Razorback Football in Little Rock the day after Thanksgiving

Today, the Arkansas Razorbacks take on the Missouri Tigers at War Memorial Stadium.  It marks the eighth time the Hogs have played in Little Rock on the Friday after Thanksgiving.

(The only time in the War Memorial Stadium era they played on Thanksgiving was 1969. In the late 19th and early 20th Century, they sometimes played in Little Rock on Thanksgiving at West End Park, now the site of Central High School and Quigley Stadium)

The first seven times they played on the Friday after Thanksgiving were against LSU.  While today’s game is also against a team of Tigers, this is the first time they’ve been the Mizzou Tigers.

From the 1940s through the 1980s, the Hogs would sometimes play on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.  It was after joining the SEC that in 1996, they first faced off against LSU on the Friday after Thanksgiving.  That year, they lost to LSU by the score of 17 to 7. The Tigers had been ranked 19 going into the game.  The attendance that year was 22,329.  The game was Danny Ford’s penultimate season as the Hogs head coach.

Two years later, in Houston Nutt’s first season as head coach, the Hogs were ranked Number 13 on November 27, when they defeated LSU 41 to 14 in front of 55,831.  In 2000, the Hogs upset 24th ranked LSU in front of 43,982 by the score of 14 to 3.  The Hogs continued the Little Rock winning streak on the day after Thanksgiving in 2002 when they bested 18th ranked LSU by the score of 21 to 20 in front of 55,553.

The Razorbacks lost to 14th ranked LSU on November 26, 2004 by the score of 43 to 14 in front of 55,829.  In 2006, the Hogs and Tigers were both nationally ranked.  LSU (ranked 9th) upset the 5th ranked Razorbacks by a score of 31 to 26 on November 24 before 55,833 fans.  In Bobby Petrino’s first season as head coach, the Hogs returned to winning ways in 2008 when they defeated LSU on November 28 by a score of 31 to 30 before a crowd of 55,325. This was the first meeting of the two teams on the day after Thanksgiving in which neither team was nationally ranked.

Following that year, the LSU game against the Razorbacks was moved to Fayetteville.

Thanksgiving Day 1957 – final Tigers vs. Wildcats holiday gridiron meeting

Central Tigers dominating the northside Wildcats in 1957

The November 28, 1957, football game on Thanksgiving Day between Little Rock Central and North Little Rock had been poised to be memorable for a few years.

With the 1957 opening of Little Rock Hall High, the Tigers would switch their rivalry on Thanksgiving Day from a cross-river one to a cross-town one starting in 1958.  So the 1957 edition of Tigers vs. Wildcats was set to be historic as the end of a 24 year tradition.

(In its first year, Hall played smaller schools because its team was largely younger.  It would move up to top classification schools in the 1958 season.)

The events at Little Rock Central in September 1957 added a new layer of history to everything that school year.  The 101st Airborne was sent in by President Eisenhower in the evening of September 24 to ensure the Little Rock Nine were able to attend classes.  But President Eisenhower did not intend the Army to be there indefinitely.  On Wednesday, November 27, the soldiers left Little Rock. The National Guard was now charged with keeping the peace at Central.

The first day without the US Army was also Thanksgiving Day, and the final Bengals vs. Cats game.  The sports coverage of this game however belied all the drama off the field. News reports focused on Turkey Day as the final game between the longtime rivals and on the fact that it had a morning start time instead of the traditional afternoon start time.

In the end, the Tigers had the same result as they did in the first Turkey Day meeting: a win.  The Bengals scored 40 while the Cats only managed 7.

After 24 meetings on Thanksgiving Day, Little Rock had 19 wins, 4 losses, and one tie.  Seven times they shut out the Wildcats, and one time the northern team blanked them.  The fewest total points scored were 2 in the 1934 game, while the 1950 game produced a cumulative total of 71 points (LR 64, NLR 7).  The Tigers scored a total of 517 points over 24 games and gave up only 203.

Thanksgiving 1958 – First Hall vs. Central football game on November 27, 1958

An early Central vs. Hall game, though not from 1958

On November 27, 1958, the Central High Tigers and Hall High Warriors faced off for the first time in a Thanksgiving Day football game.

Playing on Thanksgiving had been a Central High tradition since 1914. But for Hall High, in only its second year, this was a new occurrence.  The Tiger-Warrior faceoff on Thanksgiving would be a 25 year tradition.

The games were always played at Quigley Stadium, which was at the time the home stadium for all of the Little Rock School District’s high schools (the third high school Parkview opened in 1968).  Each year Central and Hall would alternate which was the “Home” team.

The week leading to the game would feature skits and pep rallies at both high schools.  Pranks, rumors of pranks, and threats of retribution would abound between the schools.  Cars wrapped in orange and white would circle the Central campus one day, while black and gold cars would encircle Hall’s campus another day.

On game day there would be special performances at the stadium by the drill teams, cheerleaders and bands of both schools.  The Tiger and Warrior mascots would taunt each other.  Friendships between students at the rival schools were put on hold.  It was all about the tradition and THE GAME.  Church services, family dinners and any other activities were scheduled around the festivities at Quigley.

Hall High opened its doors and started playing football in 1957. As a new school with a largely younger student body, it only played smaller schools that initial season.  The first Hall vs. Central game was set for Thanksgiving 1958.

During the 1958-1959 school year, Little Rock’s high schools were closed for the ill-conceived, ill-advised reason to keep them from being integrated schools.  Though classes were not in session, football teams practiced and played.  The Arkansas Gazette noted that most of those games that season drew only 1,000 spectators, which was down from the usual 5,000 to 8,000 a game.

With the future of Little Rock’s high schools in doubt, there was some hand wringing about whether the 1958 game would be not only the first meeting between Hall and Central, but perhaps also the last.  In only its second year of playing, Hall was undefeated and poised to win the state championship heading into the Thanksgiving game.

Central surprised the Warriors by winning 7-0 before a crowd of 5,000, which cost Hall the undefeated season and the championship (El Dorado became state champs).  This game set the tone for the high stakes of the rest of the series.

The next year classes were back in session at Hall and Central. The future of the series was no longer in doubt.

Thanksgiving Look Back: Central and Hall face off in final Thanksgiving Day Football Game in Arkansas

Since the early 1960s, the Arkansas Activities Association had been discouraging the playing of games on Thanksgiving Day.  With the advent of state playoffs, these Thanksgiving games were an interruption.

By 1982, only one such rivalry still existed. The Little Rock Central vs. Little Rock Hall game.  Both schools were in the largest classification (5A) which did not have playoffs.

With the changes of state athletic conference classification, the 1982 game was announced as the final Thanksgiving Day game between Hall and Central. The top two classifications were being combined which would necessitate conferences and playoffs to determine the state champion. This would mean that Hall and Central would need to meet before Thanksgiving.  Going into the game Hall led the series with 13 wins to Central’s 8 wins.

The 1982 edition lived up to the hype.  Played on November 25, 1982, this was the 25th edition of the Hall and Central rivalry. While there was no doubt that Hall would end up with the most wins, Central wanted to make sure that they ended it in the way they started it in 1958 – with a win.

Central boasted a 4-1 record. Pine Bluff and LR Parkview were both 4-1-1. Hall was 3-0-2. As long as Central or Hall won outright, the winner would be state champ. A tie (and there had been three previous ones) would result in a four-way tie for first place.  Hall’s coach C. W. Keopple had led the team since 1964 and amassed a 10-6-1 record against Central.  The Tigers were mentored by Bernie Cox who was 4-3 against the Warriors since taking over in 1975.

Nearly 9,000 fans packed Quigley Stadium for a cold but dry day. As the buzzer sounded after four quarters, the Hall High Warriors were jubilant. They had won the game 14-3 after putting together a nearly flawless offensive effort. The win moved them into first place with a 4-0-2 record. Central, which had sat atop the conference most of the season, ended up in fourth place with a 4-2 record.  The defeat also ended the Tiger’s hopes for a third consecutive championship.  This game, like so many before it, provided high drama and excitement as it confounded some pundits yet also lived up to billing.

And with that, the series concluded.  In the end, Hall had fourteen wins while Central had eight.  There were also three hard-fought ties.  Central achieved four shutouts of Hall, while the Warriors blanked the Tigers three times.  In the twenty-five games, Central scored 228 points, and Hall scored 297 points.

From 1983 until 2005, Hall and Central continued to play each other in football. This time, they played for the ceremonial bell in what became known as “The Battle for the Bell.”  Today, the bell is proudly displayed at Quigley Stadium.  After 2005, Hall moved into a lower classification than Central. This put them on separate trajectories facing different sets of teams.

This year the two teams played a football scrimmage. In 2020 they will face each other in a regular season football game again.

BEYOND THE BIG SHOOTOUT is topic of noon Clinton School program today

Image result for mark mcdonald beyond the big shootout

December 1969 – the top two college football teams in the country faced off in Fayetteville with the national championship on the line.  In the stands were the US President, a future US President and several leaders of congress.

Known as The Big Shootout, it was more than just a football game.  Today (September 24) at noon, author Mark S. McDonald will be discussing his book at that historic game that changed the face of football forever. This is part of the Clinton School’s speaker series and will be held at Sturgis Hall.

Right after the game, your life changed, everything changed … recruiting of black athletes in Dixie, new safety rules in football, tighter crowd control, more TV coverage and bigger money in college athletics … Suddenly, for the Arkansas Razorbacks and Texas Longhorns, and players and coaches nationwide, bulbs on a scoreboard no longer defined them. Instead, life came rushing at them.

In a blur, these superior, highly trained athletes were no longer football stars. They were fathers, community leaders, victims of car wrecks and cancer, businesses and marriages gone bad. Some Saturday’s heroes lost their way, others used football to find faith. The competition took on new and different meaning. Who could have predicted such outcomes?

It’s all here, in words of those who lived this epic journey, supported by dozens of period photos and clever original illustrations from award-winning artist Bill DeOre. In his Beyond The Big Shootout – 50 Years of Football’s Life Lessons, author Mark S. McDonald has emerged from his own football past to create a historical narrative on a giant canvas, unlike any other.

For some, the game itself was cruelly damaging. For others, it brought dance-in-the-street joy. But today, looking back, who really won? Was there really a loser?

After reading this one, you will know.

All Clinton School Speaker Series events are free and open to the public. Reserve your seats by emailing publicprograms@clintonschool.uasys.edu or by calling (501) 683-5239.

Opening of War Memorial Stadium on Sept. 18, 1948

On September 18, 1948, the Arkansas Razorbacks took on Abilene Christian and won the game by a score of 40 to 6.  It was the first game of the season, and the Razorbacks went into the game ranked #13. They maintained that ranking for four weeks before falling out of national standings.  The team ended up with a season record of five wins and five losses. Playing four of their games at War Memorial that season, they were two and two in Little Rock. They were one and two in Fayetteville and amassed a 2-1 record on the road.

Dedication ceremony in 1948. Photo courtesy of the War Memorial Stadium Commission.

Prior to the game, the stadium was dedicated to the veterans of World War I and World War II in a ceremony led by former Razorback standout and Medal of Honor recipient Maurice “Footsie” Britt.

Though Britt would later be known for entering politics and becoming Arkansas’ first Republican Lieutenant Governor, in his college days he was known statewide as an outstanding Razorback football and baseball athlete.  During World War II, his bravery and courage allowed him to become first person in American history to earn all the army’s top awards, including the Medal of Honor, while fighting in a single war.

Also participating in the opening ceremony were a mass of high school marching bands from across the state. Reports indicate up to forty bands were on the field to play the National Anthem as part of the event.

The construction of the stadium had been the brainchild of Razorback coach John Barnhill and Arkansas Secretary of State C. G. “Crip” Hall.  The duo shepherded it through the 1947 Arkansas General Assembly.   As a student at the University, Hall had been a team manager for the Razorbacks and had remained a longtime, active supporter.

In August of 1947, Little Rock was chosen as the location over Hot Springs and North Little Rock. West Memphis had abandoned its bid when it was unable to secure the necessary financial pledges.  Construction started in 1947 and continued up until opening day.  On the day of the game, newspaper photos showed heavy equipment grading the parking lot prior to paving.

The park in which the stadium sat would be renamed War Memorial Park in June 1949 and dedicated by President Harry S. Truman in a nationally-broadcast ceremony from War Memorial Stadium.

How a former Little Rock alderman renamed the Razorback’s stadium

Razorback Stadium as it would have looked when it was Bailey Stadium

What is now known as Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium first opened in September 24, 1938 as University Stadium.  A few days later it was renamed to Bailey Stadium in honor of Arkansas’ then current governor, Carl Bailey.  He had just been renominated to a second two year term and was expected to easily glide to a victory in November over a nominal GOP opponent, which he did.

Two years later, Homer Adkins, a former Little Rock alderman who had been aligned with Bailey foe Joe T. Robinson, challenged Bailey as the latter sought a third term.  Bailey and Adkins had long been opponents, but had never faced off personally.  In the August 1940 primary, Adkins bested Bailey.

The animosity between Bailey and Adkins apparently stemmed from the time that Bailey, as prosecuting attorney, filed charges against a friend of Sen. Robinson.  Though the friend was eventually pardoned, Robinson and his political circle did not forgive Bailey.  The fact that Bailey backed Brooks Hays, who opposed Robinson, did not help matters.  By the mid 1930s, Arkansas Democrats were clustered around either Bailey or Adkins.

Adkins had served on the Little Rock City Council from April 1930 until April 1934.  He previously had been Sheriff of Pulaski County.  At the suggestion of Sen. Robinson, President Roosevelt had appointed Adkins as collector of internal revenue. Given all of the federal programs that took place in Arkansas throughout the 1930s, Adkins was well positioned to strengthen his political network.  He stepped down from the job when he challenged Bailey in 1940.

Obviously, by 1941 the new governor was none too pleased that the football stadium of the state’s flagship university bore the name of his vanquished foe.  By the time the 1941 football season came around, the stadium was known as Razorback Stadium.  It held that name from 1941 until the September 8, 2001, rechristening with its current name.

And what of Adkins and Bailey?  The two longtime foes united to back Sid McMath in his gubernatorial efforts. But the reconciliation was only for political purposes.  However, both lie buried in Roselawn Cemetery in Little Rock.