A History of the History of the Turkey Day Game

Many think 1907 was the first year of football between Kirkwood and Webster because there was no prior history. But the Turkey Day Game has an earlier existence.

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 70 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 nine 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. 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 was the Webster football coach for the team in 1907 and he died in 1946. By 1949, that left James Hixson as the only remaining school administrator left of the original "Turkey Day Game" as he became principal of Webster High School in 1907. Both men coming to Webster the first year of the new school building’s existence and being directly involved with the first Turkey Day Game caused them to have a different notion of that game's meaning, and they had both lived a tradition apart 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. The other 19 known games were 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, Nov. 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. In fact, the famed first Turkey Day Game of 1907 served as the final game of a three-game series. Because of this continuously held paradigm, the extra games—even the extra game from 1983—are 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. 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. Additionally, while the record of all known varsity games between Kirkwood and Webster since 1898 (the Turkey Day Rivalry Record) is 53-42-7, the record between both schools for varsity games only played on Thanksgiving Day (the Turkey Day Tradition Record) is 37-36-5. Webster leads both records.

While this history is anything but simple, it is factual. When interpreting the information any other way, one might as well be interpreting dimpled chads in a Florida election. May the Bell ring for you this November!

Shawn Buchanan Greene is a 1987 Webster alumnus and Turkey Day Game historian. He is the author and organizer of several Turkey Day Game yearbooks available at Lulu.com. His books include: Turkey Day Centennial 1898-1999, Turkey Day Decennial 2000-2009, Turkey Day Annual 2007, Turkey Day Annual 2008, Turkey Day Annual 2009, Turkey Day Annual 2010 and Turkey Day Annual 2011, which will be released in December.


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