," he recalls, "we both took the same trigonometry class. I was a math major, he was in business. My average for the course was 99. His was 100."
Bridgers worked hard and made the squad but never won a football letter. He graduated with the highest scholastic average in the School of Business, turned down a fellowship at Yale Law School and took a job as coach at Sewanee in middle Tennessee in order to support his wife, Frances. The Bridgers have a married daughter, Cindy, and two boys, Don and Dixon. Father John is more interested in his sons' grades in school than he is in their ability to play football.
When Bridgers, a Baptist, went to Baylor, a Baptist school, he was not exactly what the alumni wanted, although they did not know it at the time. Dr. McCall did, though. McCall had been responsible for the investigation of Texas A&M when that school was placed on probation by the SWC for flagrant violations of recruiting rules. The investigation made McCall a strong advocate of sane athletic policies.
But Bridgers would like to win as much as the alumni, and Saturday his team came close enough to upsetting Texas to gain recognition as one of the strongest college football teams in the country. "If Elkins had caught that last pass and they had thrown for two points," Royal said after the game, "I don't think I'd ever gotten over it."
And then, like most coaches who, win or lose, play against Bridgers' teams, Royal felt compelled to add something about the man. "He's one of the people I trust. Because we've been winning, our type of program has made it hard for John. Our success has been damaging to him. His alumni throw it up to him that Texas is winning with a running and defensive game. But I'd hate for us to be seven points behind, with only a couple of minutes to play, and try to take the ball as far as they did. Bridgers coaches his type of game better than any I know."