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Tommy Bradford: A Player for All Seasons

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BY: KIM HASTY

Back in the day, they couldn’t catch old Tommy Bradford. At least not until he had churned out chunks of yardage, all the while dragging linebackers and linemen with him down the field.
He was strong, and he was tough. So much so that as the starting fullback on the Fayetteville High School football team, he was named to the Charlotte Observer’s all-state team, capped off by being voted No. 1 in the state, and earning honorable mention All-America honors by Scholastic Magazine.
The colleges came calling. North Carolina had just won the 1963 Gator Bowl, and Coach Jim Hickey wanted to add Bradford to his team. Bill Murray and his Duke Blue Devils, champions of the 1961 Cotton Bowl, were interested as well. Alabama, Michigan, Illinois, Clemson and Virginia all offered Bradford the chance to play college ball.
Meanwhile, N.C. State already had offered Bradford the chance to continue his baseball career in Raleigh. He appreciated all those football offers, but he went with the Wolfpack and with his lone opportunity to continue in America’s pastime.

Bradford, 73, is the CEO of Bradford Builders. He grew up playing sports down on Lynn Avenue off Ramsey Street.
“Things were different back then,” he said. “That’s all we had to do. We didn’t have digital things. My uncle had a dairy farm where Reid Ross is now. The barn was on Tokay Drive, and we’d go milk the cows there.”
In between chores, they all were playing football, baseball and basketball, often playing on teams coached by Tommy’s older brother. J.D. Bradford would die of an aortic aneurysm at age 36, but not before helping his younger brother make the choice of baseball over football.

The four concussions Tommy Bradford incurred while playing football helped make the decision.
“Back then, if you had a concussion, if they could give you the smelling salts and wake you up, you stayed on the field,” Bradford said. “Now they take you to a tent and decide whether to take you to the hospital.”
Bradford said he had one memorable game in which he came running off the field with blood running down his face.
“Where are you going?” Coach Buddy Luper asked him, before turning him around and sending him back into the game.
“Truthfully, it was a different time,” Bradford said. “Every time, I remember who they were and how hard they hit me. It just stuns you.”
Bradford suffered a concussion during practice for the 1964 Shrine Bowl and another in the game itself. When he received an invitation to play in the East-West All-Star football game, he declined, opting instead to play in the East-West All-Star baseball game.

“My father, my brother and I talked,” Bradford said. “They said, ‘Take the baseball.’” As a senior first baseman, and with a freshman phenom from Fayetteville named Chris Cammack, Bradford and the Wolfpack would earn the school’s first-ever appearance in the college World Series in Omaha, Nebraska in 1968. That would stand as the school’s only appearance until 2013.


Bradford got offers to play professionally, but by then he was the married father of two children. Besides, back then, a baseball contract was far from lucrative. ”Things were different back then,” Bradford said. “It wasn’t about money. We were just playing and having fun.”


He came back home and took a job teaching and coaching. On the side, he had a series of vending machines that dispensed postage stamps.
“I’d go Saturday and Sunday and pick up all the money and put the stamps in,” he said.


“When I was making more with the stamp machines than I was teaching, I decided it was time to leave teaching.”


He and Buzz Loyd would eventually go into the movie theater business, with the Bordeaux Theater, only the second multi-screen theater in the state, and later a series of Bojangles restaurants. “In the middle of all that, we started building stuff, and it evolved from there,” he said.


Baseball, he figures, and sports in general, have been good to him. “I’ve formed lifelong relationships,” he said.


“N.C. State has a golf tournament that I still play in every year. There wasn’t ever any money in it. It was just enjoyable.”


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