Thursday, November 28, 2013

'Same Way Turkey Day'

      We will count our blessings today, and we hopefully will count a lot of Dallas Cowboys' points late this afternoon into evening.
       I don't intend to overeat and I don't intend to over-indulge on football. Both are easy to do on Thanksgiving Day.
       The traditional Thanksgiving meal is a feast, and so is the football menu. My extensive research for this piece -- that was maybe five minutes -- shows that football has been played on this day since the Pilgrims arrived ... well, since the start of college football more than 100 years ago.
       If I recall correctly, Texas vs. Texas A&M was a Thanksgiving Day tradition. Now, of course, they no longer play each other (for the time being). But Texas still wants to play at home on Thanksgiving, and so tonight Texas Tech is the opponent, and next year LSU will be at Texas A&M on Thanksgiving.
        Of course, we more closely identify Thanksgiving football with the NFL. Today will be the 74th time that Detroit will be the host for the early game (the tradition began in 1934). The Cowboys have played the afternoon game since 1966 (with the exception of 1975 and 1977, when the then-St. Louis Cardinals were the attraction).
         In 2006, a third Thanksgiving game -- at night -- was added. Geez, did we really need that?
         But -- and this is mostly for my old friends from Shreveport -- when I first identified with football on Thanksgiving Day, it meant Byrd vs. Fair Park.
---
         For about 30 years, it was Yellow Jackets vs. Indians on Thanksgiving afternoon at State Fair Stadium. It was our "Game of the Year" every year; it drew the biggest crowds of the year (probably 25,000 to 30,000), and almost always determined which team was going to the state playoffs.
         I know that Minden vs. Springhill and Homer vs. Haynesville were Thanksgiving Day regulars through the 1930s, '40s, '50s and into the '60s, and there probably were other traditional rivalries on that day throughout the state ... and the nation.
         For instance, I know the two oldest public high schools in Jacksonville, Fla. -- where I worked for several years -- played on Thanksgiving Day. Lee vs. Jackson was the big attraction at the Gator Bowl Stadium, the one where the men and boys wore suits; the women dressed fancily and wore corsages; and each team talked and thought about beating the other every day of the year.
            Same with Byrd and Fair Park.
            It was purple and gold, The City of Byrd, vs. yellow and black, the Tribe from The Reservation.
Lee Hedges, Fair Park's star running back in 1947, playing against
 Byrd on Thanksgiving Day (photo from Ernie Roberson's
 timeline collectionon Facebook; he got it from a Fair Park site)
       Lee Hedges was one of Fair Park's biggest stars as a player in the late 1940s, an assistant coach there in 1955 and the Byrd head coach from '56 to '59, and went on to be the winningest head coach in Shreveport-Bossier high school football history. On a recent two-part series on Shreveport's KTBS-TV (Channel 3) about his career, the first topic was this rivalry.
             "We never talked about championships at Fair Park," Coach Hedges said. "We talked about beating Byrd on Thanksgiving Day. That was the main goal. Anything beyond that I don't remember them talking about that very much.
             My Woodlawn friends will swear that our rivalry with Byrd in the 1960s was unmatched. And it was an intense rivalry. But I'd be hard-pressed to call it a bigger rivalry than Byrd-Fair Park over all those years.
            Those schools came into being almost together -- Byrd opened in the fall of 1926, Fair Park in 1928. It was, and maybe this is a cliche', a cultural clash.
           Byrd was just a couple of miles from downtown with an upscale enrollment, sons and daughters of doctors and lawyers, oil and gas execs, one-time debutantes turned Junior Leaguers, and the city's politicians, movers and shakers. It was a school known for academic achievement -- and its leaders didn't mind bragging about it.
          Fair Park was the school out west of town -- right across from the State Fairgrounds and State Fair Stadium, with hard-scrabble kids whose parents were blue-collar workers, and some of the kids actually had to come into the city limits to go to school.
           Woodlawn, which opened in 1960 as the third white public high school in town, was much more like Fair Park than Byrd. 
            But let's tone this down, and be realistic. Byrd had its less-fortunate kids; Fair Park had its well-to-do kids. Still, the feeling was Fair Park (and later Woodlawn) was "the other side of the tracks." 
            So feelings, and maybe jealousy, ran deep.
---
             I came into the rivalry late; I had never seen a high school game in any sport until my ninth-grade year (fall 1961). I had read about Byrd and Fair Park in the newspaper and two of the older kids who lived across the street had gone to Fair Park, but I knew little about the depth of the rivalry.
             As the Thanksgiving Day game approached, Byrd always had "Go West Day" when its students dressed up as cowboys. Fair Park had "Beat Byrd Day" when its kids dressed as Indians and teepees were built on the front lawn in front of the school.
             And so, I saw one Byrd-Fair Park football game on Thanksgiving Day ... the last one, in 1962. Byrd clinched the district championship with a resounding 28-0 victory and got the only playoff spot from District 1-AAA (only the champions advanced), leaving -- yes -- Woodlawn in second place.
             (That day, in 1962, also was one of the most memorable Detroit Lions' Thanksgiving Day games. From 1951 to 1963, the Lions' opponent for that game each year was the Green Bay Packers. In 1962, the Packers were the defending NFL champs and came in 10-0. But the Lions sacked Bart Starr 11 times -- beat him up, really -- and beat the Pack 26-14. How notable was it? It was the only game Green Bay lost all season.)
             A vivid memory of that Byrd-Fair Park game in '62: Some Fair Park students boldly crossed over to the Byrd side of the stadium -- Fair Park always was on the stadium's East side, closest to the school across the street -- and stole the papier mache Jack the Jacket mascot.
            They damn near got it to the top of the stadium and were going to send Jack flying to the ground before a Byrd posse got there and saved Jack's crown. It wasn't that funny. But Byrd did get the last laugh on the football field.
             Starting in 1963, the Louisiana High School Athletic Association state football playoffs expanded, with the second-place team in each district also advancing. That meant starting the playoffs earlier, and so Thanksgiving Day was too late for a regular-season game.
             Byrd vs. Fair Park became just another final regular-season night game.
 ---
             Here, though, is one endearing memory from the Byrd-Fair Park rivalry. This was a Byrd student section special.
             Because in the early '60s, Byrd regularly beat Fair Park in football and because Byrd also had Fair Park's number in basketball -- at one point Byrd won 21 of 22 in the series (even in the 1962-63 season when Fair Park won the state title, Byrd won four of the teams' five meetings) -- the Byrd student section during those heated basketball games regularly taunted Fair Park with this chant, "Same Way Turkey Day! ... Same Way Turkey Day!"
              Well, it's no longer same way Turkey Day, is it?
              But the memories of a great time, a great regular event, in Shreveport athletics carries on with those of us who remember. Even those of us from Woodlawn could appreciate the historic schools, Byrd and Fair Park.

             
            
                    

14 comments:

  1. From Richard Ashford: I was just a little guy, but I remember mom and dad taking us kids to the Byrd-Fair Park Thanksgiving Day game. That was a BIG thing in Shreveport back in those days. I remember the fierce rivalry and heard stories of the Fair Park kids stealing "Jack the Jacket" and tearing him up in one end zone, while the Byrd kids had stolen the headress off the Indian and were destroying it in the opposite end zone.

    ReplyDelete
  2. From Karen Ann Bryant Dye: Wow, I haven't thought of this in years! I was at that last Thanksgiving Day game, too, and I think I knew someone involved in that "Jack the Jacket" incident, but I'm not talking. This also made me think of my daddy who grew up in Ingleside and went to Fair Park. Thanks for these wonderful memories, Nico! (This is off the subject, but a few years later, my future hubby was on the other side of the field at the WHS-Byrd game yelling, "Good night, Knights" when we introduced our Knight in a darkened stadium in that lone spotlight. There was plenty of rivalry to go around back then for sure.)

    ReplyDelete
  3. From Dr. Bob Haley: I was please to see that you mentioned the oldest (and best) Thanksgiving game -- Haynesville vs Homer. This matchup continues to be the game of the year, even though the Golden Tornado has had the upper hand in recent years. ... In my opinion, Thanksgiving is the great American Holiday. We should pause, and as the song says, count your blessings one by one and see what the Lord has done. Happy Holiday to all.

    ReplyDelete
  4. From Raleigh Whitehead: The day that Lee Hedges was running that ball was the day that I was born. I was a Thanksgiving Day baby born earlier that day. Small world.

    ReplyDelete
  5. From Rod Chandler: Wow! Those were some great days. Today, school begins the second week of August and the quarters and semifinals are played the day after Thanksgiving.

    ReplyDelete
  6. From Roger Braniff: Nico…. Another OH WOW for you. I got so excited when I saw this. I grew up in Queensboro on Jackson Street, the block directly behind Fair Park HS. I spent many days of my grade-school years running around the campus and the sports fields of that place of history often, so I have some memorable ties to it. I would walk up the hill through the woods that were directly behind the school and go watch “Coach Bull Wilson” run the Indians' practice sessions all the time. My four-year- older brother attended Fair Park in his sophomore year prior to us moving to the Woodlawn side of town the summer of 1960. I used to be one of those annoying tag-along little brothers so I felt I was supposed to be included with all his stuff.
    I remember getting to actually attend one of these Turkey Day games; I think it may have been 1959. Huge crowds, as you said, I remember the fans "dressed" for the day -- suits, ties, some homecoming-type corsages on the ladies' outfits, it WAS a special day. One of the items I remember being sold up to the game day by Fair Park students was what they labeled as a “Byrd Hunting License,” that would making anything legal of course. I remember the Indian mascot, dressed in full costume, feathered headdress and all, doing his ceremonial dance along the sidelines and end zone when FP scored (might be where Michael Jackson got some of his moves). The excitement seemed to just radiate the atmosphere prior to the game day and until the last second ticked off the game clock. For Shreveport this was the Super Bowl of High School Football! Thank you for bringing this day back to mind for those of us that were part of this historic event at one time.

    ReplyDelete
  7. From Pam Summerlin: Butch and I were JUST talking about this!! Thanks for another great story. ... I remember that bunch doing the Jack-napping!

    ReplyDelete
  8. From Ernie Roberson: What great memories this brought back. I was on the field as Fair Park's Big Indian mascot in the fall of 1967. The last-moment toss from Fair Park's quarterback (Richard Cain, I think) to Jerry Gill set up the go-ahead score and win by the Tribe, 13-7 over Byrd. Who came by to congratulate the team and shake my hand , too ... that long skinny kid from Woodlawn, Joe Ferguson and his star lineman, Roger Poole. Great rivalries and great friendships, too, in Shreveport in the 1960s. That was my final time to dance the rallly song by the band as the Big Indian.

    ReplyDelete
  9. From Jesse Carrigan: I played (for Fair Park) in the last "Turkey Day" game and have fond memories of that tradition. Funny thing about "Same Way Turkey Day" ... all our students would chant it at pep rallies in the gym as if we beat 'em every Thanksgiving. Oh, well.

    ReplyDelete
  10. From Allan M. Lazarus (1944 Fair Park grad): I covered the 1945 Fair Park-Byrd game for The Shreveport Times and only later did I realize I had forgot to say that the 21-0 Tribe win was the biggest ever against Byrd.

    ReplyDelete
  11. From Jim Pruett: I thoroughly enjoyed the piece. Thanks for writing about it. Grateful to have been a part of the proceedings of those days. The truth is for me that the FP-Byrd football Turkey Day game was bigger than anything on TV and -- for me -- bigger than the turkey and dressing. I would get very excited as we got ready and headed for the game. Was always (in my mind) chilly and we bundled up. May forget the scores, but will never forget the "feeling" of it all.

    ReplyDelete
  12. From John W. Marshall III: Good reading, and very nostalgic. OUR special years. The final game must have been the one I have the memory of attending.

    ReplyDelete
  13. From Greg Falk: I have told people over the years that Byrd and Fair Park played on Thanksgiving Day with 25,000 to 30,000 people in attendance, but they never believe me. Now I have some proof. Thanks for posting this.

    ReplyDelete
  14. From Pat Davis: Excellent article. That football tradition was part of my life for my entire childhood. It was the reason we always celebrated Thanksgiving with our dinner at night ... after the game. We all went to that game. Girls in corsages, both sides, is the way I remember.
    Later as a senior at Jesuit (fall of '65) we were scheduled to play our first playoff game against Jonesboro-Hodge on Thanksgiving Day. I was excited about it. It would have conjured up a little bit of the old Byrd-Fair Park tradition. However, J-H asked if we would consider moving the game to that night. It had something to do with work shift schedules at the paper plant in Jonesboro. It was a papermill town, and everyone's lives were affected by the plant. So our coach, C.O. Brocato, accommodated them by moving the game to that night.
    But the Byrd-Fair Park rivalry on Thanksgiving Day will always hold a bright spot in my mind and heart.

    ReplyDelete