Chattahoochee Valley Sports Hall of Fame: Cliff Rutledge is the voice of football in Bi-City

Special to the Ledger-EnquirerJanuary 27, 2014 

Mike Haskey Cliff Rutledge is being inducted in the Chattahoochee Valley Sports Hall of Fame. 0 1/21/14


Cliff Rutledge is a retired Phenix City educator with a deep commitment to his community and a lifelong love of football.

Rutledge combined all of these elements with a down-to-earth style and ability to create a broadcasting career that has spanned seven decades.

Rutledge will be inducted into the Chattahoochee Valley Sports Hall of Fame in a ceremony at the Columbus Convention & Trade Center on Feb. 1, along with B.R. Johnson, Jim Mackay, Marc Upshaw and Jeremy Williams.

"I was elated when I heard I'd been selected. … I knew a long time ago that I was going to football games, so I might as well get paid for it," Rutledge chuckled.

Rutledge was a career educator, beginning as a teacher and retiring as an administrator. He served the students of Phenix City for 40 years.

Rutledge's second profession as a broadcaster was launched during his teaching career, thanks to an invitation from Ken Woodfin of WCLS radio.

"Ken started out in sales," Rutledge said. "When he started selling football, he got me into broadcasting. WCLS was a sun-up to sun-down station."

Spencer High was the first team Rutledge broadcast, around 1957-58.

"There was no Carver then," Rutledge said. "We would tape the games at night and play them back on Sunday evening."

Rutledge was doing Sunday morning gospel at WCLS when Woodfin left for WOKS. Rutledge stayed at WCLS until Woodfin pulled him over to WOKS to do football. He juggled both duties for several years. In the early 1960s, he went to WOKS full time.

Rutledge's passion for broadcasting was second only to his love of teaching. He enjoyed learning about the athletes he covered.

"My first job was education. Broadcasting was second," Rutledge said. "I made up a profile sheet which I'd give to the coaches and they'd give them to the players to fill out. When we broadcast a game, I'd have background information on the players. The coaches don't like to do that now, but it makes the game more colorful. I find out positives about the players that I can use on the air."

Georgia State Sen. Ed Harbison spent around 17 years broadcasting with Rutledge. Harbison was thrilled with Rutledge's induction into the hall of fame.

"Cliff's strength is pure community-based commitment," Harbison said. "He had this unique ability to put you in your comfort zone. As an educator, he knew everybody. He had an intimate connection with the players and their families. Cliff is so deserving of being in the hall of fame."

Harbison and Rutledge shared many memorable football moments, but none could top a Central High game in Prattville more than 25 years ago.

"It was colder than it was here last week," Harbison said of the frigid weather the area experienced in mid-January.

"We were broadcasting from a cardboard box in a tree. It has no doors, no heat and only a phone line. Prattville was winning, but Central was driving when the stadium lights went out. It was deliberate and methodical. After a long delay, the lights came back on and Prattville won."

Rutledge remembers that night.

"We were treated so badly," Rutledge remembers. "We weren't supposed to beat Prattville. It was very obvious what they were doing. It was so cold that night that my fingers froze around my pen."

Carlos Williams succeeded Harbison as Rutledge's sidekick 26 years ago.

"He's been like a father figure to me," Williams said. "He taught me everything I know about broadcasting. Cliff makes sure we cover everybody fairly. He taught me about commitment. You show up and do your job."

Rutledge also taught Williams to relax and let others do their jobs.

"As a young broadcaster, you want to get there and make sure all the equipment worked," Williams said. "The technical bug can bite you at any time. Finally, Cliff said to me: 'You and I get paid to talk. Let those folks worry about the technical stuff.' He's calm under fire and the ultimate professional."

Williams marvels at Rutledge's longevity and how some parts of his routine have remained unchanged.

"To this day, he gives such attention to detail," Williams said.

"He's got the starting lineups ready. He's got his background information. It's amazing to me that he was doing this more than 20 years before I started. He called the Spencer championship game before integration."

Rutledge, 81, still makes the long climb to each stadium's press box.

"His favorite saying is that when he wins the lottery, he's going to put an elevator in this place," Williams said.

Williams recalled the extensive travel to cover area teams and Rutledge's interaction with the locals.

"Wherever we went, we were representing Shaw, Carver or whoever was playing," Williams said. "We went to Cairo to cover Carver and a police officer was telling Cliff that when the home team loses, the police write a lot of tickets. Cliff responded that he better get that ticket book out because they would be writing a lot of tickets that night."

Retired Carver High coach Wallace Davis recalled Rutledge's contributions to high school football, especially at Carver and Spencer.

"Now you have people filming the games," Davis said. "Back then, especially with the black schools, I saw one film in all the years I played. You needed radio play-by-play. Cliff would tape the games and we would get the tape from him. We could hear the game rather than see it. It was a big value to high school sports."

Davis, inducted into the hall of fame in 2004, also had a personal memory of Rutledge's commitment to local youth.

"When I signed with the Falcons, it was in the newspaper but not on television," Davis said. "Cliff gave me an opportunity to come on the radio and tell how I felt about it."

Davis credits Rutledge with helping the Carver-Spencer game to become such a huge local event.

"Carver-Spencer now gets a lot of spectators. Cliff helped bring that game to the status it has now," Davis said.

Daryll "DJ" Jones reached the National Football League via the University of Georgia. But Jones was a Carver athlete when he first met Rutledge.

"In the late '70s, there were a number of organizations that honored players and WOKS was one of them," Jones said. "Cliff and Ed recognized the best players in the city. It was exciting to know that we had that kind of coverage."

Jones, also a 2004 inductee, is now a member of the broadcast media who considers Rutledge both an icon and a mentor.

"I really respect him for paving the way for us," Jones said. "When Shaw won the state championship in 2000, I served as sideline reporter for Cliff and Carlos. It was a phenomenal broadcast. I couldn't believe I was working with Cliff Rutledge. He's an icon and he was doing what I wanted to do which was local sports. We need to give kids the chance to share their stories."

Harbison recalled that one of Rutledge's signature lines to indicate the end of the game was that he was headed to the Ponderosa. Is Rutledge considered returning to the ranch for good?

"I don't know. I'm playing it by ear," Rutledge said. "I look at the spotters in the booth identifying players through binoculars and I'm calling it as I think it was. I'm 81, but age is a relative number. It's time to quit when they ask why don't you stay another year."

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