Sept. 22, 2015
By Brad Muller | More Features
Lou Sossamon's life has all the makings of a Hollywood movie. He was South Carolina's first Associated Press All-American in 1942. He married a cheerleader, served in the United States Navy during World War II, played professional football, was a newspaper publisher and has represented his alma mater in several important capacities. With all of that history, Sossamon is most concerned with the present.
"You have to enjoy the moment, because it's all of you have," Sossamon said. "Once it is gone, that's it. It's gone."
The 94-year-old Sossamon gets around like a man twenty years younger. He is a regular at South Carolina home football games, and still maintains a solid frame that reminds you he was a formidable force on both sides of the gridiron as a center and linebacker. Among his best memories of playing at South Carolina was the 18-14 victory over No. 14 Clemson on "Big Thursday" in 1941.
Sossamon came to Columbia from Gaffney, South Carolina, and played for Head Coach Rex Enright from 1940-1942. Freshmen weren't allowed to play on the varsity team, but he met the love of his life the following year.
"It was my first game my sophomore year," Sossamon recalled. "In the first few minutes of the game, I was looking over to the sidelines at a cheerleader. I saw that young lady, and she was so pretty. Coach Enright called timeout and called me over to the sideline. He said, `Lou, since this is your first varsity game and you have a lot to learn, I'm going to try to help you. The first thing is, when you're out there on that grass with all the white stripes on it and there are those things on either end called goals posts - that is a football field. You're supposed to be playing football, and not watching the cheerleaders.' "
That cheerleader was Kathryn Edgerton, whom he affectionately calls 'Kat.' The two would marry and start a family shortly after he graduated with daughters Kit and Polly, and a son, Cody. The couple enjoyed "65 years and four days" together before she passed away several years ago.
Sossamon's collegiate career was capped by his being named to the AP All-American squad in 1942. Although he was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers, his professional football career was put on-hold as he served his country in the U.S. Navy during World War II.
"I had been home for the weekend when the war started," Sossamon said. "In those days, I always went to my hometown in Gaffney and back by thumb -- hitchhiking. I caught a ride back into Columbia and the fella had his radio on, and the news came on that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. I had signed up for the Navy ROTC program at the university and was waiting for my time to go. When I was done with school, I went through boot camp at Bainbridge in Maryland. Then I served on a destroyer escort. I was at Pearl Harbor for a short while. We were training for the invasion of Japan."
Being at Pearl Harbor a few years after the initial Japanese attack was a moving experience.
"We learned a lot about the invasion by talking to the people who were there," Sossamon said. "You could see parts of the ships that had been bombed sticking out of the water."
Being away from his new bride wasn't easy. While he was stationed at Pearl Harbor, Kat gave birth to the couple's first child, Kit. He wouldn't be able to see his daughter until she was nearly three months old.
"We were all anxious to get home, but we had a duty to take care of until the war ended," Sossamon said. "I was very happy to try to do my part."
During his time in the Navy, Sossamon played on several armed services all-star football teams. When the war ended, he was shipped to California where he was asked to play in a charity exhibition game sponsored by legendary entertainer, Bob Hope.
"Bob Hope told me he could get me home quicker than the Navy could from here," Sossamon said. "We would have had to ride the train from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., to get home. That could have taken two weeks. So after the exhibition game, Bob Hope said he would fly me with him and his people into El Paso, Texas, where he was putting on a show. The next morning he put me on another plane that took me to Montgomery, Alabama. Then I caught a bus into Orangeburg where my wife was staying."
"We were all anxious to get home, but we had a duty to take care of until the war ended. I was very happy to try to do my part.
After rubbing elbows with Bob Hope and getting acquainted with his new baby, Sossamon played professional football for three years with the New York Yankees of the All-American Football Conference, which would later merge with the National Football League in the 1950s. While there, he became good friends with Yankee baseball legend Yogi Berra. Sossamon scored his one and only professional touchdown in 1947, but was humbled shortly afterwards.
"We were playing the Buffalo Bills and I picked up a fumble and ran about 48 yards for a touchdown," Sossamon recalled. "I threw the ball down and looked at the sidelines thinking I was going to be cheered a whole lot. My coach told me to get back in there and center the ball for the extra point. I remember that very well."
Sossamon and the Yankees played the Cleveland Browns for the league championship in 1946 and 1947.
"My pro contract my last year was $12,500, and my wife spent every penny of it," Sossamon chuckled. "I played against Otto Graham. We played in Cleveland in December, and it was cold. The ground was frozen. Our share for the whole team for playing in the championship game was $24,000. So we got about $655 per person."
Sossamon spent the off-season working in the family business, selling newspaper advertising. He followed in his father's footsteps and was later the publisher of the family-owned newspaper, The Gaffney Ledger from 1969-1999.
"My grandfather founded the newspaper in Gaffney after working at The State in Columbia when it first opened," Sossamon said. "My father had the newspaper for a while later, then I had it, and now my son, Cody, has it. So it's been in the family for four generations."
Sossamon was selected to the USC Association of Lettermen's Athletics Hall of Fame in 1968, alongside his coach, Rex Enright. Sossamon still found plenty of time to serve his alma mater. He was a member of the university's board of trustees and was the chair of the intercollegiate athletics committee when South Carolina received an invitation to join the Southeastern Conference in 1990. In 2013, the Tutoring Room at the Dodie Academic Enrichment Center was named in the honor of Lou and Kat Sossamon by their three children.
Sossamon still comes to most South Carolina home football games with members of his family. With all that he's seen and done, it's family that matters the most to him. He misses his wife every day, but said he is still enjoying life.
"We had 65 years of marriage, and that was the best thing in my life," Sossamon said. "I like to be with my grandchildren. I have eight grandchildren and 12 great grandchildren. I like it when they visit. I also visit with them on the computer and chat with them that way. I enjoy that very much."
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