Monday, October 13th, 2014

Cotton Bowl Classic Says Goodbye to Tommy Lewis

Tommy Lewis, the man behind the infamous “Bench Tackle” play during the 1954 Cotton Bowl Classic, has died. Lewis passed away at the age of 83 on Sunday in Huntsville, Ala.

The names of Lewis, the Alabama fullback and co-captain, and Rice All-America halfback Dicky Maegle, will be linked forever as legends of the Cotton Bowl all because of one play that took place along the east sideline, just north of the 50-yard line at Cotton Bowl Stadium.

Midway through the second quarter, Lewis was standing on the Alabama sideline after the Crimson Tide had fumbled the football away to the Owls at the Rice 10-yard line. A motion penalty moved the line of scrimmage back to the five, and that set the stage for an amazing turn of events.

On first down, Maegle took a pitchout and skirted right end. He eluded the grasp of defensive halfback Bart Starr as he turned the corner and then set sail up the sideline for what appeared to be a 95-yard touchdown run.

Seeing Maegle flying toward him, Lewis’ football instincts took over. As the speedy Rice halfback crossed midfield, Lewis charged off the Alabama sideline and brought down Maegle with a thundering rolling tackle at the 42-yard line. Lewis raced back to the bench and buried his face in his hands, realizing what he had done.

Referee Cliff Shaw surveyed what had happened and raised his arms to indicate touchdown.

After the game, Lewis said, “I don’t know why I went out there. I’ve never done anything like that before. I guess that I was just too full of Alabama.”

Maegle scored for a third time in the second half to lead Rice to a 28-6 victory.

Over the years, Lewis and Maegle became friends and made numerous television appearances together, including the Ed Sullivan Show two days after the game.

“We were saddened to hear about the passing of Tommy Lewis,” said Rick Baker, President of the Cotton Bowl Athletic Association. “Tommy’s “Bench Tackle” in the 1954 Cotton Bowl is still one of the most recognized plays in college football history. He will forever be a part of the Cotton Bowl’s history and lore. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.”

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