The treasured list of oldest Tennessee football lettermen is dwindling.
A private burial with military honors was conducted Monday at the Chattanooga National Memorial Cemetery for long-ago tailback Wilburn Conda Cooper, better known as W.C. or Dub.
Cooper was 92. He was No. 3 on Bud Ford’s list of old Vols, younger than blocking back Jim Sivert (95) of Bartlett and guard Don Bordinger (93) of Oak Ridge and older than blocking back Harold Johnson (92) of Jackson, blocking back Charles Meyer (91) of Orange City, Fla., and tackle Jim Haslam (90) of Knoxville.
Herky Payne was lost from the list last month. The former tailback was 92.
Cooper was born on Oct 9, 1928, at the family home on Cornell Street in Knoxville. He grew up very close to what is now the UT baseball field. He graduated from Knoxville High. He was all-Southern in football.
Harold Johnson well remembers his former Volunteer teammate.
“The first time I saw Dub, he was getting out of the back seat of a long, black car. A coach opened the door for him. Dub was wearing camouflage clothing. For some reason, I thought he might be a prisoner.”
In fact, Cooper had been a run-away. He left Knox High in time to excel in UT spring practice of 1947. When he discovered summer practice was next, he decided he had already enjoyed more than enough practice and went away, on a retreat to the mountains.
“Dub was good enough that the coaches were sent to find him,” said Johnson. “I always assumed the big, black car belonged to General Neyland.”
Coach Robert R. Neyland held Cooper in high regard but was often vexed by their relationship.
“Dub ran the most laps,” said Johnson. “He said he did not have the bad habit of being late, he just rarely was on time.”
Cooper was an outstanding natural athlete who generally played second-team, behind tailback Hal Littleford in the beginning and then Hank Lauricella.
“Dub was a really good safety,” said Johnson. “He played a lot and would have played more except for Bert Rechichar. Bert didn’t leave much space for anybody.”
Cooper was a letterman in 1948, 1949 and 1950. His career passing statistics were 18 of 40 for 330 yards and three touchdowns. He ran for three touchdowns. He returned five interceptions for 113 yards and one TD.
At the risk of announcing how old I am, I remember a Cooper-to-Bob Lund touchdown pass in a 1948 Vol victory over Alabama.
Dub earned bachelor and master’s degrees from UT. He served in the U.S. Air Force (he played some more football). He was a career educator in Tullahoma – teacher, coach, athletics director and principal. The high school football field is named in his honor.
Dub was active at Tullahoma First Baptist Church.
He is survived by his wife of 70-plus years, the former Betty Jo Lambdin, and twin sons, Dirk Randall Cooper and Mike Rodney Cooper of Chattanooga.
Marvin West welcomes reader comments or questions. His address is firstname.lastname@example.org