Legendary 1959 Braddock football team to be featured on big screen

Tuesday, December 1, 2020 | 12:01 PM

One of the WPIAL’s most storied football teams will soon have a cinematic presence.

Plans are in the works for a movie about the 1959 Braddock Tigers, who won their sixth consecutive WPIAL football title with the backdrop of a four-month, nationwide steelworkers strike that affected the small town and numerous other Western Pennsylvania communities.

The team was chronicled in the book “Striking Gridiron,” written by Greg Nichols in 2014.

The book will be adapted to a movie to be called “Braddock,” starring Joshua Jackson as coach Chuck Klausing and Kate Bosworth as Klausing’s wife, Joann.

Sports content studio Game1 and Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson’s production label West2East Empire are collaborating on the movie development.

The director and adaptor will be Gregory Caruso.

Said Caruso: “About four years ago, I read where the nation’s longest winning streak was being broken. I came across the book by Greg Nichols, met with him, and bought the (movie) rights to the book.”

“I’ve known it to be in the works,” said Thomas Klausing, son of the legendary coach. “Greg Caruso, a young, budding movie producer, majored in movie making at USC. He bought the movie rights and he visited my dad before he died.”

Coach Klausing died in 2018.

Wilson, a seven-time Pro Bowl selectee and starter in two Super Bowls, launched West2East Empire to branch into film and television production with “Braddock” being one of the first film efforts.

“As a professional athlete, I know the power that sports can have in the world beyond the playing field,” Wilson said in a release. “I am truly excited to be part of this extraordinary project, because it reminds us that sports can shape and inspire not just people, but entire communities in a way that few other things can.”

Caruso and Nichols both met with Klausing shortly before the hall of fame coach’s death.

“I had the honor of sitting down with him and he shared memories and letters,” Caruso said. “He was so incredibly passionate about the story. It was definitely close to his heart.”

“I think we’re both suckers for a great story about underdogs who made good,” Nichols said. “Gregory Caruso read my book and had the same reaction I did to the incredible story of the Tigers. Then with the backdrop of the steel strike and the pivotal moment in the nation and, really, the world.”

When Klausing came to Braddock from Pitcairn High School in 1954, he saw an integrated student body, but mainly all-white football team. Blacks were reluctant to come out for the team because of hazing.

Klausing quickly outlawed hazing and instituted a challenge system to make sure the best players got into the lineup. Players would be in a circle and faced off, particularly linemen. The player who could push his teammate outside the circle got the starting nod Friday night.

In less than a year, a third of Braddock’s team was Black. That didn’t stop the taunts and racial slurs when the Tigers went on the road. Braddock had a certain way of taming the taunts — they beat the opponents so badly that the adversaries quieted down.

“It didn’t matter if you were Black or white, we were all friends,” said Phil Luccarelli, a two-way end on the ’59 team. “Even if you got into a fight, it would be forgotten in an hour.”

There’s also the legend of the Klausing family station wagon, used to cart eligible players to and from school who lived outside Braddock. Prior to state Act 561 of 1961, students who lived in a municipality that did not have a high school at the time could attend virtually any school they wanted.

“Coach was our leader,” said Tom Flowers, a member of the first three title teams. “He accepted the challenge to come into Braddock and attempted to unify us. Kids, including me, bought into it.”

The 1954 team tied Midland, 7-7, in the finals at Ambridge. The WPIAL awarded both schools plaques, as title-game tiebreakers would not come into being for another 33 years.

Braddock posted its unprecedented fifth consecutive title with a 21-0 victory over Waynesburg at Washington High field on Nov. 21, 1958.

As the 1959 season approached, the Tigers had their sights set on another championship and the national record for consecutive victories, set by Massillon, Ohio.

But a strike by the United Steelworkers Union that began July 15 idled more than 500,000 workers, including those from Braddock’s Edgar Thompson Works.

Money was tight and families were behind on their bills. Many would scrape up enough just to put food on the table.

The football team was about all the townspeople had.

“People in Braddock loved their football team,” Luccarelli said. “We used the old Edgar Thompson Field for practice, then played our games at Scott. The ET field had no grass. I still have cinders embedded in my knee.”

In the final game of the regular season against rival North Braddock Scott, the Tigers needed a win to qualify for the championship game.

Flowers said Braddock had its day-of-game ritual down pat.

“We’d have a pep rally in the gym, sat down for a team meal, saw a movie, then made the three-block walk to Scott Stadium,” said Flowers from his Dover, Del. home.

Braddock used North Braddock Scott’s home stadium. The Purple Raiders hosted the final game of the ’59 regular season — the final hurdle to get back to the WPIAL title game.

In those days, a loss or tie eliminated a team from WPIAL title consideration. Braddock trailed 12-9 until John Jacobs tossed a scoring pass to Ray Henderson the final minute of play.

Two weeks later, Braddock knocked off Waynesburg, 25-7, in a return trip to Washington High field for title No. 6.

Klausing left Braddock after 1959 and was replaced by assistant Bob Teitt. The 1960 team won Teitt’s opening game against Kittanning to extend the unbeaten streak to 56.

But Braddock lost the following week at Hopewell, 7-6, to end the streak.

While a number of the players are deceased, Luccarelli said teammates who still live in the area get together on occasion. Luccarelli worked as a craneman at Edgar Thomson for 37 years.

Caruso has Western Pennsylvania ties of own. His grandparents settled in Uniontown and his grandfather worked in the coal mines. Caruso hopes to visit the Fayette County town when he returns to the area.

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