For just under a decade, Alex Dees walked 17.5 miles a day delivering the mail in his hometown of Philadelphia as part of a 33-year career with the U.S. Postal Service.
On his rounds, Dees gave away gum he carried for children. He doted on postal patrons who were aged or handicapped. Soft-spoken, he wore his uniform – short pants and all – with pride and good humor.
My late mother always appreciated having Alex wait on her at the post office. But what many people in his hometown – especially younger people and newcomers – didn’t know was that Dees had worn another uniform before he wore the uniform of a small town postal employee.
Pound-for-pound, Alex Dees may well have been the best college football player to grow up in Philadelphia. How can one make that claim about someone from Marcus Dupree’s hometown?
Read on. Dees signed a scholarship with Memphis State University after graduating from Philadelphia High School in 1965. At 6 feet, 200 pounds, Dees was undersized for a defensive end even in that era. But during his three years on the MSU varsity (freshmen couldn’t play varsity back then) from 1966-68, Dees started every game. He led the Tigers in tackles his junior and senior seasons.
Playing for Coach Billy “Spook” Murphy’s Tigers, Dees was Missouri Valley Conference lineman of the week four times. He was twice chosen to the All-MVC team. Dees and future NFL Hall of Famer “Mean” Joe Greene of the Pittsburgh Steelers were the only two unanimous All-MVC picks in conference history.
Explaining why Houston ran almost every play against Memphis to the right side in 1968, Coach Bill Yeoman replied: “That’s easy. There’s no sense proving your courage against that No. 82 (Dees). He’s a stud. He’s a great player.” In that game (a loss), Dees still turned in 10 tackles and 4 assists. Against the University of Southern Mississippi, Dees recorded 16 solo tackles in a single game.
But it was from the Ole Miss-Memphis series that Dees has his best memories.
In 1967, seven former Philadelphia High School Tornadoes teammates faced each other in that game – Larry Thomas, Jim Haddock, Jim Parkes and Frank Trapp for Ole Miss and Ferrell Skinner, Alex Dees and his brother Bobby Dees for Memphis.
With Alex Dees a key factor, Memphis defeated Ole Miss that year 27-17 for the first time since the series began in 1921.
After his senior year, Dees signed a pro football contract with the Canadian Football League’s Saskatchewan Roughriders, but his relative lack of size finally caught up with him. He returned home to family and friends.
Time passed. His press clippings faded. He married, had three children and later three grandchildren. He buried his father in 2005. His mother, Burnice, is now 80.
He became a humble mailman.
Last Friday, Alex Dees was inducted to the University of Memphis “M” Club Hall of Fame. Miss Burnice, brother Bobby, and the grandkids were all there.
So were about 30 friends – including those former PHS teammates who had played with and against Alex at Memphis and Ole Miss.
“I can’t tell you how them being there made me feel,” said Dees. “When you get to this stage of life, those friendships and your family are the things that really matter.”
Contact syndicated columnist Sid Salter at (601) 961-7084 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.