Old Vol Buddy Cruze dead at 84

Marvin Westwestwords

Kyle “Buddy” Cruze, one of Knoxville’s greatest-ever athletes, is dead. He was 84.

Cruze was a football, basketball and track star at Knoxville High in the closing year of the school, 1950. He scored the final touchdown in the final Thanksgiving clash with Central High.

He became a three-sport standout at East High and is the only athlete ever to be named captain of both the football and basketball all-state teams.

Among his East High basketball records were most points scored in the state tournament (106), most points scored in one game (47) and most rebounds in one game (25). His high-point record stood for 41 years.

Cruze played one football season at Southern Methodist University, transferred to Tennessee and won all-America honors as a receiver when Volunteer passes and catches were relatively rare.

The family will have a call of convenience on Wednesday from noon until 6 p.m. at Berry Funeral Home, 3704 Chapman Highway. A graveside service will be held at Woodlawn Cemetery at 11:30 a.m. on Thursday.

The family has set a celebration of life for 6 p.m. Thursday at Fellowship Church, 8000 Middlebrook Pike in Knoxville.

Buddy Cruze and John Majors are forever linked in Tennessee football history for their exploits in the dramatic 6-0 victory over Georgia Tech in 1956. The Engineers were No. 2 in the country. The Vols were ranked third. The game swung on consecutive third-quarter completions between the two, a 16-yarder and a 35-yarder to the Tech 1. Fullback Tommy Bronson scored the touchdown.

Buddy Cruze (from UT Athletics)

Cruze caught all three passes the Vols completed that November day at Grant Field. Majors threw only 59 passes in that SEC championship season. Cruze caught a then-record 20 for 357 yards.

In later years, Cruze often teased Majors about the numbers.

“We made all-America with that. Think how famous we’d be if you had thrown me the ball more often. You would have won the Heisman.”

“Buddy Cruze was a dear, dear friend,” said Majors. “I loved him and Charlotte (his late wife of 62 years).

“They were the epitome of character and honesty. It showed in their lives, how to raise a family, how to treat people.”

Majors said Cruze told him more than once that he wasn’t afraid of dying.

“He had a heart attack six years ago, worked his way back and lived the rest of his life.”

Majors said Cruze, as a Volunteer, had good speed, great moves and could catch anything thrown in his direction.

“He liked to pull my string when we were in groups. He liked that line about me winning the Heisman if I had thrown him the ball. I wish I had.”

Cruze was drafted by the Chicago Bears. He played in the College All-Star Game. In 1959, he played with the Montreal Alouettes in the Canadian League.

He later became a successful businessman in Knoxville. He was inducted into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame in 2007.

There is a charming state tournament story from Buddy’s senior season at East High. He set the scoring record in the quarterfinals against Oliver Springs.

When the East team returned to the arena for the semifinals, Buddy discovered he had forgotten his player pass. As famous as he was, Cruze was denied admission by the gate keeper. East coach Buford Bible was no help. He declined to pay the $1 for a ticket.

“Your problem, you’re on your own,” said Bible.

Cruze was in trouble. He searched and searched for a familiar face. He finally spotted Jean Reasonover, wife of an East High football coach. She advanced him the dollar.

Buddy ran to the designated team area. He encountered Coach Bible. He expected the worst.

“First door on the left” was all Mr. Bible ever said.

Buddy Cruze is survived by four children and spouses, Debbye Cruze Wright (Blair), Kyle Buddy Cruze (Helen), Guille Barger Cruze (Carol), Kay Cruze Smith (Randy), all of Knoxville. There are 14 grandchildren.

He is survived by a sister, Cartha Lynn Turner.

Memorial donations may be made to Young Life of Knoxville, Deeper Still or S.T.A.R., (www.rideatstar.org).

Marvin West invites reader reaction. His address is marvinwest75@gmail.com.

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