Jerry Fox was a 1955 graduate of Detroit Lakes High School and was the only junior to start on one of the Lakers’ greatest football teams, the undefeated 1953 squad.
Fox served five years in the Navy and attended the University of North Dakota before becoming an airline pilot for 31 years, with Pan Am and Atlas.
“I was there during the glory days. I’m living proof that the 747 is easy to fly.”
Fox was up front in the trenches, helping Laker running backs fly all over the field during the undefeated campaign.
The ‘53 Lakers finished the season 8-0 and were ranked No. 2 behind St. James in the final football poll of the season. By the end of the year, the Lakers had won 14 straight games, dating back to 1952.
“It was a great team,” said Fox. “We were good. The town was really behind it.”
There was a “raging argument” in the press that gripped state prep football, positing whether the blazing speed of St. James could overcome Detroit Lakes’ bruising power. There were no playoffs, no separate school class system, or state championship games at the time.
The ‘53 Lakers were the first unbeaten, untied football team in school history, accumulating 2,747 yards of offense and outscoring their opponents 254-51 led by running back Rich Borstad. The Lakers overcame eight penalties and numerous fumbles in a season-ending 20-6 victory over Park Rapids.
Fox followed fellow inductee and football great Ron Noesen by four years in school.
“Ron got here just when Marv Helling and Ted Anderson got here,” said Fox. “I think Ron will tell you about the same thing. Helling turned it around and things just got better and better and it culminated when I was a junior.”
The Lakers scored 42 points in the first half in a win over rival Fergus Falls and held Alexandria to -3 yards rushing for the game.
The ‘53 game versus Thief River Falls was the game of the week in Minnesota. Thief River Falls was favored and DL clobbered them 44-6.
“One of my biggest thrills I ever had in sports was the first play. Lynn Parkel ran 89 yards and scored and the rout was on.”
The Fargo Forum’s sports writer Tom Lucier called the Lakers the most destructive team in area football history. Eight out of the 11 players went on to play college football.
“They’ve got too much of everything it takes,” Lucier said.
While Fox’s position on the offensive line kept him off the score sheet, he was an integral part as an underclassman in moving the vaunted Laker offense, but ruminates on those days in humble fashion.
“I was just a guy that loved sports,” Fox said. “I wasn’t that good in any of them. Just played a lot of them.”
Football was a much different animal in the 1950’s. The team practiced and stayed at Fair Hills Resort before the season, played games on the baseball dirt at Washington Park and walked blocks to and from school each day for in-season practice.
Under the one-class system Detroit Lakes played teams like St. Paul Cretin (now Cretin-Durham Hall), and Wayzata, both schools traveled to DL for the games.
As a DL senior, Fox was the only team member who had experienced a football loss, dating back to his sophomore season when Moorhead beat DL in the second game of the year.
Conversely, Fox showed his team-first mentality as the captain and goaltender for a winless 1955 Laker hockey team.
As the only senior on an inexperienced team, Fox averaged 45 saves per game and recorded a season-high 60 saves on 63 shots in an outstanding effort during the season opener against Crookston Cathedral.
Fox and head football coach Marv Helling had an extended career together, as Helling coached Fox and the undefeated Lakers before moving to the University of North Dakota, where he coached during Jerry’s final two seasons as a member of the Fighting Sioux.
Fox was named co-captain of the 1958 UND football team. He played in two Bison/Sioux games and was on the winning side of both of them.
“Ross Fortier made a hero of me one afternoon up there at Dakota Field. He threw a pass he shouldn’t have. I’ll never let him forget it. I was lucky and fortunate to play when I did. Helling was a great coach. He kept you on the straight and narrow. You never quit.”
After graduating from college, Fox entered flight school in the Navy. What he learned in athletics helped him succeed at the next level.
“A lot of guys quit. There was a lot of pressure and a lot of guys quit. They lived to regret it, I think.”
Fox takes his induction into the Laker Hall of Honor with humility and looks to many others he played with to follow him.
“I’m very appreciative. It’s a great honor and I’m very thrilled, but I think I played with a heck of a lot better guys than I was that are more deserving, for sure.”
This is the second of six installments for this year's Detroit Lakes Athletic Foundation Hall of Honor. For more information on this year's inductions, visit http://www.dlathleticfoundation.org/