TURKEY DAY A SLICE OF HISTORY - STORIED RIVALRY ONLY A MEMORY - HAMPTON-NN
SERIES ENDED IN 1970
Daily Press (Newport News, VA)
- November 22, 1990
Author: AL PEARCE
The images come galloping
back from the past, bringing with them a flood of 20-year-old,
black-and-white Kodachrome memories.
Thanksgiving Day, 1970. Saunders Stadium in downtown Newport News. It's
the last time Newport News and Hampton high schools will play football
against each other.
Strutting on the visitors' side of the chewed-up field is Hampton, 9-0,
winners of 27 straight and generally regarded as Virginia's best team.
Hampton had scored 408 points in nine games (45.3 points per game ) and
had allowed six points - TOTAL! - all season. Over the previous five
seasons, the Crabbers had allowed only 23 touchdowns in 51 games.
On the home side is Newport News. At 7-2, the Typhoon is good, to be sure,
but considered overmatched in the 76th game of this storied 59-year
Or, so it would seem.
For Hampton's red-and-white: Coach Johnny Palmer
and his young assistant, Mike Smith, the current Hampton coach. Crabber
stars are Jimmy Williams, Tom Henderson, Kenneth Flournoy, Alex Hill and
For Newport News' gold-and-blue: Coach Harlan Hott and assistants Jim
Cavanaugh, Don Clary and Jimmye Laycock. Typhoon stars are Willie Armstead,
Reggie Johns , Jo Jo Bethea, Phil Allen and Jimmy
Has it really been two decades - covering five presidents and three Popes
- since Newport News knocked Hampton from the Group AAA championship
playoffs with a 16-7 whipping?
Just how big was The Game back in those days?
It was so big that the Daily Press put it on Page 1 Friday morning. All
told, The Times-Herald and Daily Press ran eight stories and 12 pictures
from the game.
And why not?
The Game captivated the blue-collar Peninsula because the two schools
represented the pride and identity of each community.
Each had pre-Turkey Day pep rallies, bonfires and parades, and folks who
stayed home Thursday afternoon were looked at askance.
After the game, families rushed home for a late-afternoon Thanksgiving
dinner. On Friday, a school holiday, teenagers gathered at the Hampton
Country Club for the annual Red and White and Blue and Gold Ball.
"For years, the Newport News-Hampton game was big and important to both
cities," said Hott, currently a teacher at Ferguson High. "There's nothing
like it now, no more long-running rivalries.
"Hampton and Bethel got close to that feeling in the '70s, but that died,
Hott remembers Turkey Day '70 with clarity: 12 days to prepare for
Hampton; rain forcing Newport News to practice indoors until players
insisted on practicing outside, in the mud, on Monday and Tuesday; Hott
urging his team to stay focused, even with a 16-7 halftime lead;
teary-eyed players carrying him across the field.
"That was my greatest thrill in coaching," he said. "We had Willie, Jo Jo
and Phil, and five or six other athletes. But we were poor in some spots.
Overall, Hampton had better people.
"On that day, though, Newport News wouldn't lose. We won on emotion and
because some kids played over their heads. If we'd played Hampton 10 more
times they would have won nine."
Laycock, now head coach at William and Mary, remembers the play call that
freed Armstead for a 10-yard TD.
"It was flanker-right, dive-left and Willie took it in," he said. "We
played a goal-line defense the whole second half and dared them to throw.
"It was a great game, a lot of fun. I was only there one year, but I got
caught up because it meant something. There aren't many rivalries like
In all, Hampton won 37 games, Newport News 27 and there were 12 ties.
The schools played 17 football games between 1903 and 1911. They skipped
1912-13 and 1929-30. The series was suspended between 1943-46 because of
repeated turmoil between players and fans.
It resumed in 1947 after supporters from both schools met along Pembroke
Ave. to peacefully settle their differences.
The finale was perhaps the series' biggest upset:
Hampton received the kickoff and fumbled on its second snap. Newport News
fumbled on its first, then Hampton fumbled back to Newport News. Finally,
Allen kicked a 25-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead.
Newport News moved ahead, 10-0 when Armstead scored on a 10-yard run in
the second quarter. Allen kicked the extra point, one of only a handful he
tried all season.
Hill brought Hampton to within 10-7 on an 8-yard TD dash in the second
period. But the game turned on Bethea's 25-yard interception runback with
seconds left in the half.
Hampton High and North Carolina graduate Jimmy Eason played in the 1957,
'58 and '59 games. Even today, 30-something years later, he recalls every
score and major detail of them.
"My first year we beat Newport News 21-0 (20-0, actually) and won 35-14
the next year," he said. "We lost 34-0 my senior year, the week after
losing 2-0 to Norview. I can tell you just about everybody who scored,
when and how in those games."
Eason was closer to the series than most since his father, the late Suey
Eason, coached Hampton to three state championships in 21 years. Even
though refined and honorable, Coach Eason wasn't above a ploy or two.
Jimmy recently found a cartoon, circa 1954, showing his father on a
tractor, dragging Hampton players into Saunders Stadium as Typhoon fans
"The idea was that he had to rope and drag players to the 1954 game,"
Eason said. "Well, he showed it to the team and said it came from Newport
"I'm pretty certain he had somebody draw the cartoon and send it to the
Whatever works. The 1-7 Crabbers stunned heavily favored Newport News,
The 1970 finale was just the opposite. Almost everyone expected the
Crabbers to casually brush aside Newport News en route to yet another
state AAA championship.
Smith, Hampton's head coach for the past 20 years, called it, "One of the
darkest Thanksgivings of my life. Man, we had a great offense, but they
played a 6-5 goal-line defense all over the field.
Perhaps it's appropriate that Smith felt the night suddenly close in on
the Crabbers as the clock ticked down the series' final moments.
"As the game went on and we stayed behind, it got darker darker and darker
out there," he said. "And when it got to be almost night, the game was
over and we had lost."
Lost a game, to be sure, but much more than that.
But when Newport News High School closed just before the 1971 season, it
drew the curtain on the series, the Peninsula's most beloved sports
And if you don't believe it was, just ask around.