ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
some text
File photo / Bobby Hoppe is considered one of Chattanooga Central High's all-time best football players, after averaging 300 yards per game as a junior in the 1953 season. He went from Central to Auburn and later played with the NFL San Francisco 49ers and Washington Redskins.

Bobby Hoppe was a star football player at Chattanooga Central, where he led the team to state titles in 1951, 1952 and 1953, and later at Auburn University, where he was a storied running back on the 1957 championship team.

He was also a man that carried a secret for much of his adult life, and that story will be told in the latest SEC Storied documentary "The Trials of Bobby Hoppe," set to premiere at 7 p.m. Thursday on SEC Network.

According to her book, "A Matter of Conscience: Redemption of a Hometown Hero, Bobby Hoppe," Hoppe's wife Sherry Hoppe wrote that her late husband was tormented for years after killing a man in self-defense in 1957 during the summer between his junior and senior years at Auburn.

She said in 2011 while promoting her book to a local civic group that on July 20, 1957, Hoppe drove down a steep, winding road in North Chattanooga when a car with its headlights on suddenly appeared behind him. He said later that he thought it was friends playing a prank, but as the driver pulled alongside and pointed a pistol at his head, Hoppe realized it was his sister's ex-boyfriend, a known whiskey runner. A shot was fired, the car fell back and Hoppe fled for his life.

The man, Don Hudson, reportedly gave chase and Hoppe eventually shot and killed him, though he wasn't indicted for the killing until 1987, when a Chattanooga grand jury indicted Hoppe in the shooting. It was one of America's first cold-case trials.

(READ MORE: Central High School to induct first class for athletics Hall of Fame)

A Los Angeles Times story previewing the trial told a different tale, writing that Hudson was on his way home after a night of delivering liquor when he was ambushed and shot in the head. No one was arrested, and most people, the story said, quickly forgot about the troubled young man, but his mother didn't.

She kept on the police, telling them that her son was killed by a prominent local football hero who didn't like Hudson seeing his sister. A local minister to whom Hoppe had confessed the killing eventually broke his oath and told police of Hoppe's confession, leading to the indictment.

The trial became a national media event that ended with a hung jury. Noted defense attorney Bobby Lee Cook of Georgia defended the football star and coach. The secret had haunted Hoppe for three decades before coming to light, according to his former wife.

The ESPN one-hour documentary is directed by Fritz Mitchell and produced by Andy Billman, and it looks at both the triumphant Tigers and the anguish Hoppe's secret caused the star.

(READ MORE: Bobby Lee Cook, legendary Georgia attorney, dead at 94)

"It's a story from another time, and one with which I was unfamiliar," Mitchell said in a news release. "On the surface, the Auburn team of '57 was making an unlikely journey to a national championship. A layer beneath, their star halfback was being tested off the field in ways no one could imagine. I wanted to explore who Hoppe was and what really happened on Bell Street in Chattanooga that warm summer night."

Mitchell is an Emmy and Peabody award-winning filmmaker who has directed and produced documentaries for ESPN and PBS since 1998, including two films for the celebrated "30 for 30" series – "The Legend of Jimmy the Greek" and "Ghosts of Ole Miss." His more recent work includes the acclaimed eight-part/12-hour documentary "Saturdays in the South: A History of SEC Football" for ESPN's "College Football 150" project and the "SEC Storied" series.

Billman is an Emmy, NAACP and Peabody award-winning producer with a passion for sports and storytelling, who directed the documentaries "The Stars Are Aligned" for the launch of SEC Network and "Believeland" as part of "30 for 30."

Contact Barry Courter at bcourter@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6354.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT