Yearly, newspapers and broadcasters want to know the same thing – Which annual Turkey Day Game is this? Such a question seems simple but is not. The Turkey Day Game, the name now of the Kirkwood-Webster (or, depending upon who says it, Webster-Kirkwood) football contest, overly simplifies what the game was prior to Thanksgiving Day, 1928. It is a game that precedes by 69 years the first Show-Me Bowl game, precedes by 28 years the creation of the Missouri State High School Activities Association, and precedes by at least 9 years the Suburban League and its related formations –, including its predecessor, the St. Louis County Interscholastic League – which both Kirkwood and Webster were key players in founding. Because the two schools and their game of football precede every formal regulating entity concerning the game of football, their game is the essence of complexity.
It might surprise you to know that an assembly of prior game scores was not attempted until 1945. Kirkwood students, without the help of microfiche or electronic, searchable databases on the Internet, scoured old school newspapers to formulate the first record of past scores for the 1945 Turkey Day Program. Not surprisingly, their assembly was riddled with errors and omissions. In 1948, Webster students added missing information to that record and, because the game was transferred for nine consecutive years to the new and contemporary War Memorial (now Moss) Field, Webster students again created the 1949 Turkey Day Program which included an extensive list of past scores and game descriptions, titled “Scores and Stars 1910-1949.” Even still, the record was incomplete and omitted important data.
Charley Roberts, the Webster football coach for the team in 1907, deceased in 1946 and the only other old stalwart of the Game that remained in 1949 was James Hixson, who had become the principal of Webster High School in 1907 – both men coming to Webster the first year of the new building’s existence and being at the first game held on Thanksgiving Day. Because those two gentlemen arrived the first year of the “Turkey Day Game,” they had known and lived a football tradition apart from what it had become in 1945 – a friendly rivalry and Thanksgiving Day game.
Chief of the omissions, and the Game’s greatest assumption, is that it was or was always intended to be held on Thanksgiving Day. It surprises and also angers many Turkey Day Game “traditionalists” to be told that the “Turkey Day Game” was only held on “Turkey Day” four times from 1907 to 1927 – all other 19 known games being held on dates both near and far from Thanksgiving Day.
For many years, because there was no known history of the Turkey Day Game prior to 1907, it was believed that 1907 was the first year of football for Kirkwood and Webster. In fact, the earliest known date of play between the schools was Friday, November 18, 1898 – proving that the Turkey Day Game has been played in three different centuries and two different millennia. While Kirkwood had teams as early as 1894, Webster’s first known year of football is now 1898.
Early assemblers of the Turkey Day Game record also did not fathom Kirkwood and Webster having more than one game a year and now it is known that there were several years that this occurred: 1906, 1907, 1908, and 1983 – the famed first Turkey Day Game of 1907 serving as the final game of a three game series. Because of this continuously held paradigm, the extra games, even the extra game from 1983, is nowhere to be found on the Turkey Day record between the two schools.
After the record was detailed in 1949, both schools kept and printed differing records of the scores. Because students’ span through school is only four years they were ripe for oversight and information would occasionally be transcribed incorrectly and these mistakes would become permanent changes to the record with succeeding students unknowingly repeating the mistakes. In Webster, scores in 1994 and 1996 for many years were changed from 13 to 14, probably because a student figured that it was impossible for a team to score 13 points (thinking only that touchdowns are 7 points and giving no account that an extra point might be missed). In Kirkwood, Webster’s 76 points to Kirkwood’s 0 points in 1917 was changed to a score of 17-6, probably because a student misheard “seventy-six” as “seventeen to six.” Also, strangely and without explanation, a new score appeared on the record at Kirkwood in 1983 for the 1924 game, the score being 7-6 favoring Webster. There never was a 1924 game and it was deduced in 2007 that this score was the misunderstanding by a student of a 1930 alumni football game – many of the players having played in the late 1910s and early 1920s.
What all of this history proves is that it is now known that the 100th anniversary of the first Thanksgiving Day game was also coincidentally the 100th known varsity football game played between the schools since 1898.
May the Bell ring for you this November!
By Shawn Buchanan Greene
Webster Alumnus 1987
Written Thursday, November 10, 2011