An Indescribable Bond: The 1959 Championship Football Team

by Elaine Barnes

Coordinator, Alumni and Donor Communications


Distinguished Alumni

"This bunch of guys was and is a team in the truest sense of the word."

Gathered around a dinner table on an August summer evening, almost 60 years later, there’s consistent banter amongst the teammates about whose memory is more accurate – especially when it comes to game scores. But all four players of the 1959 Championship Football team from Texas A&I University agree, without uncertainty, the immense impact of Coach Gil Steinke on each of their lives.


“He was just a multi, multi-faceted man,” stated Dr. Jamie Davis ’60 – one of the 1959 team’s quarterbacks, taking charge of the conversation – “hyperactive, sometimes manic, but multi-faceted.” A silence drifted amongst the remaining players briefly as they personally reflected. You could see each of their minds at work, envisioning and placing themselves into that transformative era once again.


Jesse Longhofer ’61,’78 – noted by his teammates as the “baddest, meanest” guard you’d ever seen – nodded his head as well. William “Butch” Pressley ’70 – the freshman fullback, often teased by his older teammates – sported a smirk that vanished as quickly as it appeared. And Harold Hees ’61 – the halfback who regards Coach Steinke as a cherished friend throughout his life – consented, “Oh, there’s no doubt about it.”


That ability to instantly drum up countless memories, that automatic reverence for Coach Steinke? It stems from the many instances of overwhelming support for his football players, a side of the coach maybe unbeknownst to the crowd visiting the stadium in Kingsville every Saturday night. His expressive coaching from the sidelines, his explosive message in the locker room at halftime, and the constant call for his players to be greater, be stronger and push even harder – still, the men insist, his true coaching occurred off the field.


A small moment proved this when Davis recalled a memory in which he was planning his return home for the holidays. Being from Arkansas, and knowing the transmission in his car was on its last leg, he jokingly informed Coach that if he made the trip home, he could almost guarantee he wouldn’t be coming back. “Hold on just a second,” Coach Steinke remarked, calling up a local mechanic and insisting Davis make a visit to his shop. Davis complied, but when he informed the shop owner that he didn’t have a penny to put toward the fix, the owner waved his concern away, promising Davis “not to worry about it.”


That was just one memory of unparalleled kindness – but the teammates agree it’s a testament to the community Coach Steinke built not only in the small town of Kingsville, but the South Texas region as a whole. “We were the only college, really, south of San Antonio,” detailed Longhofer. The fans showed up in droves every weekend, to cheer for the Javelinas.  


Pressley quipped, “I swear my mother was our number one fan, though. She was at every game, in the stands, yelling ‘Don’t touch my Willy!’ But they would give her 200 tickets a week to take back home and sell to the community for the football games, and she’d sell every one. So when we competed in the National Championship game in Florida, the community all pitched in to buy her a plane ticket there.”   


As their personal stories flooded in, one after the other, Longhofer confidently interjected, “There’s one member of the team that has yet to be mentioned, that deserves to be, and that is Coach [Jack] Little.” Instantly, Hees, Davis and Pressley lit up in agreeance, with the teammates describing him as the calm, quiet force that would come in after a “Steinke episode” and repair the situation. The two coaches balanced one another out, they argued, and both were just as integral to their success.


And don’t let it be mistaken, the game of football itself has evolved significantly since their time on the field. “I counted about 40 of us on the team,” Hees mentioned, pointing at the El Rancho annual browsed through earlier in the evening. “That’s a small team, compared to today. And we had positions, but really we played any position Coach Steinke told us to.” One game in particular the teammates recalled, with hearty laughter, their rival team intentionally wetting down their field. It was sopping wet and mud was so caked on their cleats, it felt as though they were running around the field with “bricks” attached to their feet. 


But their effort and talent were honest, and they admitted that the unique coaching style taught them to bite, claw and fight as much as they had to in order to win – and it led them to a well-deserved national title. “Our strength might have been defense, but I’m convinced Coach Steinke was an offensive genius,” exclaimed Davis.


One can look back and combine the effort of the coaches, the support of the families and wives of the teammates, and include the community that rooted for them at every game, and instantly understand the heartfelt pride of the South Texas football program. “We’re unsure what the element was that made us so successful,” they admitted, “But if we did know, and you could bottle that up, we guarantee you every team that possessed it would win every game they played.”


As the conversation began to wane, Davis raised from his chair, patting his teammates on the shoulder and concluded, “I love each and every one of these guys at this table. And while we didn’t achieve stardom as athletes at the professional level, every member of this team has contributed to their profession and community in very significant ways. This bunch of guys was and is a team in the truest sense of the word.”


Hees, Davis, Longhofer and Pressley had uncovered the one-of-a-kind winning element of their brotherhood that earned Javelina Football’s first National Championship title. It was their indescribable bond, the type that has transcended a lifetime, and a camaraderie that allows them to look back over half a century and proudly claim, “I played for Gil Steinke.”



  Kingsville, TX