Imagine this scenario playing out on Nov. 5, 1971 with several thousand Bristolians sitting on the edge of their seats at the historic Stone Castle.
On one side clad in maroon-and-white would be the Tennessee High Vikings, who were on their way to the first of two straight TSSAA Class AAA state championships and featured future NCAA Division I standouts such as Gil Kyle, George Heath, David Bibee, Fred Vance, Larry Silcox and Greg Jones.
Their opponent would be the Virginia High Bearcats in their orange-and-black uniforms paced by a dual-threat, blue-chip quarterback prospect being recruited by major colleges all across the country by the name of Richard Todd.
Alas, that particular epic clash of the titans for the city championship never happened and exists as only a hypothetical matchup.
Richard Todd did live in Bristol, Virginia, for a few years, but he never wore a Virginia High uniform as his family moved to Arkansas before he reached an age old enough to compete for the Bearcats. Instead, he was an All-American signal caller at Davidson High School in Mobile, Alabama.
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Before becoming a starting QB at the University of Alabama who never lost a Southeastern Conference game and prior to being Joe Namath’s heir apparent with the New York Jets, Todd was a tyke tagging along with his two older brothers and trying to stay out of mischief at the family’s home on Moore Street.
“I was pretty young, so I don’t recall too much,” Todd said. “I think we were there for about five years.”
Carl Todd was hired as the dean at Virginia Intermont College and arrived in Bristol with his wife, Mary Ann, and three sons, Jerry, Walter and Richard. The boys could frequently be seen around campus at what the time was an all-female school.
“I remember hanging around the college a lot,” Todd said. “There was a guy, Mr. Roberts, he had a .22 rifle and would shoot birds, like pigeons and such, off the roofs of the buildings on campus all the time. We used to love watching him do that.”
The VI pool was also a favorite destination.
“His mother would take us over there,” childhood friend Bob Baxley said in a 1973 interview with the Bristol Herald Courier. “Richard used to do a lot of fancy dives and he was real good swimmer. … I don’t remember anything he didn’t do well. He was a good, all-around athlete.”
At a young age, Todd’s right arm showed potential.
There weren’t organized youth football leagues at the time, but he did play Little League baseball and could be found shooting hoops often.
“My mother was a basketball player at Middle Tennessee State and was really good,” Richard Todd said. “My father never played sports. His father died when he was 10-years-old and he had to work most of his life. I remember one time while we were there playing dodgeball with my mother. Like I said, she was a good athlete and we would throw the ball with each other. Well, I threw it hard one time and dislocated her finger.”
Walter Todd also wasn’t immune to the strength and dexterity of Todd’s arm.
“One time we were playing, throwing darts and Richard threw one across our backyard and it stuck in Walter’s leg,” remembered Andrew Kristofek, who grew up near the Todd family. “Not sure what happened after that, we probably chased Richard back home.”
Yes, the young Richard Todd of Bristol was full of energy.
“My older brother, Walter, used to always get a model plane or a model tank and he was really good at those because he had a lot of patience,” Richard Todd said. “I was totally different. I’d watch him do that and I tried to do it one day, an airplane, and I got so upset and broke it in half and just left and went outside.”
While Richard Todd never walked the halls of VHS, he attended Thomas Jefferson Elementary School in the city and could be found on Sunday afternoons at First Baptist Church.
He was just about to enter junior high when his family moved to Adelphia, Arkansas, and then settled in Mobile, Alabama, as his father worked at different institutions of higher learning.
“The elementary wasn’t that far from where we lived and I remember we used to walk to school every day,” Todd said. “Of course, now you wouldn’t do that, but as kids we’d walk to school every day.”
Baxley, Marshall Ward and Andy Kristofek were among his pals.
Kristofek and his family lived down the street from the Todd residence.
“I lived just down the hill from the Todd’s,” Kristofek said. “There was a large thicket and dense woods between our homes and that’s where we spent lots of time playing Army and war and picking cherries from the abundant varieties of cherry trees. … Richard was very athletic as a young kid. It was a great childhood, many sleepovers and watching TV shows like Twilight Zone.”
Richard Todd remembers it well.
“Andy Kristofek’s dad was [a police offer],” Todd said. “I remember just being enthralled by that.”
Richard Todd didn’t make any headlines for his athletic exploits while growing up in Bristol, but his name did appear in a 1959 Bristol Herald Courier article chronicling the end of the year program put on by the kindergarten class at First Presbyterian Church. “Richard Todd and Gwen King represented Easter, dressed as rabbits,” the small story tucked on page 9A noted.
A few years later Todd hopped into national prominence as the Kristofek family and many others from these parts kept up with Todd’s exploits as he became a superstar after the family departed Southwest Virginia.
He was a wizard in the wishbone offense under coach Paul “Bear” Bryant’s direction at the University of Alabama and never lost an SEC game while starting from 1973-75. He was the MVP of the 1975 Sugar Bowl and was the sixth overall pick by the Jets in the 1976 NFL Draft.
Todd was Namath’s successor as New York’s signal-caller, was an offensive maestro on a team that lost to the Miami Dolphins in the 1982 AFC Championship game and appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1983. In total, he played 11 pro seasons and appeared in 119 regular-season games with the Jets and New Orleans Saints.
Todd, 67, now works in the financial sector.
Has he been back to the place he used to live?
“Not too much. My son [Gator Todd] played golf at Alabama and we came down there for a tournament [at The Ridges in Jonesborough, Tennessee],” Richard Todd said. “He’s now an assistant coach at Vanderbilt University and has really found his calling.”
Now, for a look at high school football moments that occurred this week in history:
Nov. 6, 1964
Dale Rucker rushed for 151 yards on 19 carries in Virginia High’s 21-0 victory over Tennessee High. … Tazewell pounded Patrick Henry of Roanoke, 26-13, as Don Rose scored two touchdowns. … Behind three touchdowns from Cecil Blevins, St. Paul posted a 34-13 win over Garden.
Nov. 5, 1976
Tennessee High’s Bill McAllister intercepted two passes for the Vikings in a 13-9 victory over Virginia High. … Gary Holbrook rushed for 135 yards and three touchdowns to highlight Castlewood’s 30-22 trumping of Twin Springs. … Randy Sutherland, Steve Potter and Rocky Dale supplied touchdowns to Haysi’s 20-9 victory over Honaker.
Nov. 4, 1983
Jim Ward threw two touchdown passes to Ricky Belcher in Tennessee High’s 21-13 victory over Virginia High. … Mike Wampler (16 carries, 171 yards) was the hero in Holston’s 16-3 win over Honaker. … Craig Plymal scored four touchdowns in Grundy’s 29-28 victory over Graham.
Nov. 3, 1995
Tommy Crigger threw four touchdown passes and David Scammell scampered for 160 rushing yards in Grundy’s 38-0 thumping of Tazewell. … Kelly Flanary rushed for 103 yards and Matt Bays scored the go-ahead touchdown for Twin Springs as the Titans rallied from a 17-point deficit to take a 20-17 triumph over Thomas Walker. … Brandon Miller threw two touchdown passes, intercepted two passes and kicked a 40-yard field goal in Honaker’s 43-12 crushing of Castlewood.
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