Man leads legendary life in own right

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 11, 2008

By Laura Brookhart / Community Columnist

“Oh yes, I was a legend in my own mind!” John Gibson chuckled wryly as he sifted through the thick collection of yellowed clippings gathered between scrapbook pages. “Here I am, second from left, in what was touted as the Tigers All-Birmingham backfield back in ’49.”

Gibson, who played at Auburn under Coach Earl Brown, remembers many antics away from the football field. The players lived six to a cabin in separate quarters and had their own mess hall where they went to eat. Back then ice cream was stored in slabs separated by waxpaper in the freezer in the mess hall.

“We lowerclassmen would be sent by the seniors to steal ice cream for them most every night. There was so much ice cream going missing, that the administration put a steel casing with a padlock over the freezer,” Gibson said. “Took them a long time to figure out that we were going in and unscrewing the whole casing from the concrete floor! You could take those screws out with your fingers in no time.”

When summertime came, Gibson and many of his fellow players were found jobs working construction for the city of Birmingham.

“Did you know I was the first person to ever fall off that big bridge they were building by Sloss Furnace?” Assigned to be a pile driver, his job was to keep the powerlines from tangling up in the pylons as they were driven. He jumped up high one day to loosen the powerline and fell head first into the open shaft. Fortunately his plunge was noticed, he says, or he might still be enshrined there.

After that, he was made a carpenter’s helper. Carrying heavy stacks of boards in front of him, he stepped on a 10-penny nail that went all the way through his foot. Next came his ‘safe’ job to shellac concrete, which somehow happened to explode in his face. After that, Gibson said the job superintendent made a call to the coach inquiring what position Gibson played on the team.

“How the __ does he play ball? He can’t even walk without getting hurt,” the superintendent said. Thus John was saddled with his nickname, Twinkletoes.

Gibson grew up in Pratt City and excelled in both football and baseball at Ensley High School. (See masthead from Yellow Jacket sportspage.) A University of Alabama graduate, his second degree in Pharmacy is from Howard University, now Samford University. In March of 2009 he will be a licensed pharmacist for 50 years. He and his wife, artist Phyllis Thomas Gibson, enjoy life today on a secluded bend of the Cahaba River near Helena.