Get Rich or Lie Trying: The Life of Wolfgang Halbig

Part 2: Gridiron Daze

Wolfgang’s First Grudge (Sophomore Year: 1970-1971)

While Wolfgang Halbig officially exited the armed services in the summer of 1970, he continued working at Dyess Air Force Base for awhile, as a lifeguard and swimming instructor for the Officer’s Club. The Florida State University scholarship he’d been offered prior to his surprise enlistment wasn’t on the table anymore, but that was okay. He wasn’t looking to move back home, Abilene suited him just fine.

His first choice for a place to relaunch his college football career was McMurry College, on the south end of town. He visited the campus in February 1970, ahead of his discharge in the summer, and spoke to Buddy Fornes, the head football coach there, inquiring about a scholarship. Fornes told him to come to their spring tryout camp.

Wolfgang believed his record was proof enough that he deserved a scholarship. He was offended, actually. So he inquired at his second choice, and McMurry’s cross-town football rival, Abilene Christian College. Their head coach Walling Bullington did indeed sign him that same month, saying “Wolfgang has the ability to become an outstanding college player… I think his experience as an athlete in the service will be a great asset to him.” He planned to use Wolfgang “primarily as an outside linebacker” on the Abilene Wildcats.

Wolfgang told the newspaper's sports reporter in 1970 that he moved from Germany at 16 instead of 12 for some reason. (Strange anomaly and probably a conspiracy)

Wolfgang majored in Science at ACC, with minors in History and Physical Education.

By the time the football schedule began in early September, he had been shifted to 2nd-string tight end, and played only briefly in the opening game, catching two passes for 21 yards. But Coach Bullington told the papers he “liked what he saw” in Halbig and that he’d get more time soon.

It turned out this was because, by happenstance, their starting tight end got a separated shoulder, and would be out for the rest of the year. So Wolfgang would start after all, for the rest of the season.

The Wildcats suffered a hard loss in a Halloween-night game against Arkansas State, including two incomplete passes to Halbig, but they bounced back the following week against Drake University, with five completions from Wolfgang. He also suffered a “severely bruised kidney” in that game.

Wolfgang impresses his coach early in the 1970 season (Abilene Reporter Nov 10 1970)

He’d be anxious to get back on the field: the Wildcats were due to face their arch-rivals, the McMurry Indians, at the end of November. And he wanted to show McMurry’s Coach Fornes that he’d made a mistake in not signing him.

The two teams had faced off in 37 games from 1930-1969, with ACC holding a 22-15 edge. And when that year’s game came around, ACC did indeed bring home another victory, 43-26. With that, they officially ended the season with a 9-2 record. And Wolfgang himself had three pass completions in the game and a first-down. He wasn’t satisfied with his performance overall, though: “I didn’t have a great game, but they knew I could play ball,” he’d tell reporters. He was already looking forward to next season, hungry to do better against McMurry in a rematch.

That was assuming he’d be in the game at all, though; the tight end with the separated shoulder was all better now and expected to rejoin the team as Starter. And when the Southland All-Conference team was announced in December, ten Wildcats players made the list… but Wolfgang only got “Honorable Mention.” It looked like he might be spending more time on the bench next year. But not if he had any say in the matter.

Ten excellent ACC Wildcats players receive honors, and also Wolfgang's name is mentioned (Abilene Reporter Dec 6 1970)

Then, sometime in the spring of 1971, Wolfgang was reading the Abilene Reporter-News and saw his name mentioned: sports columnist Carl Dingler wrote that Wolfgang had been moved to starting fullback for the fall season, and “should add power if the coaches leave him there.” He called up the reporter, and was emphatic that there was no “if”: Wolfgang was a lock for starting fullback. Period.

Wolfgang Halbig of Abilene Christian College telephoned to report he WILL be the Wildcats’ fullback this fall… Halbig was somewhat upset over the statement as he is confident he will be at full-back. We did not know anything Wolfgang didn’t know so will concede, Wolfgang, that you will be the starting fullback. However, the information on the possibility that he might be switched comes from the coaches breakdown on next season’s prospects. (Abilene Reporter-News May 15, 1971)

In the summer, Wolfgang is reported to be working out hard, gearing up for the “Bulling Three-Mile,” a workout in which all prospective players must run three miles in 21 minutes. Seven minutes per mile. Wolfgang was particularly determined to clear the test because he almost wasn’t a starting player at all the previous season. “No second team for me, I want to start.” The same article notes that he continued working at the Dyess officer’s club pool over the summer.

The next month, Wolfgang appears in the press for a different reason: he had shared a humorous story about the difficulty he had in impressing his mother with his onside-kicking skills since the native German had no understanding of the game (and didn’t grasp that such kicks are supposed to be short):

A confused Gertrude Halbig comments on her son's kicking abilitity

Creeper Vibes (Junior Year: 1971-1972)

Drills for the upcoming season started in August 1971, and Wolfgang gave it his all: he even re-injured his kidney during a pre-season scrum. Coverage of the incident records that Wolfgang had by then earned a nickname on the team, reflecting his national origins (in a coarse and poorly-aged manner): “Kraut.”

Halbig injures his kidney in desperate attempt to secure a starting position for his Junior year at ACC

He had a lot to prove: despite his “correction” to the sports reporter back in May, he was not a lock for starting fullback for this year. He was indeed slotted for that position, but he’d be competing with another player, Jim Lee Williams, to start. The Abilene Reporter-News published a story reporting on Wolfgang in early September, that detailed this jockeying for the same position:

Halbig poses for a Sep 8 1971 profile by the Abilene Reporter

It is the first known, detailed profile on Halbig, and it includes a number of insights as to his plans and mindset at the time:

  • For some reason, he again claims that he emigrated from Germany at age 16, instead of the truth, which is that he was 12
  • On switching positions, he says, “Changing from tight end to fullback there’s not much difference because you do catch the ball and we have a running backfield”
  • About his competitor for starting fullback, Jim Lee Williams, Halbig says, “He’s just taller and weights a little more, but we’re at about the same level… As to the quality of ball player I don’t think he’s that much better than I am.”
  • Halbig sees himself as “quicker” than Williams
  • He “expresses no qualms at not liking the idea of being a utility man,” that being a player who is skilled at multiple positions— and not necessarily excelling at any of them
  • “I want them to realize that I do have the potential to be a good ballplayer”
  • He does not have aspirations to play professionally, though. “I’m more interested in teaching and going into coaching…. I think by the time I graduate from Abilene Christian College I’m going to enjoy looking forward to going out, making a living, teaching the kids what I know.”

Even as this article was being published, there was proof on the gridiron that Wolfgang had failed in his competition with Jim Lee Williams, and that the article from Carl Dingler back in May had it right all along: he was not the starting fullback for the 1971-1972 season.

Wolfgang Halbig failing to make starting fullback in his Sophomore year at ACC (Abilene News-Reporter Sep 2 1971)
Starting fullback for the 1971-1972 Wildcats, superstar athlete Jim Lee Williams (notable for also being not-Wolfgang Halbig, but instead a completely different dude)

It surely stung Wolfgang to have lost the battle, given how much he had invested himself in making the starting lineup. Still, he would see plenty of play from the second string. And when called upon, he did fine. Adequate. “Workman-like,” one could say. Not the big fish he had been in the small pond of Avon Park High School, but not embarrassing either.

If there was any confirmation needed on this point, it came on September 11, 1971. On that day, the arch-rival Wildcats and Indians clashed once again. In the latest entry in their storied rivalry—the very same event that Wolfgang had been looking forward to ever since his underwhelming (but perfectly adequate) 1970 performance, and his attempt to humble McMurry for spurning his gifts—Wolfgang was ready… except it didn’t matter at as far as Wolfgang Halbig was concerned. He rode the bench for the entire game. Not a factor at all.

Halbig would continue to play 2nd string, at a perfectly acceptable level of skill—but nobody would ever again waste their time writing profiles of him in the context of playing sports.

And so Wolfgang was smart not to have dreams of playing pro ball. He wasn’t that good, and he must have figured that much out by 1972.

He did like being in the newspaper, though. And he liked hanging around in schools. Plus he’d been teaching fitness classes back at the air force base for years, and knew he could do it well; if he fulfilled his goals of becoming a football coach at a high school somewhere, he could assume a position of authority over those around him.

Something about that concept appealed to him. But he had another year at ACC to go.

Wolfgang needed knee surgery in January of 1972, after an injury suffered in the “Purple and White” scrimmage game.

Hospital records show Wolfgang's surgery stay in January 1972
Wolfgang talks about his knee surgery in his 2012 deposition

He would be on the shelf for the first few weeks of the season. It doesn’t seem he was really missed.

In the meantime, one thing can be said with confidence about Wolfgang Halbig in 1972: He was really, really horny. And it seems like everyone at ACC knew about it.

There was a campus newspaper at Abilene Christian College, the Optimist, and on September 10, 1971, the satirical column “Random Notes” published a “list of freshman women” whom sophomore Wolfgang Halbig supposedly said was “the most datable”:

A (satirical) list of Wolfgang's top "datable" freshmen, from Fall 1971

Since this was sort of the local version of National Lampoon at the time, it’s tough to know exactly what the joke is. It seems unlikely Wolfgang provided any such “list”, and the names don’t seem to match actual students from the yearbook from 1971-1972. Maybe it’s nothing.

Further in that same class-of-1972 yearbook, there’s a section about “bushing.” It’s all photos of couples kissing.

Photos from the "Bushing" section of ACU's 1972 yearbook

…kind of weird, just as something to put in a yearbook.

Helpfully, 32 years later, the same yearbook (produced by the 2004 class at ACC, by then renamed ACU) actually explained this forgotten bit of 1970s Texas slang very succinctly:

A yearbook from 2004 explains the "award" that Wolfgang received in 1972

As it turns out, Wolfgang himself is the context of that quoted section. The actual page from back in the 1972 yearbook, given the framing of the photo, actually seems to depict him in mid-recuperation from his knee surgery:

1972's ACC yearbook The Prickly Pear shows Wolfgang Halbig winning a trophy for PDA

Well, those two things put together, the list of names and the “award” for making out in public… I dunno. I’m kind of skeeved out. Just in my, Blade’s, opinion: As of this point in his story, in 1972, I wouldn’t trust this dude. Just saying. He’s gross.

Anyway, it’s probably just a quirky local story from the 1970s that aged poorly. Probably won’t come up again or have any significant impact on Wolfgang’s life path at all. Whatever.

Awkward Exit (Senior Year: 1972-1973)

Wolfgang continued to be a utility player—the very thing he so vocally resented the year before—for the remaining year of his time on the ACC roster. He bounced around from wingback to fullback, to placekicker as needed. The team continued to perform, despite his decreasing contributions.

A gala event in May of 1973 recognizes Wolfang, with his mother in attendance

As graduation day approached, Wolfgang developed an exit plan. He had decided he was going to say goodbye to Texas, and return to central Florida, the region where he grew up after his exit from Germany. Where his mother still lived. He’d applied for, and was accepted to, a coaching position on the football team at Lake Brantley High School, the next town over.

Wolfgang summarizes his first stint at Lake Brantley, in 1973 (from his 2012 deposition)

But then, six months into the school year at Lake Brantley, and just as everything seemed to be going according to plan… Wolfgang made a surprise change. He wasn’t going to be a coach, nor would he be a teacher.

He was gonna be a cop. 

There’s really nothing in the third-party sources explain this surprise move. But, in his 2012 deposition, Wolfgang would attempt to give an explanation. Here, even the attorney seems to get a migraine, trying to understand how Wolfgang’s horniness levels somehow required him to make a major career move:

Wolfgahg describes his exit from coaching at Lake Brantley High, pt 2

This change in career path seems extremely sudden, and bizarre in its rationale. Combining Wolfgang’s explanation for the move, with his conduct just the year previous, when he was still on a college football team rather than coaching high schoolers, it sounds to me like something really, really gross happened at Lake Brantley High during those six months. Maybe something involving “bushing” that got out of hand. I don’t know. I wasn’t there. I wasn’t even born yet actually.

I guess all I can say is that it’s something Wolfgang Halbig could clear up anytime, if he wanted to. But he never has.

Anyway. In the meantime, Wolfgang was ready for the next phase of his adventure: patrolling the highways of Florida, while wearing a badge.

(continued in part 3: Police Quest)

Austin “Blade” Tompkins is a certified forklift and order-picker operator located in the province of Ontario. He was an active Sandy-Hook “hoaxer” from 2013 to 2014. He has been sober since 2015.

(Also, as a proud Canadian, your humble author has little understanding of sports outside of hockey and curling. Apologies if he botched any football terms/rules here, it probably wont be the last time)