Hampton Crabbers struggle to take down a Newport News running back in the last Turkey Day Game in 1970. (Handout / / November 22, 2000)
Forty-three years ago this Thanksgiving Day, one of Hampton Roads' great high school football rivalries came to an end when the Hampton Crabbers and the Newport News Typhoon clashed in their last Turkey Day Game.
The 1970 match brought an end to a 73-game series of storied gridiron contests that reached back to 1903 but which had been played hard every Thanksgiving Day since 1947.
Hampton had the advantage in wins but not in heart as the Typhoon triumphed 16-7.
The Gene Edmonds Trophy was given to the winner of the Turkey Day Game held between Newport News High School and Hampton High School football teams from 1949 to 1970. (Joe Fudge / / October 5, 2004)
The shocking result ended Hampton's seven-year-long Thanksgiving victory streak as well as its hopes of bringing home a second consecutive Group AAA state title.
"The end came with a great roar, the blaring of the band and a swirl of dust," reported Norman M. Covert on the front page of the Friday, Nov. 27 Daily Press.
"Thousands...rushed out to carry their heroes to the locker room."
Newport News' victory was especially sweet for its self-proclaimed "No. 1 fan" -- Capt. Red Crossley -- whose interest in the intense rivalry with the Crabbers went back at least as far as the 1920s.
For years before the final contest, Crossley created a stir every Thanksgiving by entering the stadium in the company of various barnyard animals that he brought in as mascots.
Perhaps the most outrageous examples were the piglets he trained to trail along behind him -- and which he gleefully explained had been chosen as a playful insult to long-time Hampton football coach James M. "Suey" Eason.
"They always vowed to get the pig," said Crossley, who wore one of his trademark Derby hats to the last game.
"We always got it back."
Bragging rights were a key feature of the contest for both the players and the fans, who swelled to more than 9,000 for the final stanza at Newport News' Saunders Stadium.
Even larger crowds of as many 14,000 would gather to watch the games played at Darling Stadium in Hampton.
Residents of both cities talked about the game for weeks in advance, then arranged their holiday meals around kickoff time.
They went on to relive the most dramatic plays of every game for decades after the final whistle blew in 1970.
"It was more than a high school football game," recalled Eason's son, James, who played in three of the annual contests in the late 1950s before going on to become Hampton's mayor, then its economic development director.
"The whole community got involved -- and it really was viewed as a rivalry between the cities and not just the schools."Beginning in 1949, the winner of each year's game was presented with the Gene Edmonds Memorial Trophy, named for a Hampton halfback whose brilliant career at the University of Virginia was cut short by a fatal car accident earlier that year.
The prize made the annual clash even more special, and -- no matter what the teams' records before the match -- one of the most unpredictable contests played in Hampton Roads each season.
The Crabbers dominated the series, building a 14-6-2 record from 1949-70.
But Newport News ran off a string of four consecutive wins against Hampton from 1959-62, then won the final game in a shocker.
Then an assistant at Newport News, William and Mary coach Jimmye Laycock told Daily Press reporter Marty O'Brien in 2000 that -- despite the passage of 30 years -- he could still "remember driving to the stadium and hearing on the radio that we were 35-point underdogs."
Defending state champion Hampton came into the game with a record of 9-0, had outscored its opponents by the intimidating cumulative score of 408-6 and was on a 27-game winning streak.
Storied Hampton coach Mike Smith was then a young assistant and still remembered the taste of defeat grimly in O'Brien's 30th-anniversary story.
"That was the darkest day in football," he said.
"I've never underestimated an opponent since that game."
No one knew then that Newport News High School would close nine months later as a result of the city's compliance with a federal desegregation order.
So what had been the two schools' last Thanksgiving Day game because of a new playoff system became their last game forever.
"This game was always the last game of the year, and it was for bragging rights between the two cities," recalled Hampton wingback Bud Porter in 2004, nearly 50 years after running for a touchdown and passing for two more in a 20-0 triumph in 1957.
"It was absolutely incredible. Everybody was there. You'd run out of bounds and run over 20 people (because) there were so many people there.
"Men wore overcoats and ties, and the women wore dresses. It was a social affair, and I remember it being the only time you saw a sports story on the front page of the Daily Press."
Bud Porter led the Hampton High School Crabbers when they beat Newport News High 20-0 in the 1957 Turkey Day Game. He's shown here in 2004 holding up newspaper clips from the game. (Rob Ostermaier / Daily Press Daily Press / October 5, 2004)