Celebrating Athletic Excellence: Conway County – Bud Mobley

By Dr. Robert Reising

He was a star on one of the most spectacular teams ever fielded in The Natural State. With John Bryce “Bud” Mobley as their “ground-clearing workhorse,” the 1945 Arkansas Tech University “Wonder Boys” demolished every opponent on their schedule, enjoying one of the most memorable seasons in the annals of American intercollegiate football. Simultaneously, Bud and his teammates created a unique chapter in the playbook of Arkansas’s favorite fall sport.

The 1945 Arkansas Tech “Wonder Boys.” Most of the squad was fresh from WWII or about to see duty.

Most of the 48-player squad was fresh from World War II military service or about to see duty during “The Korean Conflict”; Bud was among the former. Born in Morrilton on August 11, 1920, he spent all of his years there prior to his 1939 enrollment in Russellville’s two-year institution. The middle son of Max James and Mary Ellen Mobley, his father in the construction business, his mother a stay-at-home mom, Bud thrived in his love- and activity-filled family setting. He also fared well educationally, with football quickly becoming his favorite extracurricular pursuit. At Morrilton High, his gridiron skills were so accomplished that he twice earned All-State honors.

Within months of his 1939 graduation, he was a “Wonder Boy,” and by season’s end he had earned, in his daughter’s words, “a letter as a skinny back-up tackle” on a team claiming the Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference title. In the same year, too, he joined the National Guard, a move that would later catapult him to far greater gridiron acclaim. But a second academic year and an uneventful football season intervened, complete with another letter for Bud.

In January 1941, his unit was activated, an event featured in nationally circulated LIFE magazine. Soon after, Bud’s unit moved to Tacoma, Washington. Weeks later, built around 14 “Wonder Boys,” Bud among them, a talented West Coast football team emerged, destined to sweep “through service competition without a reverse.” They christened themselves the “Arkansas Travelers,” and claimed their first 6 games by scoring 221 points to 6 against. 

They were a media delight, as popular as they were powerful. Ray Peters, also from Morrilton, was an indispensable starter, and Dumas’s Aubrey “Cobb” Fowler a dynamic running back. Bud, however, was unique. According to a Dec. 7, 1941, article in the Arkansas Gazette, he was “modest and [a] non-publicity seeker … never found when the photographers swarm into a practice session.” Yet, “Mobley has been responsible for more yards and touchdowns than as if he had carried the ball.”

The article said that fan interest continued to grow as the Khaki Bowl of December 13, 1941, neared. The contest at the University of Washington Stadium — pitting the formidable Moffett Field team from California against “the Cinderella Team” of Fort Lewis in Washington, the “Arkansas Travelers” — would decide “the service championship of the Pacific coast.” A massive crowd was anticipated, headed by the governor of Washington, who had been formally invited by Seattle’s mayor.

On December 12, with both teams in Seattle “ready for action, and public interest at a steam-heat pitch,” military officials in California cancelled the contest. The nation was at war, those officials declared, and the men scheduled to compete would instead join “the boys who will bear the brunt of the fighting within the next few months.”

They did, and until war’s end, they were proud members of America’s “Greatest Generation,” patriotic warriors defending the nation they loved. By 1945, with the Axis powers defeated, they returned to their studies and gridiron efforts, hardened, experienced, mature. What they had visited upon military rivals, and aided by promising newcomers, the “Wonder Boys” of 1945 inflicted upon intercollegiate foes, a record-setting juggernaut that quickly amazed fans everywhere. “Cobb” Fowler, later a professional star, continued his mind-boggling running and Ray Peters his stellar line play. Now 220 pounds of military muscle, Bud was again an asset with his bone-jarring blocking. In under 60 days, the trio led coach John Tucker’s team to another AIC Championship and defeated their eight opponents by a cumulative score of 311 to 6. All-American Fowler accounted for 102 points and team substitutes surrendered the lone touchdown. Such lopsidedness was seldom to be seen again in intercollegiate play.

Earning his Tech degree in 1946 and marrying a year later, Bud spent the bulk of his remaining years as a sales representative for Marquette Cement of Memphis while enjoying his expertise and reputation as a Morrilton-area barbecue specialist. Duck hunting and fishing also brought him many pleasurable hours and yummy suppers for his five children. 

A Roman Catholic and Boy Scout leader, Bud passed away on December 22, 1973, forever to be respected in Conway County and the 501.

Bob Reising