Mention the name of Charlie McCue to any longtime Lawrence High football fan and you'll see eyes light up like an old pinball machine with 100 free games.
Fortunately, he's back living in Lawrence after 34 years in the field of education, the last 18 years as an elementary school principal in Glasgow, Mo.
For my money, there's never been a more exciting running back than this Lion superstar of 1951 and 1952. Most who saw McCue are inclined to agree that even among the scads of LHS backfield stars such as John Hadl, Doyle Schick, Michael Cosey (you could name a hundred), Charlie was something a little special.
At about 175 pounds with deceptive speed, McCue had a semi-bowlegged gallop that was not unlike that of a Sayers named Gale you may have heard about.
Charlie made it easy on quarterbacks Ralph Hagenbuch and Gene Fritzel. The key plays with him at fullback were "38 lateral" or "39 lateral," a pitchout to the left or the right. He took it from there. He was also devastating as a kick returner. One night he scored the first four times he touched the football. Only Lion I ever saw top that was halfback John Hadl, five straight in 1957.
"Charlie's the most considerate back I ever saw," head coach Al Woolard quipped one night after McCue had run somebody else ragged. "He gets to running around in a crowd and he gives everyone at least two chances to tackle him . . . but usually they can't capitalize on his generosity."
Not bad for a kid who played end most of his sophomore season (1950) and rushed for a total of only five varsity yards.
"He looked good in a second-team game near the end of 1950 and Al decided he might be worth a look in the 1951 backfield," recalls Jerry Rogers, the Washburn grad who built so many outstanding lines for Lion championship clubs. "He had the God-given instincts great backs like Sayers had, stuff you just can't coach."
"On top of all that, Charlie was a good kid who never gave us a bit of trouble," continued Rogers, now retired from a Kansas University administrative post. "Some of the other fun-seekers on the squad might go out and raise a little hell, but Charlie always kept his nose clean. He was quiet, sometimes even moody, and he might not always practice too eagerly. Come game-time, he always showed you something new. He was simply amazing."
McCue rewrote the LHS record book in '51 and '52 en route to all-state and prep all-America honors. He set a single-game rushing mark with 256 yards on 11 carries against Ottawa in 1952 when Ottawa was big league. His 1,374 net yards in 1951 (as a junior) stood for years. Add the 1,169 yards he made from scrimmage as a senior and the five he gained as a soph and he notched 2,548 rushing yards, for nearly a 9-yard average. And these were nine-game seasons, no playoffs then. LHS was 17-1 in his two seasons as a starter.
Charlie scored 186 points on 31 touchdowns, shattered most school total offense records, ran one punt 88 yards to score for a then-LHS record, scampered for 170 yards on kick returns one game and finished with 635 return yards to go with his 2,548 rushing. Woolard used to pull him from games early to prevent embarrassing opponents (same as with Hadl and others).
Kansas with J.V. Sikes as head coach moved heaven and earth to recruit Charlie. But his folks moved from Lawrence to Dallas. McCue decided to cast his lot with SMU, then coached by Chalmer Woodard who preceded Woolard at Lawrence High and made a stop at McPherson College.
The Texas connection didn't pan out. McCue went to Coffeyville Junior College, then transferred to Kansas for his final two seasons, 1956 and 1957. KU coach Chuck Mather unwisely employed Charlie as a blocking halfback to showcase fullback Homer Floyd. McCue never got the chance to show his brilliance as a college runner and returner. Dutiful Charlie did what he was supposed to do well, of course, but such a horrible waste! What a 1-2 punch he and Floyd could have delivered.
McCue's now 62. He entered sales work after college and didn't get married until he was 35. He and wife Barbara have three children -- daughter Paige, 23, and sons Sean, 25, and Derek, 19. Charlie retired from education and when he got the chance to come back to Lawrence, he welcomed it. He's still taking pitchouts from Gene Fritzel, working for the well-known quality contractor in the Old Home Town.
"I wouldn't trade those years in education for anything, but it's sure great to be back here," says Charlie, a bit more talkative now than when he was that shy Lawrence High phenom. "We get out to Lawrence High games as often as we can. Those kids are great to watch and they still seem to have the same excitement we had with Al and Jerry. Lots of great memories from those days, believe me."
Yeah, but maybe not as vivid as the fond recollections for a lot of us who watched Churnin' Charlie McCue prance through, over and around all those opponents during those marvelous seasons of 1951 and 1952. In some hearts, he's still the only breed of his kind.