story by Aric Mitchell
(images courtesy of Steve Wilhelm)
Martine Bercher played at St. Anne's from 1959 through 1961. He graduated in 1962 and attended the University of Arkansas, where he would make a splash on the 1964 National Champion Arkansas Razorbacks, which to date is the only football team from the state to win the coveted crown.
Bercher returned to Fort Smith in his later years and ran Re-Pete's and Three-Pete's restaurants until his death in 2005 at the age of 61.
Most people around the state remember him as a Razorback, but to the class of 1962, Bercher's talents were never on better display than in the 1960 St. Anne Buffaloes football season.
In Week 1 against Clarksville, Bercher scored two of five touchdowns, pacing the blue-and-white to a 31-0 shutout of the Panthers. He racked up another five en route to a 47-6 domination of the Alma Airedales in Week 2. The following week, the Buffs were looking to break the so-called "Paris Jinx."
Until that season, St. Anne's had fallen every time they played on Paris soil. Not this time. Along with Bercher's outstanding rushing game, Jimmy Slater, Jim Yandell, and Bill Nixon contributed a total of 385 rushing yards in the 45-13 victory.
The Mena Bearcats were the next victims, though Bercher took more of a back seat in this contest scoring only once. Yandell punched it in twice, and Gary Udouj and Nixon contributed the other two TDs as the Buffs walked away 31-0 winners.
Coming to the midway point of the season, St. Anne's would be facing a hungry Charleston Tigers team that was still reeling from a 41-0 defacing the previous year. While the 1960 contest would be more respectable for the black-and-gold, and the Tigers would be able to contain Bercher's explosiveness to a degree — he only scored once — they still fell to the Buffs 25-0.
Bercher would return to form the following week against the Ozark Hillbillies, who were able to draw first blood, but ultimately couldn't keep the halfback from scoring four touchdowns. Yandell added two more, giving the Buffs a 42-14 victory and a perfect 6-0 record.
For the home stretch, St. Anne's had to face Muldrow, Clinton, Bentonville, and the always tough Cascia Hall from Tulsa. Three of the next four games would find the Buffs scoring 162 points and allowing only 26 as they defeated Muldrow 44-0, Clinton 65-13, and Bentonville 53-13. Bercher scored in every game.
But Homecoming Week — the final contest of the season — would be the real challenge for the Buffs. In it, Bercher would be a non-factor on offense as the Commandos keyed on him heavily. Nevertheless, Slater and Yandell picked up the slack, scoring one TD apiece.
Gene Sharum also brought a Cascia Hall ball carrier down in the end zone for two points, giving the Buffs a 16-0 shutout and another perfect season (their fourth consecutive). Despite the slow game, Bercher boasted the title of leading scorer in the state for the 1960-1961 season. He racked up 144 points including 23 touchdowns and six successful extra points.
While Bercher's last season would find the Buffs losing for the first time since 1956, it was still an altogether positive year as St. Anne's finished 7-1-1 and Bercher received All-District and All-State honors. In 1994, he was named to the University of Arkansas' All Century Team. That was long after having achieved All-American status under the guidance of Arkansas Head Coach Frank Broyles.
Bercher was in his sophomore season playing defensive back when the Hogs won it all. Following his stint in Northwest Arkansas, he was drafted in the late rounds of the 1967 NFL Draft. He would play only two seasons of professional football: the first would be for the Atlanta Falcons and the second with the Minnesota Vikings.
Bercher was dropped in August of 1967 before resuming his career with the Vikings, who made the NFL playoffs for the first time in the program's history. He had little to do with the success the Vikings experienced that year, going on to win the Central Division of the Western Conference with the infamous Purple People Eater Defense. The Vikings lost to the Baltimore Colts in the Western Conference Championship. (This was the year of Super Bowl III and Joe Namath's famous victory guarantee for the New York Jets.)
Even though Bercher's time as a player ended in 1968, he would not be gone from the sport for long. He accepted an offer as teacher and assistant football coach in 1969 at Little Rock Catholic, where he would stay until 1972. At that time, Bercher moved back to Fort Smith to attend to his wife Carole's ailing father.
Upon returning home from NFL life, Bercher, a one-time recipient of the Buffalo Award, would discover that his alma mater had not forgotten about him. The Award, which was given for "sportsmanship and leadership on the athletic field," according to The Grottonian (St. Anne's yearbook), was renamed the Martine Bercher Award in 1968, and held the name until the school closed in 1973.