Archive for the ‘Football’ Category

Red: Born to coach

Tuesday, January 5th, 2016

There must be something in the soil in those pine woods of south Arkansas, something that produces football coaches.

Paul “Bear” Bryant, the greatest college coach ever, came out of the Moro Bottoms and played high school football at Fordyce.

Barry Switzer was a product of Crossett.

Larry Lacewell likes to say he was “a bug all my life” — a Chigger and Redbug at Fordyce and then a Boll Weevil at what’s now the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

Tommy Tuberville played high school football at Camden Harmony Grove and college football at Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia.

Sam Bailey, who was Bryant’s right-hand man for years, came out of rural Union County and played his college football at what was then Magnolia A&M (now SAU) for two years and at Ouachita for two years.

Legendary Henderson head coach Ralph “Sporty” Carpenter hailed from Hamburg.

I could go on and on.

No one worked at it longer, though, than Jimmy “Red” Parker, who died Monday at age 84.

Parker coached his last game on the evening of Friday, Nov. 13. His Benton Harmony Grove team lost to Fordyce, 22-8, in the first round of the Class 3A playoffs at Paul “Bear” Bryant Stadium in Fordyce.

Parker was born in 1931 — in the middle of the Great Depression — to Madelyn and Floyd Raymond Parker of Hampton in Calhoun County.

“As a young boy in Hampton, there were only two things that Parker ever dreamed of becoming,” Doug Crise wrote for the Pine Bluff Commercial back in 2003. “And neither of them had anything to do with football. ‘One of them was to be a big league baseball player,’ Parker said. ‘The other one was to be a cowboy.’ Parker spent his youth throwing himself into his twin passions — playing baseball and riding horses and bulls.

“When he moved with his mother to Rison, the cowboy interests faded when he was introduced to football. While his dreams were still pointed toward the diamond, Parker at least now had a more viable fallback option. ‘The only thing I ever had in my mind was playing big league baseball or being a big league football coach,’ Parker said. ‘I don’t know if it was a calling, and I don’t know if it was elimination. But those were the two things that motivated me, and I knew I could be happy doing them.'”

Parker graduated from Rison High School in 1949 and headed to Arkansas A&M, where he was a halfback for the Boll Weevils from 1949-52.

“In 1953, Parker was a young man with ample confidence and a $10,000 signing bonus sitting on the table courtesy of the Detroit Tigers,” Crise wrote. “The Tigers didn’t have confidence in Parker’s ability to hit a major league fastball, but aptitude tests revealed the 21-year-old to possess what it took to be a future manager. For Detroit, it seemed like a wise investment. The problem was that Parker had a wife and child, and no desire to move to Warsaw, Wisc., to play for the Tigers’ low-level minor league team.”

Parker’s wife, Betty Ann, also hailed from south Arkansas — from Herbine in Cleveland County, to be exact. She died last April after 64 years of marriage. The Parkers are survived by three children — Vicki Wallace of Hot Springs, Cindy Yoos of South Carolina and Jim Mack Parker of Bryant.

“I hated cold weather, so I said, ‘I’m going to Fordyce,'” Parker said of the offer to play professional baseball.

Crise wrote of Parker’s decisions to take over the struggling Fordyce football program: “Clearly, this was the road less traveled. Parker admits now that he didn’t know then what it took to turn a young man into a winner. Relatively young himself, Parker attacked his first coaching gift with equal parts enthusiasm and instinct.”

Parker said: “I guess I just had enough gall to think I could do that. It was gall. It wasn’t ability. … I didn’t have a philosophy then. I didn’t know until the third year that I coached that I didn’t really have a philosophy.”

Parker was eager to learn. He used his own money to travel to Florida for a coaching clinic. While there, he met one of the nation’s most famous coaches, Bud Wilkinson from the University of Oklahoma.

“For some reason, Bud Wilkinson just took a liking to me,” Parker said. “I just kind of got into his head and listened. I was running plays and calling defenses and had no idea of what it was all supposed to mean together. He made me understand.”

Parker coached at Fordyce from 1953-60, compiling a record of 76-15-4. The Redbugs had a 37-game winning streak from 1957-60.

His college alma mater called, and Parker moved down the road from Fordyce to Monticello, where he was the head coach of the Boll Weevils from 1961-65. He won two Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference championships there, and his teams from 1963-65 had a combined record of 24-5-1. He was 29-19-2 overall with records of 2-8 in 1961, 3-6-1 in 1962, 9-1 in 1963, 8-2 in 1964 and 7-2-1 in 1965.

Parker’s climb up the coaching ladder continued when The Citadel, a well-known military school in South Carolina, took notice. Parker coached there from 1966-72, compiling a 39-34 record.

Parker was hired to replace Hootie Ingram at Clemson University following the 1972 season.

“Losses were more frequent than wins during Parker’s four-year stint with the Tigers, but his recruiting work laid the foundation for Clemson’s return to national prominence in the late 1970s under Charley Pell,” Rudy Jones wrote for the Spartanburg Herald-Journal in South Carolina in 2013. “At least 11 members of the Clemson Athletic Hall of Fame played under or were recruited by Parker.”

Parker was 17-25-2 at Clemson. His Tiger teams went 5-6, 7-4, 2-9 and 3-6-2. He was fired following the 1976 season and replaced by Pell, a man he had hired as an assistant.

Pell’s first team went 8-4. That began a streak of 15 consecutive winning records at Clemson, which won the national championship in 1981 under Danny Ford and will play for another national championship next week.

Parker always felt he was betrayed by Pell.

Pell had been an all-conference guard and defensive tackle for Bryant at Alabama from 1961-63. He was a graduate assistant for Bryant in 1964 and then was an assistant coach at Kentucky from 1965-68. Pell’s first head coaching job came at Jacksonville State in Alabama, where he compiled a 33-13-1 record. He left Jacksonville to become the defensive coordinator at Virginia Tech, where he stayed for two seasons before being hired in 1976 by Parker to be the defensive coordinator at Clemson.

Parker said Bryant had warned him that Pell was deceitful but “I was too arrogant to listen.”

Pell’s first Clemson team as head coach went to the Gator Bowl. It was the school’s first bowl invitation in 18 years.

“We took a whole lot of lumps that last year I was there, but we knew we were going to be good, and we knew we had a chance to be outstanding,” Parker said. “I didn’t mind taking the lumps, but I really didn’t plan on Pell knifing me. That was the one thing I didn’t plan. Everything else I had laid out pretty well.”

Steve Fuller, Parker’s Clemson quarterback, said: “The thing I remember about Coach Parker is he worked so hard to get the thing turned around and got such a recruiting group with my group and the group after me. The way things turned out, he just never got a chance to enjoy the success of that group and what was generally the turnaround of the whole program. It’s a shame. I know it’s part of the business. I can’t say we were shocked, but certainly disappointed and kind of uneasy about the situation. … I think I can make the argument — anybody can — that we would have been pretty good the next year if you or I had coached them.”

Pell’s second team at Clemson went 10-1 and won the Atlantic Coast Conference title.

Pell was hired at Florida at the end of the 1978 season and left immediately. Assistant coach Danny Ford coached the Tigers in the Gator Bowl. That was the game that led to Woody Hayes being fired at Ohio State. The Tigers were leading the Buckeyes 17-15 late in the game, but freshman quarterback Art Schlichter was driving the Buckeyes into field goal range. On third-and-five at the Clemson 24 with 2:30 left in the game, Hayes called a pass play. The pass was intercepted by Clemson’s Charlie Bauman, who ran out of bounds on the Ohio State sideline. After Bauman stood up, Hayes punched him in the throat and then stormed the field to argue with the referee.

Hayes was dismissed the next day.

Ford, meanwhile, was hired to replace Pell at Clemson.

Pell’s first team at Florida went 0-10-1. But the Gators improved to 8-4 in 1980, 7-5 in 1981, 8-4 in 1982 and 9-2-1 in 1983.

Following the 1982 season, the NCAA began an investigation into recruiting violations by Pell and his staff. Pell announced in August 1984 that he would resign at the end of the season. Three games into the season, the NCAA announced that Florida was alleged to have committed 107 infractions. Pell, whose team was 1-1-1, was fired that night and replaced by Galen Hall.

Pell fell into a deep depression that lasted for years. He attempted suicide in 1994 and died of lung cancer in 2001.

Red Parker returned to Arkansas after being fired at Clemson and bought a Chevrolet dealership in Fordyce, where he was still a hero.

Feeling the urge to get back into coaching, he headed to Nashville and Vanderbilt University in 1980 at the behest of George MacIntyre (whose son Mike is now the head coach at Colorado), a friend who was in his second year at the school.  Vanderbilt struggled to a 2-9 record that season (0-6 in the Southeastern Conference), but Parker again had the coaching bug.

Southern Arkansas University offered him its head coaching job, and he led the Muleriders to a 7-3 record in 1981. That led to an offer to be the head coach across the Mississippi River at Delta State University in Cleveland, Miss., where Parker compiled a 34-26-4 record from 1982-87.

Parker attracted the attention of Billy Brewer at Ole Miss. Brewer hired Parker to be the Rebels’ offensive coordinator, and Parker was part of Ole Miss teams that finished with records of 5-6 in 1988, 8-4 in 1989, 9-3 in 1990 and 5-6 in 1991.

After four years at Oxford, Parker returned to Fordyce and his automobile dealership. But the football bug was still there.

In 1993, Parker returned to the high school coaching ranks for the first time since 1960. The destination: His alma mater at Rison.

Parker was 38-4 in three seasons at Rison, including a Class A state championship in 1995 when his team went 15-0.

To the west in Arkadelphia, another legend, Buddy Benson, had decided to step down as the head coach at Ouachita following 31 seasons. The school’s president, Ben Elrod, was a Rison native and a longtime friend of Parker’s. Elrod called and asked if Parker would like to take one more shot at being a college head coach.

Parker accepted.

Ouachita, the smallest college in the state still playing football at the time, was struggling to make the move from the NAIA to NCAA Division II following the dissolution of the Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference. Parker’s teams there went 3-7, 4-6 and 3-7. Ouachita played as a Division II independent the first season and was a member of the Lone Star Conference the next two years.

Parker decided that the college job needed a younger man. But high school football? That was another matter.

He went to Bearden at the start of the 1999 season and compiled a 26-16-4 record in four seasons as the Bear head coach.

In 2003, Parker returned to where it had begun, Fordyce. He was the coach there from 2003-05, but he couldn’t reproduce the magic of the 1950s. The Redbugs were 11-20-1 when Parker resigned at the end of the 2005 season.

Most people thought Parker had finally retired for good, but he was talked into heading up the tiny program at Woodlawn in 2008. His team there went 7-4.

After Parker’s wife was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, he moved to Saline County to be near his son. Benton Harmony Grove was starting a football program, and Parker had an interest in helping out.

“About three or four days after I moved here, the school decided it wanted to have football,” Parker told an interviewer in 2013. “I called the superintendent, and he said he would hire me today if I would come. It just worked out that way. I work half a day. … What I’m doing is more like babysitting. Really and truly, it’s not like coaching because it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever tried to do: Teach kids to play football who never have played before. My heart played out two years ago.”

Parker had what’s known as a ventricular assist device inserted in 2010 to help fight congestive heart failure. In 2011, a mechanical pump was inserted.

“I was really too old for them to do it, but I had a doctor that I had coached when I coached in high school the first time,” Parker later told an interviewer. “He was a noted heart surgeon, and he told the doctors here: ‘He can survive. Don’t you worry about him.’ He talked them into doing it.”

Parker’s first team at Harmony Grove went 2-8 in 2010. The second and third teams were 4-6.

Parker finished with a record of 28-35 in six seasons at the school.

His combined record as a college and high school head coach in a career that began in 1953 and ended in 2015 was 322-221-13.

He told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in October: “I struggle walking. I struggle standing. I struggle doing everything. To be honest, I’m worn out.”

Back in 2003, Parker had told the Pine Bluff Commercial: “No matter how bad we are, I always feel like there’s going to be something happen to give us a chance to win. What I don’t do now is I don’t get nervous before a game because I know we’ve prepared well. I can honestly say that once the game begins, I don’t know the difference between Neyland Stadium and Redbug Field.”

He was born to be a coach.

Like Paul “Bear” Bryant, he was dead within weeks of his final game.

 

Post to Twitter

From Crump to Liberty

Monday, December 28th, 2015

Clarence Saunders of Memphis, the founder of the Piggly Wiggly grocery store chain, owned a semiprofessional football team called the Saunders Tigers.

He proposed that a large football stadium be built at Memphis, thinking the city eventually could attract a National Football League team. What’s now the NFL had started in 1920 as the American Professional Football Association and changed its name to the NFL in 1922.

Saunders never achieved his football dream. He lost a fortune during the Great Depression, thus beginning decades of futility when it comes to the Bluff City and professional football.

The city did, however, get its new stadium.

In 1932, a group of business and civic leaders in Memphis presented the board of the Mid-South Fair Association with a plan to build a 25,000-seat stadium. The Memphis Park Commission gave its approval for a stadium at the fairgrounds that summer, but the plan was set aside in favor of a competing proposal at Central High School.

Construction of the stadium at the high school was completed by the WPA in 1934 with seating for 7,500 fans. The school board voted to name the stadium for former Mayor E.H. Crump, who continued to rule the city even after leaving the mayor’s office. He was known across the Mid-South simply as Boss Crump.

A 1936 game at Crump Stadium between Ole Miss and Tennessee drew a standing-room-only crowd of 11,000 fans, leading the city to remove the original wooden bleachers on the south side and replace them with concrete stands. That increased the capacity to 15,000. Control of the stadium was transferred from the school board to the Memphis Park Commission.

A release from the WPA said: “California has its Rose Bowl, Louisiana has its Sugar Bowl and now Memphis is to have its Cotton Bowl.”

Instead, a Texas oilman named J. Curtis Sanford funded the game out of his pocket, and the Cotton Bowl went to Dallas for its Jan. 1, 1937, inaugural.

Back in Memphis, 40 games (high school and college) were played at Crump Stadium in 1936. By 1939, the Crump Stadium capacity was 25,000.

The Delta Bowl was played there in 1948 and 1949. In 1947, the Arkansas-Texas game was played at Memphis. John Barnhill, the Arkansas athletic director at the time, moved the game to Memphis to make the point that a stadium with more seats was needed in Arkansas. When War Memorial Stadium opened the following year, the Crump Stadium manager (Allan Berry) was hired to run the new facility at Little Rock.

Ole Miss and Tennessee played each other at Crump Stadium until the 1960s. Mississippi State also was a regular visitor.

The city released plans in November 1962 to expand Crump Stadium to 45,000 seats, but that project fell by the wayside in favor of building a stadium at the fairgrounds to be known as Memphis Memorial Stadium.

Crump Stadium was transferred back to the school board when the new stadium opened in 1965. High school games were played there through 2004. The old stadium was torn down in 2006, and a new high school stadium that kept the Crump name opened in 2007 on the site. It retained the original outer brick wall, gates and entrances. The new stadium seats 7,000.

Other famous events in the history of Crump Stadium included a Billy Graham crusade in 1951 and an Elvis Presley performance in 1957.

Memphis Memorial Stadium was constructed at a cost of almost $4 million. It shared the Mid-South Fairgrounds with the Mid-South Coliseum and the Libertyland amusement park. The first regular-season game in the stadium was between Ole Miss and what’s now the University of Memphis.

Liberty Bowl founder Bud Dudley moved his game from Atlantic City to Memphis that year, where it has remained. The stadium was renamed Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in 1976.

In 1987, a renovation project increased the stadium’s capacity from 50,160 to 62,380. Another renovation project two years ago decreased capacity to 59,308. Changes since the last time the University of Arkansas played in the Liberty Bowl in 2009 include new lights, two new video boards, new elevators, new turf and extensive painting.

In addition to hosting the Liberty Bowl each year, the stadium has hosted the Southern Heritage Classic since its inception in 1990. Tennessee State and Jackson State draw about 50,000 fans for that game, ranking it in the top three in attendance among historically black college football classics.

The University of Memphis has played home games at the stadium since 1965 after having played 28 seasons at Crump Stadium.

And it seems as if almost every professional football league has called the Liberty Bowl home at one time or another.

During the 1974-75 seasons, the Memphis Southmen of the World Football League played there and drew good crowds. Owner John Bassett changed the name of the team to the Grizzlies and made a bid to join the NFL as a 1976 expansion team. More than 40,000 season tickets were sold in the Memphis area. The NFL refused to add Memphis. Bassett filed a lawsuit against the NFL that was dismissed.

The best Memphis could do from 1978-80 was a North American Soccer League team known as the Rogues. That team moved to Calgary after the 1980 season.

Bassett had hooked up to start the league with Gary Davidson, who helped start the American Basketball Association and the World Hockey Association, which later were absorbed by the NBA and the NHL. Bassett was a Canadian tennis prodigy who came from a wealthy family and went on to become a movie producer. He owned the WHA’s Toronto Toros, and his family owned the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League, two Toronto newspapers and several television stations.

His WFL football team in Toronto would be called the Northmen. Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau announced that under the Canadian Football Act, no U.S.-based football league would be allowed into the country to compete with the Canadian Football League. So Bassett moved the team to Memphis.

The 1974 home opener against Detroit drew 30,122 fans. Elvis Presley was there to watch, and Arkansas native Charlie Rich sang the national anthem.

Rich sat down next to Presley at the start of the game, and Presley said: “That’s a tough song to sing, ain’t it?

Rich replied: “It ain’t no Behind Closed Doors.”

Memphis finished with the league’s best record at 17-3 but lost in the playoff semifinals to the Florida Blazers from Orlando.

Bassett received nationwide media attention when he signed Miami Dolphin stars Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick and Paul Warfield for the 1975 season. Memphis was 7-4 when the league folded in the middle of that 1975 campaign.

Professional football was back in Memphis in 1984 with the Showboats of the USFL. Pepper Rodgers spoke to seemingly every civic club in the Mid-South to promote the team, and attendance was decent by USFL standards.

New Orleans businessman David Dixon had been dreaming of a new professional league since the 1960s. His idea was to have teams play during the NFL offseason. Dixon, an antiques dealer, had helped bring the NFL Saints to New Orleans. During a news conference at the 21 Club in New York City, Dixon announced in May 1982 that the league would begin play in 1983. Chet Simmons left ESPN to become the first USFL commissioner, and the USFL soon had television contracts with ABC and ESPN.

The league expanded from 12 to 18 teams after the 1983 season, and Memphis was among the expansion cities. Logan Young Jr., one of the most colorful businessmen to ever grace the Bluff City, was awarded the Memphis franchise.

Young’s father had made a fortune on margarine during World War II, and the son inherited the family’s Osceola Foods Inc. in Osceola along with a Pepsi distributorship when the father died in 1971. Young Sr. was close friends with Alabama’s head football coach, Paul “Bear” Bryant. Bryant would spend vacations at the Young house in Palm Beach. Young Jr. was born in Arkansas, attended college at Vanderbilt and then moved to Memphis. But his football passions were with Alabama due to the family ties to Bryant.

Family friend Phillip Shanks once said of Young Jr. and Bryant: “Coach was fond of Logan and for good reason. Logan was somebody he could be himself with, let his hair down. And I think they just enjoyed each other’s company. There was a huge age disparity, but Logan just made Coach Bryant feel comfortable.”

“Coach loved to go to Palm Beach,” Young once said. “After the season, we would go down and hang out. He liked to hang out around the beach. Just the two of us. He would just come there, bring his golf clubs. Sometimes he would play, sometimes he wouldn’t.”

Like his father before him, Young helped steer high school players from the Memphis area to Alabama.

When Young was investigated for illegal recruiting in 2000, Alabama banned him from the campus, pulled his 24-seat private box and cut ties to a life insurance policy that would have paid $500,000 to the Bryant Museum on the Alabama campus upon Young’s death.

An assistant coach at Trezevant High School in Memphis claimed that Young paid Lynn Lang, the school’s head football coach, about $150,000 to get defensive lineman Albert Means to sign with Alabama. The school received a five-year probation, a two-year bowl ban and a reduced number of scholarships. Young was convicted in 2005 in federal court of conspiracy to commit racketeering, crossing state lines to commit racketeering and arranging bank withdrawals to cover up a crime.

On April 11, 2006, Young was found dead in a pool of blood by a housekeeper in his English Tudor-style home in an exclusive Memphis neighborhood. He had been sentenced to six months in prison but was free pending appeal. A heavy drinker for years, Young also was recovering from an October 2005 kidney transplant.

The police ruled that Young had tripped while carrying a salad and soft drink up a set of stairs, hitting his head on an iron railing. The police concluded that he had walked, while bleeding profusely, through several rooms of the house before ending up in his second-floor bedroom.

Many believed Young, who was known to carry large sums of cash, had been murdered. One newspaper writer called it “a Mid-South mystery better suited for a John Grisham book than a newspaper story.”

Back in 1984, Young was all about getting the Showboats to Memphis. He brought in the flamboyant Rodgers, a Georgia native who had played as the backup quarterback at Georgia Tech from 1951-53 and then served as head football coach at Kansas from 1967-70, UCLA from 1971-73 and Georgia Tech from 1974-79.

Before the start of the 1984 season, Young told the league that many of his assets were tied up in a trust that he couldn’t access. He was forced to take on partners, and the controlling interest soon passed to cotton magnate William “Billy” Dunavant. The family company, Dunavant Enterprises, had been taken over by Billy Dunavant following his father’s death. The younger Dunavant was just 29 at the time but turned the company into the world’s largest privately owned cotton marketer.

Dunavant helped the team capture the heart of many in the Memphis area with players such as future Pro Football Hall of Fame member Reggie White and future professional wrestler Lex Luger. The Showboats finished 7-11 in 1984 and missed the playoffs.

In 1985, Memphis won its division with an 11-7 record and advanced to the playoff semifinals before a loss to Oakland.

USFL officials announced that they would move their games to the fall in 1986 rather than playing during the NFL offseason. Arizona, Baltimore, Birmingham, Jacksonville, Memphis, New Jersey, Orlando and Tampa Bay were scheduled to play an 18-game fall schedule. The league filed an antitrust lawsuit against the NFL. The USFL later was awarded a judgment of just $1. The USFL owners had been banking on a big settlement to finance the 1986 season. On Aug. 4, 1986 — just four days after the verdict was announced — the owners voted to suspend football operations.

Dunavant, though, tried to keep professional football in Memphis alive. He was an investor in the proposed Memphis Hound Dogs, which sought an NFL expansion team. Steve Ehrhart — who now runs the Liberty Bowl — had come to town from the USFL offices in New York at Dunavant’s behest to run the Showboats. His office on Ridgeway Loop near Poplar and Interstate 240 is still filled with Showboats’ paraphernalia. Rodgers and Ehrhart remained on board to try attract the NFL, but the league decided to expand to Charlotte and Jacksonville instead.

As part of the attempt to lure the NFL, Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium underwent a $12 million facelift and 12,000 seats were added.

The next professional team to play in the stadium was part of the Canadian Football League. Ehrhart managed the Memphis Mad Dogs in 1995, and Rodgers was the coach. The CFL season runs from July to November. Due to the dimensions of the stadium, the Canadian game in Memphis was basically a hybrid being played on a U.S. field. Crowds late in the CFL season — when Memphis fans were going instead to watch college games — fell below 10,000.

One season was all the CFL would last in Memphis.

The NFL finally arrived in 1997, but it was just for a single season. The Houston Oilers announced that the team would play two seasons in Memphis while a new stadium was being built in Nashville. The players would live and practice in Nashville and commute to Memphis on Sundays for home games.

Memphis residents, bitter that the NFL had chosen Nashville over their city, stayed away. And folks from Nashville refused to make the three-hour drive to Memphis, especially since construction on Interstate 40 meant that drive sometimes took four to five hours. None of the Oilers’ first seven home games attracted more than 27,000 people, ranking them among the smallest NFL crowds since the 1950s.

Rather than playing in 1998 at Memphis as first planned, team owner Bud Adams decided to play the home games at Vanderbilt’s 40,000-seat stadium in Nashville.

The next professional team to show up at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium was a team in Vince McMahon’s XFL, the Memphis Maniax. The league folded after its inaugural season in 2001.

So the WFL, USFL, CFL, NFL and XFL all have had a presence at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium through the years.

Who’s next?

We’ll wait and see as the long saga of Memphis and professional football continues.

Post to Twitter

Give me Liberty (Bowl)

Monday, December 28th, 2015

Bud Dudley had a dream.

At a time when there were far fewer bowl games than there are now, the former athletic director at Villanova wanted a bowl in Philadelphia. Its name would be the Liberty Bowl, and its logo would be the Liberty Bell.

Dudley was the only person in college football history to create and then become the sole owner of a bowl game. Dudley, a Notre Dame graduate and a World War II veteran, died in June 2008 at age 88.

The game was marred by poor attendance during its five seasons in Philadelphia. The first game in 1959 drew 36,211 fans as Penn State defeated Alabama by a final score of 7-0. The crowds got smaller in each of the next four years.

“Spectators were lashed by icy winds as they huddled in Municipal Stadium for the inaugural Liberty Bowl,” Frank Fitzpatrick later wrote in the Philadelphia Inquirer. “Piles of snow impeded their trips to concession stands. And several swore their coffee froze before they could return to their seats.”

Penn State graduate Bill Jaffe told the newspaper, “That was the coldest I’ve ever been at a football game.”

“Overhead, an airplane, tilting in the heavy gusts as it dragged an ad for General Copper & Brass, provided shivering spectators with perhaps the afternoon’s most entertaining moment,” Fitzpatrick wrote. “Wind tore away the sign’s second S, an act of alchemy that instantly transformed metal to lingerie.

“On the field below — far, far below in a stadium notorious for its poor sight lines — the football played by Penn State and Alabama never really thawed out either, the teams combining for just seven points. But had those frostbitten Penn State players and fans been aware, they might have been warmed by the knowledge that what that first Liberty Bowl lacked in amenities, it made up for in history. Until that 7-0 loss to Penn State, Alabama had never faced an integrated opponent in its 67-year football history.

“The first of 24 consecutive Alabama teams that Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant would take to bowl games was all white. The Nittany Lions’ roster included a handful of blacks, including tackle Charlie Janerette, a Philadelphian. Janerette would be shot to death during a 1984 confrontation with a Philadelphia policeman. A jury later found police to be negligent and awarded the ex-player’s family $188,000.”

When Alabama accepted the bowl invitation, the chairman of the Tuscaloosa Citizens Council wrote to Frank Rose, the Alabama president: “We strongly oppose our boys playing an integrated team. The Tide belongs to all Alabama, and Alabamians favor continued segregation.”

Bryant, however, ignored the segregationists back home.

Dudley would say years later, “Every year the weather would be fine until the day of the game. I was looking for a way to merge patriotism and football. And I still think it could have worked in Philadelphia if only it weren’t for the cold.”

The other eights bowls at the time — Cotton, Sugar, Rose, Orange, Gator, Tangerine, Sun and Bluebonnet — were all played in warmer locations.

The 1959 game’s only score came on a trick play. Alabama finished 7-2-2, and Penn State finished 9-2. The teams passed for a combined 68 yards on the windy day.

Dudley had scheduled a dinner for the players that night at a downtown hotel. Longtime Philadelphia Daily News writer Stan Hochman, who covered the game from an unheated press box, said Dudley “was working on a shoestring, a tattered shoestring. They ran out of food early in the buffet line.”

Hochman’s future wife was doing public relations work for the downtown hotel. She ran to the kitchen and convinced the staff to cook some hot dogs for the players. Dudley, meanwhile, had talked his friend Ed McMahon into bringing a relatively unknown comedian named Johnny Carson to perform after dinner.

By 1963, Mississippi State’s game against North Carolina State drew just 8,309 fans in Philadelphia.

Tourism promoters in nearby Atlantic City, looking for a way to bring people to town during what normally was a slow period in December, convinced Dudley to move the 1964 contest to Convention Hall (long the home of the Miss America pageant) for the first bowl game to be played indoors. Two inches of burlap was placed on top of the concrete floor, and sod was laid on top of that. Utah defeated West Virginia, 32-6. There were 6,059 people at the game.

Dudley decided the indoor venue would no longer work. He also decided that Philadelphia was too far north. He looked south, and Memphis greeted him with open arms.

Memphis had spent $4 million to build a stadium in 1965 to replace aging Crump Stadium. The original seating capacity was 50,160, and what’s now the University of Memphis would play its home games there. It was to be known as Memphis Memorial Stadium and would be at the Mid-South Fairgrounds along with the Mid-South Coliseum and the Libertyland amusement park.

The mayor of Memphis had a sports committee charged with finding other events for the new stadium. The committee’s chairman, Early Maxwell, learned that Dudley wanted to move the Liberty Bowl. Maxwell sent Memphis businessman Bill McElroy Jr. to Chicago in the summer of 1965 to meet with Dudley during the annual convention of the College Sports Information Directors of America. McElroy invited Dudley to attend the first regular-season game in the stadium between Ole Miss and Memphis. Dudley agreed to attend the game, and he was treated like a king by a who’s who of Memphis business and civic leaders.

Just a few months later, the 1965 Liberty Bowl was played in the new stadium. Ole Miss beat Auburn, 13-7.

Dudley’s intention was to move the bowl game every year or two to a city that didn’t have a bowl.

“After I got to Memphis, I never got to the other cities,” he said.

Coaches who have taken teams to the Liberty Bowl through the years include the likes of Lou Holtz, Steve Spurrier and Tom Osborne.

Four Heisman Trophy winners — Ernie Davis, Terry Baker, Doug Flutie and Bo Jackson — have played in the game.

Archie Manning played in the Liberty Bowl in December 1968, leading his Ole Miss Rebels to a 34-17 victory over Virginia Tech. Manning would lead the Rebels to a win over Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl the following year.

Holtz brought his North Carolina State Wolfpack to Memphis in 1973 and saw his team beat Kansas, 31-18.

Three years later, Bryant was back with the Crimson Tide, which posted a 36-6 victory over Terry Donahue’s UCLA Bruins.

Tom Osborne brought his Nebraska Cornhuskers to Memphis in 1977, and the Huskers beat North Carolina, 21-17.

In 1979, Joe Paterno brought his Penn State team and it edged Tulane, 9-6, in the only game in Liberty Bowl history in which a touchdown wasn’t scored.

The most notable game in Liberty Bowl history came on Dec. 29, 1982, because it marked Bear Bryant’s final game as a coach. Alabama came from behind in the second half to defeat Illinois, 21-15. Less than a month later, the most famous former Fordyce Red Bug was dead.

Arkansas lost in its first three visits to the Liberty Bowl — 14-13 to Tennessee in 1971, 21-15 to Auburn in 1984 and 20-17 to Georgia in 1987. In the game against Auburn, Bo Jackson ran for two touchdowns, including a 39-yard scamper late in the fourth quarter.

Arkansas finally got a Liberty Bowl win on Jan. 2, 2010. A field goal in overtime gave Bobby Petrino’s Hogs a 20-17 victory over East Carolina as the second-largest crowd in Liberty Bowl history — 62,742 — looked on in frigid weather.

With this being its fifth Liberty Bowl, Arkansas will now have more Liberty Bowl appearances than any other school. Ole Miss, Louisville, Mississippi State, Air Force, Alabama and East Carolina have been four times each.

The Liberty Bowl affiliated with Conference USA in 1996. The opponent in 1996 and 1997 was from the Big East. Beginning in 1998, the Liberty Bowl had second choice behind the Cotton Bowl between the WAC champion and a Southeastern Conference team. From 1999 to 2005, the Conference USA champion played the Mountain West champion all but two times. From 2006-13, the Conference USA championship game winner was contracted to play an SEC team. The game now features an SEC team against a Big 12 team. That contract, which began last year, runs through 2019. In the first game under the arrangement, Texas A&M defeated West Virginia, 45-37.

In February 2014, AutoZone extended its title sponsorship agreement through the 2019 season.

Were he still around, Bud Dudley would be smiling. With an SEC team, a Big 12 team, a presenting sponsor, an ESPN television contract and an ESPN radio contract, the Liberty Bowl has never been stronger.

It has come a long way since that cold afternoon of Dec. 19, 1959, in Philadelphia.

 

Post to Twitter

College football: Week 13

Tuesday, November 24th, 2015

What could I possibly say about last Saturday’s 51-50 Mississippi State victory over Arkansas that hasn’t already been said?

For the first time in school history, Arkansas lost after scoring 50 or more points.

Brandon Allen’s seven touchdown passes set a school record and tied the Southeastern Conference record, and his team still lost.

Arkansas’ defense allowed the most passing yards in school history, 508. The previous high for a Razorback opponent was 499 yards passing by Kentucky’s Tim Couch in 1998.

So the Razorbacks enter the final game of the regular season with a mediocre record of 6-5. Most Hog fans were expecting better, at least eight or nine wins.

What a strange season this has been.

Back in the preseason, no one was expecting losses to Toledo and Texas Tech.

And only the most optimistic Arkansas fans were expecting the Hogs to beat Ole Miss and LSU on the road in back-to-back games.

The regular season will end at Fayetteville on what looks to be a rainy, chilly Friday afternoon against a bad Missouri team that’s 5-6 overall and 1-6 in the SEC. There likely will be as many empty seats as seats with people in them at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. It’s a Black Friday clunker of a game for CBS, though the “reported attendance” will be much higher than the actual attendance, as is usually the case.

This is the final week to pick college football games on the Southern Fried blog. The record after 12 weeks is 72-23.

Here are the picks for Week 13:

Arkansas 39, Missouri 30 — Expect Arkansas to score its share of points, but no lead is safe with this Razorback defense. The defense gave up 51 points to Mississippi State, 52 points to Ole Miss and 46 points to Auburn. Razorback fans should hope that the defense that only surrendered 14 points at LSU chooses to show up. Coach Gary Pinkel, who led his Tigers to SEC East titles the previous two seasons, is going out with a whimper. Missouri’s lone SEC victory was by a score of 24-10 to an awful South Carolina team, which lost last Saturday to The Citadel. The last time The Citadel had won against an SEC team was in the 1992 season opener. Anyone out there remember that game? The Tigers’ six SEC losses have been by scores of 21-13 to Kentucky, 21-3 to Florida, 9-6 to Georgia, 10-3 to Vanderbilt, 31-13 to Mississippi State and 19-8 to Tennessee. Advantage Razorbacks with a bowl appearance in Nashville or Memphis to follow.

Arkansas State 29, New Mexico State 21 — The Red Wolves have had two weeks to prepare for Saturday afternoon’s game at New Mexico State. They’re 7-3 overall and 6-0 in the Sun Belt Conference with two games remaining in the regular season. New Mexico State lost 10 of its first 11 games against Sun Belt opponents after rejoining the conference in 2014. After an 0-7 start this season, the Aggies have won three consecutive games and don’t figure to be a pushover on Saturday. New Mexico State started the season with losses of 61-13 to Florida, 34-32 to Georgia State, 50-47 to UTEP, 38-29 to New Mexico, 52-3 to Ole Miss, 56-26 to Georgia Southern and 52-7 to Troy. The wins the past three games have been by scores of 55-48 over Idaho, 31-21 over Texas State and 37-34 over Louisiana-Lafayette. The Red Wolves will earn at least a share of the conference title with a victory Saturday. Appalachian State and Georgia Southern are right behind ASU at 5-1 in conference play. ASU ends the regular season in Jonesboro on Dec. 5 against a Texas State team that’s 3-7 overall and 2-4 in conference play.

Emporia State 28, Henderson 24 — The Reddies came up with an interception in the end zone with 10 seconds remaining on a cold afternoon in Arkadelphia en route to a 23-16 victory over Sioux Falls of South Dakota last Saturday in the first round of the NCAA Division II playoffs. The Reddies, the Great American Conference champions, recorded their first playoff win since moving to NCAA Division II in 1993. The GAC had been 0-5 in the playoffs since being formed in 2011. Henderson has won 10 consecutive games, and seven of them have been by eight points or less. Emporia State shocked Minnesota State-Mankato, 51-49, to earn this week’s trip to Arkadelphia. Emporia is 10-2, having lost to Fort Hays State and the powerhouse Northwest Missouri State team. The Hornets have an offense that has scored 45 or more points six times this season. Does Henderson’s ability to win the close games finally end in the second round? This should be a fun one to watch.

Post to Twitter

Rex’s Rankings: Two weeks in

Tuesday, November 24th, 2015

We’re two weeks into the playoffs, and Pine Bluff, Springdale Har-Ber, Pulaski Academy and Greenwood are still our top four teams following victories last Friday.

The biggest upset victim of the night was Cabot, which fell by a final score of 35-25 to Fort Smith Southside. Cabot had been ranked No. 5.

These are our final rankings of the season. In the last two to three weeks of the high school football season, we prefer to let the teams do the talking on the field.

Thanks to all of you who listened this season to our high school football scoreboard show each Friday night. It aired for 12 consecutive weeks on almost 40 stations across Arkansas.

Here are the rankings as we head into Thanksgiving:

Overall

  1. Pine Bluff
  2. Springdale Har-Ber
  3. Pulaski Academy
  4. Greenwood
  5. Bentonville
  6. Fayetteville
  7. Little Rock Christian
  8. Benton
  9. Jonesboro
  10. Fort Smith Southside

Class 7A

  1. Springdale Har-Ber
  2. Bentonville
  3. Fayetteville
  4. Fort Smith Southside
  5. Cabot

Class 6A

  1. Pine Bluff
  2. Greenwood
  3. Benton
  4. Jonesboro
  5. El Dorado

Class 5A

  1. Pulaski Academy
  2. Little Rock Christian
  3. Batesville
  4. Little Rock McClellan
  5. Hot Springs Lakeside

Class 4A

  1. Dardanelle
  2. Nashville
  3. Warren
  4. Central Arkansas Christian
  5. Prairie Grove

Class 3A

  1. Smackover
  2. Prescott
  3. Harding Academy
  4. Glen Rose
  5. Danville

Class 2A

  1. Rison
  2. McCrory
  3. Des Arc
  4. England
  5. Mount Ida

 

 

Post to Twitter

College football: Week 12

Thursday, November 19th, 2015

What a night in Baton Rouge.

Back when Arkansas was sitting at 1-3, who would have thought that the Razorbacks would become bowl eligible with two games still remaining in the regular season?

Not me.

The 31-14 win over LSU was convincing, to say the least. This is, mind you, a Tiger team that was No. 2 in the country when Jeff Long’s committee released its first rankings of the season. Arkansas made the Tigers look like UTEP, and the vast majority of the 101,699 people in Tiger Stadium had headed back outside to their gumbo pots long before this one was over.

Arkansas outrushed LSU 299-57, had a season-high five sacks and saw Alex Collins move past Dickey Morton into third on the school’s career rushing list with 3,335 yards. Collins topped 100 yards for the eighth time this season and the 15th time in his college career.

Coach Les Miles, who is 48-6 in night games at Tiger Stadium, has only seen a team lose two consecutive games on three occasions during his tenure in Baton Rouge. The second loss each time was to Arkansas. This was the first time for the Tigers to lose back-to-back games by double digits since 1999.

We were 5-2 on the picks last week to make the record 70-21 for the season. Here are the picks for Week 12:

Arkansas 34, Mississippi State 26: This should be an interesting game on what promises to be a cold night in Fayetteville. Alabama had no problem with Mississippi State in Starkville last Saturday, beating the Bulldogs by a final score of 31-6. It marked the eighth consecutive season for Mississippi State to lose to Alabama. Derrick Henry rushed for 204 yards and two touchdowns against the Bulldogs. Collins must be licking his chops after having seen that on film. Mississippi State’s three losses have come by scores of 21-19 to LSU, 30-17 to Texas A&M and the aforementioned 31-6 loss to Alabama. The victories have been over Southern Mississippi, Northwestern State of Louisiana, Auburn, Troy, Louisiana Tech, Kentucky and Missouri. In other words, not a big-time win in the bunch; certainly nothing to compared with the Arkansas road victories over Ole Miss and LSU the past two Saturdays. We picked against the Razorbacks in both of those games. We won’t make that mistake again.

Sam Houston State 29, UCA 27 — The Bears need a victory to have a chance of getting into the FCS playoffs. UCA improved to 7-3 overall and 7-1 in the Southland Conference with a 34-31 win last Saturday night at Nicholls State. It was the seventh victory in the past eight games for the Bears as Blake Veasley rushed for 139 yards on 30 carries. McNeese State, which edged UCA in Conway last month, continues to lead the conference. Sam Houston comes into Conway with an identical 7-3 record. Just like UCA, Sam Houston lost back-to-back games to start the season (Sam Houston lost to Texas Tech and Lamar while UCA lost to Samford and Oklahoma State) and then lost later in the season to McNeese. The Bearkats’ victories have been by scores of 63-14 over Houston Baptist, 34-28 over Stephen F. Austin, 59-7 over Incarnate Word, 49-21 over Abilene Christian, 37-7 over Nicholls State, 38-24 over Texas A&M-Commerce and 59-21 over Northwestern State. The two teams appear to be evenly matched. It should be a fun game, and I plan to be there.

Henderson 24, Sioux Falls 21 — The Reddies won the Battle of the Ravine, 21-17, in front of a crowd of 9,868 at Cliff Harris Stadium in Arkadelphia last Saturday afternoon. Henderson finished the regular season 10-1, and Ouachita finished 7-4. It was a well-played game with no turnovers. Neither defense gave up a long scoring play. Henderson had already wrapped up the Great American Conference title, but the win ensured that the first game of the NCAA Division II playoffs would be at home at Carpenter-Haygood Stadium. The opponent from South Dakota, the University of Sioux Falls, is a small Baptist school (smaller than Ouachita) that’s making its first appearance in the Division II playoffs since moving up from the NAIA. The Cougars are 9-2 and have won 21 of their past 24 games. The winner of Saturday’s game in Arkadelphia (noon kickoff) will play the winner of the game between Minnesota State and Emporia State. The Cougars were 36-12 with four national titles when they played in the NAIA. A year ago, they went 10-1 in the regular season and then beat Central Oklahoma in the Mineral Water Bowl. Henderson’s offense is not as good as last year. But the defense is much better. Give a slight advantage to the Reddies since Sioux Falls is the one making the long trip.

Mississippi Valley State 17, UAPB 15 — Well, somebody has to win this final game of the regular season. Both teams are 1-9. The Golden Lions fell by a final score of 49-31 to Grambling in the homecoming game at Pine Bluff last Saturday afternoon. Grambling, which is now 8-2 overall and 8-0 in the SWAC, led 35-3 at one point in the game. We’ll give a slight advantage to the home team. Both schools will be glad to see the season end.

 

Post to Twitter

Rex’s Rankings: The playoffs have begun

Tuesday, November 17th, 2015

We enter the second week of the high school football playoffs in Arkansas with some interesting games on tap.

The first week of the playoffs was rather uneventful. There were lots of byes for top teams and precious few upsets in those games that were played.

Here are the rankings after one week of the playoffs:

Overall

  1. Pine Bluff
  2. Springdale Har-Ber
  3. Pulaski Academy
  4. Greenwood
  5. Cabot
  6. Bentonville
  7. Fayetteville
  8. Little Rock Christian
  9. Bryant
  10. Benton

Class 7A

  1. Springdale Har-Ber
  2. Cabot
  3. Bentonville
  4. Fayetteville
  5. Bryant

Class 6A

  1. Pine Bluff
  2. Greenwood
  3. Benton
  4. Jonesboro
  5. El Dorado

Class 5A

  1. Pulaski Academy
  2. Little Rock Christian
  3. Hope
  4. Hot Springs Lakeside
  5. Batesville

Class 4A

  1. Dardanelle
  2. Nashville
  3. Warren
  4. Central Arkansas Christian
  5. Pocahontas

Class 3A

  1. Smackover
  2. Prescott
  3. Harding Academy
  4. Glen Rose
  5. Greenland

Class 2A

  1. Rison
  2. Junction City
  3. McCrory
  4. Des Arc
  5. England

Post to Twitter

College football: Battle of the Ravine

Monday, November 9th, 2015

It’s the week of the Battle of the Ravine, one of the great college football rivalries (at any level) in America.

As I always point out to out-of-state reporters who call to ask questions about the rivalry, it’s the only college contest in which the road team doesn’t fly or bus to a game. It walks.

I’ve already done my annual story on the game here on the Southern Fried blog. So I won’t repeat that.

Here’s what I will say: Attending a Battle of the Ravine should be on every Arkansan’s bucket list. As I write this, the weather forecast for Arkadelphia on Saturday shows sunny skies and a high of 60. That’s what I call football weather.

And here’s the beauty of it for Razorback fans: The kickoff at Cliff Harris Stadium is at 1 p.m. The game should end by 4 p.m., giving most Arkansans time to be home for the Arkansas-LSU kickoff on ESPN at 6:15 p.m. So treat yourself to a fun day of college football: Ouachita vs. Henderson on a beautiful November afternoon followed by the Hogs’ game in Baton Rouge on television that night.

I finished my broadcast of Ouachita’s 58-7 victory over Southern Nazarene in Oklahoma City on Saturday afternoon in time to hear the final seven minutes of the fourth quarter and the overtime of the Razorback victory on satellite radio. Sirius/XM used the Ole Miss broadcast since the Rebels were the home team, and it was interesting to hear the wild finish from that perspective.

Here’s how Rebel analyst Harry Harrison described a fourth-down play that will live in Razorback history for as long as any of us are breathing: “That was luck to the Nth degree.”

Agreed.

But strange things can happen in college football (you might ask Alabama head coach Nick Saban about the final play against Auburn a couple of years ago). Arkansas still had to score the touchdown, and the Razorbacks still had to execute the two-point conversion.

The question now is whether the Hogs can come back down to earth after a truly epic football game and spring another road upset, this time in Baton Rouge.

It goes without saying that Tiger Stadium on a Saturday night isn’t the easiest place to win a football game. With back-to-back Southeastern Conference victories in overtime for the Hogs, and the fact that LSU looked vulnerable at Tuscaloosa, there’s now reason for hope for Arkansas.

We were 6-4 on the picks last week, our worst week of the season. However, the overall record is still a good 65-19.

Let’s get to the picks for Week 11 of the college football season:

LSU 30, Arkansas 28 — Yes, I expect Arkansas to play well. Alabama certainly looked liked a team primed to win the national championship in its 30-16 victory over LSU in Tuscaloosa on Saturday night. The Tide’s Derrick Henry moved ahead of LSU’s Leonard Fournette in the Heisman watch with 210 yards on the ground and three touchdowns. Fournette came into the game as the leading rusher at the FBS level but was held to 31 yards on 19 carries. Expect him to gain a lot more yards than that this week against Arkansas. Yet if Brandon Allen came have another performance like the one he had in Oxford (33 of 45 passing for 442 yards and six touchdowns), Arkansas will be in this game until the end. In its 122 years of football, Arkansas has won only five games in which it allowed 45 or more points. All five were overtime contests. Two of the five have come this season. Could we see another such game in Baton Rouge? It’s possible. It’s more likely, however, that this one will end in regulation, providing entertaining Saturday evening viewing for the ESPN audience.

Henderson 29, Ouachita 24 — There have been five football seasons in the short history of the Great American Conference, counting this one. And the championship trophy still has yet to leave Arkadelphia. Henderson has wrapped up the 2015 title to go along with the championships it won in 2012 and 2013. Ouachita won conference championships in 2011 and 2014. It has been an amazing run for the Arkadelphia schools (Henderson had undefeated regular seasons in 2012 and 2013, and Ouachita was undefeated last year in the regular season). Both teams are good again this year. Henderson comes into Saturday’s game at 9-1, and Ouachita is 7-3. The Reddies struggled on the road Saturday against a 2-8 Oklahoma Baptist team but did enough in the end to win by eight, 22-14. The Reddies then got a gift when Southwestern Oklahoma defeated second-place Arkansas Tech in Russellville, 28-14, to drop the Wonder Boys to 7-3 and ensure Henderson the crown regardless of what happens Saturday afternoon at Cliff Harris Stadium. Ouachita, meanwhile, warmed up for the game with that 58-7 victory over 0-10 Southern Nazarene. Having the conference’s last-place team on the schedule in the 10th game allowed the Tigers to rest most of their starters for a half coming into the Battle of the Ravine. Henderson leads NCAA Division II in interceptions with 24. Its defense is better than last year, but its offense isn’t nearly as good as it was under the leadership of quarterback Kevin Rodgers in 2012, 2013 and 2014. Ouachita’s young defense has given up big plays at inopportune times throughout the season. Blown coverages in the secondary have been commonplace. Advantage Henderson on defense. Advantage Ouachita on offense. Both teams have strong kicking games.

Arkansas State 35, Louisiana Monroe 22 — The Red Wolves went on the road to Boone, N.C., last Thursday and came home with an impressive 40-27 victory over an Appalachian State team that had entered the contest with a 7-1 overall record. ASU is now alone atop the Sun Belt Conference at 5-0 (6-3 overall), followed by Appalachian State at 4-1, Georgia Southern at 4-1 and Louisiana-Lafayette at 3-1. ASU has won five consecutive games. The Red Wolves trailed in the second half of three of those games. ASU had a 39-point fourth quarter against South Alabama, a 21-point fourth quarter against Georgia State and a 17-point third quarter against Appalachian State. The Red Wolves pay a visit to north Louisiana this Saturday to take on a weak Louisiana-Monroe team. The Warhawks are 1-8 and have lost seven consecutive games. The only victory was by a score of 47-0 over an FCS team, Nicholls State. The losses have been by scores of 51-14 to Georgia, 34-0 to Alabama, 51-31 to Georgia Southern, 34-24 to Tulsa, 59-14 to Appalachian State, 27-13 to Idaho, 30-24 to Louisiana-Lafayette and 51-14 to Troy.

UCA 31, Nicholls State 19 — The Bears moved to 6-3 overall and 6-1 in Southland Conference play with a 36-24 victory in Conway on Saturday night over a Stephen F. Austin team coached by former UCA head coach Clint Conque and quarterbacked by his son, Little Rock Catholic graduate Zach Conque. Stephen F. Austin fell to 3-4 in conference and 3-6 overall. UCA trailed 24-17 late in the third quarter before scoring the game’s final 19 points. Conque, who coached the Bears from 2000-13, was on the visitors’ sideline at Estes Stadium for the first time. McNeese State remains alone atop the Southland Conference standings at 8-0 following a 27-10 victory over Sam Houston State. UCA travels to far south Louisiana this Saturday to take on a Nicholls State team that’s only 2-5 in conference and 2-7 overall. The two victories were by scores of 38-17 over Houston Baptist and 30-28 over Lamar. The losses have been by scores of 47-0 to Louisiana-Monroe, 20-10 to Incarnate Word, 48-0 to Colorado, 37-7 to McNeese, 28-24 to Stephen F. Austin, 37-7 to Sam Houston State and 37-21 to Northwestern State. The Bears should be able to take care of business in Thibodaux on Saturday night and remain in the hunt for an FCS playoff spot.

Grambling 40, UAPB 20 — The long season just keeps getting longer for UAPB, which is 1-8 overall and 0-7 in the SWAC following a 57-24 loss to Southern University in Pine Bluff on Saturday. Southern jumped out to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter and never looked back. The Jaguars led 57-8 after three quarters before clearing the bench. The Grambling team that comes to Pine Bluff on Saturday afternoon leads the SWAC at 7-0 and is 7-2 overall. After starting the season with nonconference losses to California and Bethune-Cookman, the Tigers have run off seven consecutive conference victories by scores of 34-10 over Alabama State, 70-54 over Prairie View A&M, 59-27 over Jackson State, 37-14 over Alabama A&M, 35-34 over Alcorn State, 49-14 over Mississippi Valley State and 41-15 over Texas Southern. There’s no reason to believe that UAPB can be competitive in this game.

Harding 34, Arkansas Tech 27 — Harding and Arkansas Tech are both 7-3. The winner has a chance to be invited to serve as the GAC representative in the Live United Bowl at Texarkana on Dec. 5. Tech has exceeded the expectations its fans had early in the season, while Harding has fallen off since having started the season 4-0 and being ranked as high as No. 9 in NCAA Division II. The Bisons trailed 3-7 Northwestern Oklahoma by nine points in the fourth quarter at Searcy on Saturday before getting three touchdowns on the ground from Michael Latu in the final seven minutes to post a 42-30 victory. Tech, meanwhile, suffered that disappointing loss to Southwestern Oklahoma in Russellville. This should be a close game between two of the conference’s upper-tier teams.

Southern Arkansas 18, UAM 16 — A disappointing season for UAM comes to a merciful end on Saturday. The Boll Weevils are 1-9, having lost Saturday by a final score of 37-0 to 5-5 Southeastern Oklahoma. Southern Arkansas improved its record to 6-4 with a 35-26 victory over East Central Oklahoma, which is also now 6-4.

 

Post to Twitter

Rex’s Rankings: The playoffs

Monday, November 9th, 2015

The regular season has ended in high school football.

It’s playoff time.

In the biggest of the Thursday night games, defending Class 6A state champion Pine Bluff avenged last year’s regular-season loss to Benton to remain undefeated.

In the biggest of the Friday night games, Bentonville continued its regular-season mastery of Fayetteville with a 37-26 victory.

Here are the rankings at the end of the regular season:

Overall

  1. Pine Bluff
  2. Springdale Har-Ber
  3. Pulaski Academy
  4. Greenwood
  5. Cabot
  6. Bentonville
  7. Fayetteville
  8. Little Rock Christian
  9. Bryant
  10. Benton

Class 7A

  1. Springdale Har-Ber
  2. Cabot
  3. Bentonville
  4. Fayetteville
  5. Bryant

Class 6A

  1. Pine Bluff
  2. Greenwood
  3. Benton
  4. Jonesboro
  5. Searcy

Class 5A

  1. Pulaski Academy
  2. Little Rock Christian
  3. Blytheville
  4. Hope
  5. Hot Springs Lakeside

Class 4A

  1. Dardanelle
  2. Nashville
  3. Warren
  4. Central Arkansas Christian
  5. Pocahontas

Class 3A

  1. Smackover
  2. Prescott
  3. Harding Academy
  4. Glen Rose
  5. Greenland

Class 2A

  1. Rison
  2. Junction City
  3. McCrory
  4. Des Arc
  5. England

 

Post to Twitter

Ravine time

Wednesday, November 4th, 2015

Those who know me well know that my favorite day of the year is the Saturday of the Battle of the Ravine.

There have been four Great American Conference championship trophies awarded in football since the GAC came into existence, and all four trophies reside in Arkadelphia — two at Ouachita Baptist University and two at Henderson State University.

Because both football programs have been good in recent years, this unique rivalry has received increased national attention.

Last month, Champion, the official magazine of the NCAA, featured the Battle of the Ravine in a story titled “The short walk.”

Jared Thompson wrote: “One college’s water turned purple. Across the road, red marshmallows rained from the sky. A future state governor set the other school’s party ablaze. One time, a homecoming queen was kidnapped. And no one recalls where the drag queens buried the tiger’s tail.

“This fall marks the 89th edition of the Battle of the Ravine. The pranks defining Division II’s oldest football series have been legendary. The football games have been extraordinary, too. The rivalry pits two schools separated by two lanes of U.S. Highway 67, over which the visiting team walks to its opponent’s field on game day in the shortest road trip in football. The ancestries supporting either side are entwined tighter than the kudzu that suffocates the nearby ravine from which the rivalry’s namesake was found. In Arkadelphia, you grow up cheering either for red or for purple. Yet credits transfer freely between the two schools, and students from one often take classes at the other. Where else might you see the starting quarterback sit next to an opposing lineman in biology class?”

When the writer called me for a quote, I told him that this is the small college version of Alabama-Auburn, a rivalry that divides families. As an Arkadelphia native, I also pointed out that it’s Christmas, New Year’s, Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day all rolled into one for that town.

“Tiger fans still express zeal about the 1975 matchup,” Thompson wrote. “Ouachita converted a fourth-and-25 play by one inch and scored on its final drive to upset a previously undefeated Henderson team, 21-20. Reddies, meanwhile, point to as recently as 2013, when they emerged victorious after a triple-overtime affair to complete a second consecutive undefeated season. Henderson leads the series 42-40-6. The first game was played in 1895; the matchup was resurrected in 1907 and interrupted for World Wars I and II. Then the pranks and vandalism escalated, and officials suspended the game for 12 years after the 1951 contest. Nowadays, when game week arrives, school signs are wrapped in protective plastic, garbage bags or tarps.”

In the late 1940s, the game was promoted as the Biggest Little Football Game in America, a moniker initially used on the East Coast for the NCAA Division III rivalry between Williams College and Amherst College, who first played in 1884. The Nov. 10, 2007, game between Williams and Amherst in Williamstown, Mass., was selected as the location for ESPN’s popular “College GameDay” program. One of these days, the folks at ESPN will make the wise decision to bring that program to Arkadelphia and show the only time in college football in which the visiting team walks to a road game.

Yes, early on the afternoon of Nov. 14, state troopers will stop traffic on Highway 67, and the Reddies will walk across to play at Ouachita’s Cliff Harris Stadium after having put on their uniforms in their own dressing room. Shortly after 4 p.m., the troopers will stop traffic again, and the Reddies will trudge back across the highway. Of the 88 battles between the two schools, the game has been decided by a touchdown or less 39 times with Ouachita holding a 19-14-6 advantage in those games. Last year’s game was a bit of an anomaly in that there was a 21-point final margin. Ouachita won 41-20 in 39-degree weather at Henderson’s Carpenter-Haygood Stadium en route to an undefeated regular season.

Some of the best national publicity ever received by the Battle of the Ravine came two years ago, a few days before that triple-overtime game. Gregg Doyel, then of CBSSports.com, wrote a lengthy piece titled “Battle of Ravine: Can’t sum up D-II’s oldest rivalry in a football game.”

Doyel wrote: “It’s not easy to make a mark with a prank because the best ones have been done. So have the worst. There’s the tiger on campus at Ouachita, for example. For years it was missing a tail because kids at Henderson would sneak over and clip it off and bury it somewhere. Ouachita would replace it. The kids at Henderson would clip the new tail and bury it somewhere else. Ouachita eventually built a fence around its signature statue, but it had a smaller one at the school library. A young man dressed in drag — everyone swears that’s what happened — talked the Ouachita security officer into giving him the tiger for its ‘regular cleaning.’ The statue came back clean. And without a tail.”

Doyel went on to tell the famous (famous in Arkadelphia at least) story of Ann Strickland, the Ouachita homecoming queen: “Ann Strickland grew up in the shadow of both schools. She attended Ouachita but knew lots of kids at Henderson, which is why she got in the car with a few of them in late November 1946, shortly after being named the Ouachita homecoming queen. The Battle of the Ravine was in two days. Ouachita’s homecoming queen had just been kidnapped by Henderson.

“The kidnapped Ouachita homecoming queen was dating Ouachita star defensive back Bill Vining, so it wasn’t just the town that was looking for Ann Strickland — it was the team, too. Vining and teammate Ike Sharp got word that Strickland was being held in Arkadelphia at the Caddo Hotel, and they pounded on doors looking for her. Good thing they didn’t find her. According to legend, Ike Sharp was wearing overalls. According to legend, he was hiding a shotgun under his clothes.”

The “friendly” kidnapping had seen Strickland entertained at a house on Lake Hamilton. She was returned before the game, which Ouachita won, 26-16.

Following a scoreless tie in 1947, Ouachita won again in 1948. In 1949, Henderson led 14-0 in the fourth quarter.

Doyel wrote: “Enter Ike Sharp. The guy with the overalls and the shotgun. Sharp successfully booted three onside kicks — the last one just for spite — as the Tigers scored three times in the final 10 minutes to win, 17-14.

“Move ahead to 1975, to a game many consider the greatest in series history. By then Bill Vining — boyfriend of the kindnapped homecoming queen — was the basketball coach at Ouachita, which now plays in Bill Vining Arena. Well, by 1975, Bill and Ann Vining’s son was the quarterback on the Ouachita football team. That year Henderson came in at 9-0, a game ahead of Ouachita at 8-1. In the final minute, Ouachita trailed 20-14 and faced fourth-and-25 when Bill Vining Jr. completed a 25-yard pass to Gary Reese. Two plays later, he threw a touchdown to Ken Stuckey, and Ouachita won 21-20 to take Henderson’s spot in the national playoffs.

“Ann Strickland Vining died in August 2009. Over the years the homecoming queen’s house up on a hill had become a hangout spot for kids in Arkadelphia. They learned to swim in the Vining pool. On snow days they trooped up the Vining hill with sleds. Some of those kids went to Ouachita. Some went to Henderson.”

I was one of those kids, having grown up a block from the Vining home in the neighborhood known as Ouachita Hills.

How deep are the family ties at these schools?

David Sharp, one of my closest friends and the Ouachita athletic director since 1999, is the son of the aforementioned Ike Sharp. Our fathers played football together at Ouachita in the 1940s. When my dad accepted the job of head football coach at Newport High School following his graduation from Ouachita in the spring of 1948, it was Ike Sharp who drove my parents to Jackson County since they didn’t own a car.

David and his older brother, Paul, played in the Battle of the Ravine and later coached in the series as Ouachita assistants. Each year when Ouachita and Southwestern Oklahoma meet on the gridiron, they’re playing for the Paul Sharp Trophy, named in honor of the late coach who led Southwestern Oklahoma to an NAIA national championship.

During his first year as athletic director in 1999, David had to deal with an incident that became known as Trashcam. A Henderson graduate assistant coach took a video camera into Arkadelphia’s Central Park, which overlooks the Ouachita practice fields. As he was taping the Tiger practice, the graduate assistant was seen by a Ouachita player. The cameraman, realizing he had been spotted, sped away in his car, leaving the camera in a nearby trash can. When the camera was found with a Henderson identification tag on it, David removed the tape and returned the camera to Henderson. It was the proper thing to do. Though the rivalry is intense, these folks have to live with each other all year. They sit in the same pews at church and find themselves next to each other in the waiting room at the doctor’s office.

To illustrate how families are divided by this rivalry, I give you none other than Cliff Harris, the former Dallas Cowboy star for whom Ouachita’s new stadium is named. Both Cliff and his father played for Ouachita. But his mother was a graduate of Henderson.

Though the stands and press box are new, the field at Ouachita is where it has been since the early 1960s. Even though the team for which I broadcast lost both times, two of the finest football games I’ve ever seen were the previous two Battles of the Ravine on that field.

Two years ago was the aforementioned three-overtime game as Henderson went undefeated in the regular season and Ouachita finished 7-3. The Reddies came in ranked fourth nationally in NCAA Division II by the American Football Coaches Association. Ouachita was only three or four plays away from being undefeated after close losses to Harding and Southern Arkansas.

This was a battle between two teams that simply refused to lose. Ouachita had Henderson down to fourth down twice in the second overtime — one play from victory — and both times the talented Reddie quarterback Kevin Rodgers completed passes that few other players in Division II could have completed. Even in defeat, Ouachita quarterback Benson Jordan (the grandson of former Ouachita head coach and Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame inductee Buddy Benson) played the best game of his career. It was a pleasure just to say you attended that game.

Four years ago, Ouachita had already wrapped up the first Great American Conference championship. The Reddies roared to a 41-17 lead in the third quarter behind the play of Rodgers, who was a freshman at the time. People began heading for the exits at that point.

Then, Ouachita quarterback Casey Cooper hit wide receiver Brett Reece for a six-yard touchdown. Next, Cooper found tight end Phillip Supernaw for an eight-yard touchdown. Finally, sophomore tailback Chris Rycraw scored on a 12-yard run with 3:47 left to make it a one-possession game, 41-36.

On the kickoff, Henderson fumbled, and Ouachita’s Ryan Newsom recovered at the Reddie 29. Henderson held on downs, and the Reddies got the ball back with 2:15 remaining. Henderson needed just one first down to be able to run out the clock. That first down never came. Christian Latoof’s punt carried 35 yards, and Ouachita took over at its 47 with 43 seconds on the A.U. Williams Field clock.

Cooper completed a 13-yard pass to Rycraw. Then, a 29-yard pass to Reece gave the Tigers the ball at the Henderson 11. On third-and-five from the Reddie six, Cooper completed a pass to Reece, who was pulled down a yard away from the end zone. A Cooper pass on first-and-goal was broken up by Chuck Obi.

The clock showed six-tenths of a second remaining. There was time for one play.

Rycraw got the ball on a dive up the middle. There was a huge pile at the goal line. None of the officials signaled touchdown, though fans on the home side thought Rycraw had scored. Henderson had held on, 41-36.

That played will be debated as long as anyone is still alive who attended the game. Henderson fans will tell you it rates among the greatest games in the history of the series. Ouachita fans will insist that Rycraw scored.

I’m a Ouachita man so, of course, I’ll tell you that the 1975 game was the best. In fact, it’s the best college football game I’ve ever seen, at any level.

I usually arrive at the stadium three hours in advance of a Battle of the Ravine to prepare for the broadcast. It was brutally cold as I got out of the car at Carpenter-Haygood Stadium last year, and the skies were cloudy. All I could think was: “It feels just like 1975.”

You see, the Battle of the Ravine and I go way back.

I was a high school student in 1975 and was on the Ouachita sideline that day.

I’m 56 now and still feel like a kid on Christmas morning when Battle of the Ravine day arrives.

It all started on Thanksgiving Day in 1895 as Ouachita defeated what was then known as Arkansas Methodist College by a final score of 8-0 on the Ouachita side of the ravine.

Long may it continue.

Post to Twitter