SI Vault
 
THE GAME OF A LIFETIME
Mark Bowden
December 09, 2002
In the last installment of a series, SI visits two suburbs of St. Louis where the Thanksgiving Day football game is not just an old-fashioned rivalry—it's something to savor forever
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
December 09, 2002

The Game Of A Lifetime

In the last installment of a series, SI visits two suburbs of St. Louis where the Thanksgiving Day football game is not just an old-fashioned rivalry—it's something to savor forever

View CoverRead All Articles

ETERNAL FOES

Here are the 15 oldest active high school football rivalries in the U.S., according to the National Federation of State High School Associations.

FIRST GAME

HIGH SCHOOLS

GAMES PLAYED

1875

New London, Conn., vs. Norwich ( Conn.) Free Academy

140*

1882

Wellesley, Mass., vs. Needham, Mass.

115

1887

Boston Latin vs. Boston English

116

1887

Philadelphia William Penn Charter vs. Fort Washington (Pa.) Germantown Academy

116

1889

Baltimore Polytechnic Institute vs. Baltimore City College

114

1891

Rome (N.Y.) Free Academy vs. Utica (N.Y.) T.R. Proctor

109

1892

Abilene, Kans., vs. Chapman, Kans.

110

1892

Pueblo (Colo.) Central vs. Pueblo Centennial

102

1893

Millville, N.J., vs. Vineland, N.J.

131*

1893

Louisville Male vs. Louisville duPont Manual

120*

1893

Aurora (Ill.) East vs. Aurora West

110

1893

San Francisco St. Ignatius vs. San Francisco Sacred Heart

77

1894

Canton (Ohio) McKinley vs. Massillon ( Ohio) Washington

111

1894

Marinette, Wis., vs. Menominee, Mich.

96

1896

Tuscola, Ill., vs. Areola, Ill.

98

*Some teams played more than once in a season.

The word spread by electronic teenage drumbeat throughout the leafy St. Louis suburbs of Webster Groves and Kirkwood. Phone calls, e-mails, IMs, pagers—it was big news, and on the Sunday before last it flew: "Jim, did you hear?"

"What?"

"Jayvee is playing."

"Are you serious?"

"That's what Ryan Peterson said."

The call was from Jim McLean's friend Akyra Davis. She's a cheerleader at Webster Groves High, so she's plugged in. It must be true. The Game, the celebrated annual Turkey Day game, the nearly century-old high school football showdown between the Kirkwood Pioneers and the Webster Groves Statesmen, attended by thousands, broadcast on local radio and TV, mentioned from time to time during NFL Thanksgiving Day games, the biggest event on the calendars of both schools, a mutual homecoming, the game that Kirkwood High principal (and '67 graduate) Dave Holley calls "larger than life itself," was going to be played this year not by the schools' varsity squads but by freshmen and sophomores, the scrubs, the jayvees!

Jim could hardly believe his ears. The freckly, 15-year-old Webster sophomore running back, a stringy fellow with ramrod posture still waiting for his teenage growth spurt, had been attending Turkey Day games all his life. In this part of St. Louis it was just how certain families spent Thanksgiving. You packed into the stands or joined the crowd that formed a ring on the track at either Webster or Kirkwood (the schools took turns as host), you cheered for your side and then you went home to thaw out over turkey dinner, walking either a little taller or a little smaller, depending on the game's outcome.

"I always hoped I'd get to play in the game when I made varsity," said Jim. "Around here Turkey Day is the biggest deal there is." But if Akyra and Ryan were right, the future was now. Jim would get his chance in just four days.

Donald (DJ) Jackson heard it on the nightly TV news. It shook him up a little. The way he heard it, which was also how Jim heard it, was that Webster jayvees were going to square off against Kirkwood's varsity. "I wasn't scared," says DJ, a sophomore who stands just over five feet and weighs less than 115 pounds. "I was nervous, though. Those guys are pretty big."

It might be daunting, but it made sense. The Webster varsity squad had unexpectedly won its state tournament semifinal game that Saturday in double overtime; DJ and Jim had been there rooting. Led by all-everything junior quarterback Darrell Jackson ("It's a bird, it's a plane, it's Darrell Jackson!"), who is not related to DJ, the Statesmen would play for the Class 5A Missouri championship the following Saturday, downtown in the Edward Jones Dome, where the St. Louis Rams play. This would be only the third time in 23 years that Webster had qualified for the state final, and it meant that Turkey Day was suddenly a problem. There were only two days between Thanksgiving and the state final, and both games were too big to skip. Something had to give.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9