LIVE OAK — No matter how much success Mike Pittman had as Suwannee’s head coach, he always heard it.
Despite the four straight Class 3A state championships, the 1962 Suwannee Bulldogs let Pittman know he couldn’t match their record: an unbeaten 11-0.
“They would all remind me of the ’62 team. And still do,” Pittman said.
That undefeated season is on the line when the sixth-seeded Bulldogs meet the 1975 Branford Buccaneers in the first round of the Best of the Suwannee Valley pick ‘em tournament.
But Pittman didn’t need much of a reminder on the 1962 team. He remembered them well. As a young fan, he was 10 or 11 at the time, he watched those Bulldogs practice daily.
From Del Williams, who went on to Florida State and then the New Orleans Saints, to Bebo Bispham and Russell Wadsworth and Wilton Diec, those Bulldogs were talented.
“They had some people that were tough and could play,” Pittman recalled. “They were a good football team. Different time, different era, but they were a good one.”
The Bulldogs were so good that Pittman used them as the bar for his teams.
And for good reason. That Suwannee team, coached by the legendary Gene Cox, allowed just 46 points the entire season and shut out six opponents, including Lake City and Daytona Seabreeze in the Beach Bowl in Daytona Beach.
Who would win?
While the Buccaneers didn’t finish the 1975 season perfect, they fell 14-7 to Florida A&M High in the first round of the Class 1A playoffs, they too had plenty of experience winning.
Branford won 37 straight regular season games and went 55 straight without a loss, including the 10-0 regular season mark in ’75.
That group outscored its opponents 430-40 heading into that postseason setback with five shutouts.
“The 75 team was probably, could have very well been the best football team I ever coached,” then-Branford coach Cleve Sikes said. “I won’t say it’s the best team we had but it had the best chance to win the whole thing.”
But the Bucs couldn’t quite overcome the Baby Rattlers in the postseason opener.
Sikes said that same FAMU team had just throttled the eventual Class 2A state champion in the regular season finale.
The Bucs had their own big regular season finale. After mostly ripping through its schedule — only a 28-0 win against St. Johns Lutheran and a 20-6 win against Trenton — Branford had a clash of unbeatens with rival Lafayette in the last game of the season. The Bucs won 27-14.
“I think we left a lot of it on the field there at Branford the week before,” Sikes said. “It was like maybe the middle of the week before we realized we had to play again.”
That Branford team featured Frank Jenkins and Gary Barrs as well as Bill Sparrow, a lineman who signed with Florida State in 1977, off the previous year’s state runner-up.