By Jake Winfrey
The Cullman Times
They don’t make ’em quite like Ernie Reddick anymore.
The Florida native — and now-permament Cullman resident — has led quite a fulfilling life over the course of 85 years.
Although Reddick will quietly and humbly tell anyone who asks he’s traversed a rather “simple life,” a closer look into the claim would likely convince anyone otherwise.
In fact, one thing Reddick can hang his hat on is something all boys who grow up in sleepy towns across the country dream about on a nightly basis.
Playing college football.
Reddick, however, wasn’t your typical gridiron warrior growing up. He was a player on one of Florida State’s very first football teams from 1948-1949 — and has been a Seminole at heart ever since he graduated from the Tallahassee-based university.
But to really know Reddick, you’d have to start all the way at the beginning.
After graduating high school in 1946, Reddick enrolled at Emory Junior College in Valdosta, Ga. He spent four quarters there before transferring to Florida State in January of 1948.
The university had previously only admitted female students but evolved to include males following the end of World War II to ensure returning veterans a chance at an education.
It turned out to be one of the best decisions of his life.
It was there he met his wife, Joan, through mutual friends while working at a small student cafè called the Sweet Shop and, in July, they will celebrate their 64th wedding anniversary together.
Shortly after their ceremony in 1950, Reddick and his wife took to Guantanamo Bay as civilian employees for two years. He served as an athletic director and math teacher, while Joan was a do-it-all elementary teacher for the dependent school on the premises.
Upon his return, he spent two years based in Jacksonville in the Army’s Counter-Intelligence Unit.
In 1957, Reddick was tasked with managing the newly opened King Edward Cigar Plant in Cullman. He spent 25 years at the plant before closing its doors in 1982. He then returned to Jacksonville, Fla., where he worked for nine more years.
Reddick retired in 1991 and has lived in Cullman ever since. He was elected into the Cullman Sports Hall of Fame in 2011 for his wonderful work as a coach, referee, umpire and official.
Despite the many years that have passed, Reddick hasn’t forgotten the joy and fulfillment his days with Florida State brought him over those two seasons.
Upon arrival, Reddick didn’t really know what to expect the first day of spring practice in 1948. He was one of the youngest players who tried out for the team.
“Most everyone playing was a veteran, and I wasn’t,” he said. “Back then, you didn’t platoon. I ended up playing mostly in the defensive backfield, but I also played some running back, too.”
Florida State’s first game of the ’48 season was a matchup against Cumberland College.
Reddick scored the season’s first touchdown on an 8-yard run as his team rolled to a 30-0 win. The squad finished a solid 7-1 that year, claiming the first of two Dixie Conference titles.
The following season, the school opened with a road game at Whiting Field versus a Pensacola-based team. It remains to this day one of Reddick’s favorite memories.
And for good reason.
“They had a team that was supposedly good, but they could not beat anything,” he said with a laugh. “We won something like 70 to nothing. It was a great game."
Indeed, Florida State won the contest 74-0, and Reddick had the most impressive game of his career, scoring three touchdowns — a 55-yard catch, a 20-yard interception return and a 15-yard scamper — to help his team to the rout.
Things weren’t always great for Reddick, however.
“We played Stetson down in Jacksonville,” he recalled. “They were supposed to beat us, but they didn't. We played in the Gator Bowl Stadium and won 33-14. I broke my wrist in that game.
“The next week, I couldn't play, and we lost to Livingston. I went and thought, ‘If I had been in there, they never would've scored.’ I went to the doctor after that and played the rest of the season with a cast.”
Reddick’s career came to a close in the next-to-last game of the ’49 season, when he dislocated his hip and ended up in a hospital bed for several weeks.
Although he was “wound up pretty good,” he eventually came to peace with the setback and sacrificed another year of eligibility to take his “lady friend” to Cuba with him for a couple of years.
“I was very pleased to have been a part of it,” Reddick said of the experience. “I think about some of my very good friends and almost all of them are gone now. Roommates, teammates and fraternity brothers. I just don't know who's left out there.”
It wasn’t just Reddick who recalled the happiness those times brought to him.
Joan was there for most every game, cheering him on from the stands and supporting him in whatever way she could.
“I loved watching him play,” she said. “I loved football. Those were happy days, and I look back on them with pleasure.”
Some Things Never Change
Although his playing days are long behind him, Reddick isn’t one to forget the school that gave so much to him in the past.
He and Joan have traveled to many Florida State games in over the years. Reddick is a member of the booster club and the alumni association as well. His wife has kept plenty of clippings from newspapers, as well as photos, programs and letters. He’s attended myriad program events including honorary showcases and bi-yearly reunions — when applicable. His oldest son, Allen, even called up the Florida State athletic department and had them send DVDs of Ernie’s games during his career.
“Those are awful games,” he said with a laugh and a big smile. “We like to watch those with the grandchildren.”
Reddick’s seen the good and the bad. Fortunately, there was a whole lot of good this year for the Seminoles and coach Jimbo Fisher.
As Florida State looked to close out its perfect season in the BCS title game against Auburn last Monday, Reddick was right there in front of the television cheering his team on just as he has so many times throughout the decades.
So it should come as no surprise when Kelvin Benjamin came up with the game-winning touchdown grab, Reddick was genuinely excited with the outcome.
“We were thrilled but surprised,” he said. “That boy was 6'5", and he had to jump so high to catch that ball. What's ironic about it is that Auburn had won a couple of games in the last seconds but then FSU beat them that way this time around. It was just an exciting season.”
With each and every game Reddick soaks up on the tube, he can’t help but notice the vast differences in the way football is played today. Players are bigger, stronger and faster than when he put on the pads — he’ll be the first to admit that at 156 pounds, he wouldn’t have been allowed on the field today — and the statistics jump out to him as well.
“I was looking at our games, and we only threw 47 passes one season,” Reddick said. “They throw that in one game now. It’s crazy. I also can’t believe the receivers who catch those balls. They must have real glue on their hands. It’s just impossible to do what they do.”
Reddick was quick to dole out one piece of advice that’s been at the forefront of college football talk this year — targeting.
The much-maligned rule received its fair share of criticism all throughout the 2013 season. Players were ejected left and right for seemingly innocuous hits at times. If the ejection was overturned, the 15-yard penalty still went into effect much to the chagrin of players, coaches and fans across the country.
To solve this issue, Reddick suggested that all teams make like the ones back in the ’40s and simply do away with the facemask altogether.
“I wish they wouldn't wear them,” he said. “I think it would reduce head injuries. Do away with it, and folks would start tackling with their shoulders and arms. I'm sure dentists would love that. You do that and spearing would go by the wayside.”
Gone is the excitement life may have brought Reddick when he was smacking people around on the football field. However, don’t think that means he’s unhappy with how life has unfolded.
He and Joan became parents to five wonderful children and have enough grandkids to go around for the foreseeable future.
Reddick delivers Meals on Wheels to help out the community, Joan plays bridge regularly with friends and both are still very much active in the church and city.
“We’re happy,” Reddick said with his wife by his side. “I really loved all my time at Florida State, though.”
% Jake Winfrey can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 136 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.