In last week’s post about Norris Armstrong, I mentioned players from his NFL team competed in two games in Arkansas in the early 1920s.
I wrote this might have possibly been the only times NFL-associated games were played in Arkansas. Turns out, there have been at least three more such games. All three games were preseason exhibition games and featured teams which had lodged in Hot Springs before hopping on the train for Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium:
1. September 10, 1949 – The world champion Philadelphia Eagles trained in Hot Springs before playing the the Los Angeles Rams to a 24-24 tie in Little Rock.
2. September 1, 1951- The Eagles trained in Hot Springs before losing to the Los Angeles Rams* 31-26.
Twenty-seven thousand people attended this game; it’s fair to assume many were there to see the Eagles’ Clyde Scott, who’d earned All-American honors for the Arkansas Razorback in 1948 before being drafted by Philadelphia the next year. He only played five seasons in the NFL but 1951 would be his finest. He ran for 151 yards, caught for 212 yards and scored four touchdowns altogether.
3. August 23, 1952 – The Detroit Lions trained in Hot Springs, and beat the Eagles 7-3 at War Memorial in front of more than 22,000 spectators. Detroit’s Doak Walker scored the game-winning TD in the fourth quarter.
This time, fans had two former Arkansas Razorback standouts to cheer, as the Lions had drafted kicker Pat Summerall. This would be one of the only games Summerall played for the Lions as an injury cut his rookie season short. He played the rest of his career in Chicago and New York. Summerall ended up making 47% of the field goals he attempted in his career (with a high of 69% in 1959).
At first glance, these numbers look absolutely horrible.
Then I wondered whether field goal accuracy through the decades had improved (in part due to emergence of soccer style kicking and improving training methods). Sure enough, it has, based on these pro-football-reference.com numbers:
1950 NFL Leaders in FG%
|1.||Lou Groza* · CLE||68.421%|
|2.||Joe Geri*+ · PIT||57.143%|
|3.||Bill Dudley* · WAS||50.000%|
1960 NFL Leaders in FG%
|1.||Bobby Walston* · PHI||70.000%|
|2.||Bob Khayat* · WAS||65.217%|
|3.||Gerry Perry · STL||65.000%|
|1.||Garo Yepremian · MIA||75.862%|
|2.||Curt Knight · WAS||74.074%|
|3.||Jan Stenerud*+ · KAN||71.429%|
|1.||Toni Fritsch · HOU||79.167%|
|2.||Ray Wersching · SFO||78.947%|
|3.||Nick Lowery · KAN||76.923%|
|1.||Nick Lowery*+ · KAN||91.892%|
|2.||Fuad Reveiz · MIN||91.667%|
|3.||John Carney · SDG||90.476%|
(OK, likely you either see the trend by now or cannot read in the first place)
*Too good not to mention: The Rams of the early 1950s featured a Texan who went by the name “Vitamin.” Obviously, he found that alias a lot easier to swallow than his birthname – Verda.
There was at least one more major pro game played in Arkansas, although it was through the American Football League as opposed to the National Football League (the two leagues would eventually merge):
4. August 1964 – San Diego receiver Lance Alworth caught nine passes for 140 yards and one TD in a 44-38 win over Houston in an AFL exhibition game. The Chargers, which were coming off a 1963 championship season, were then scheduled to practice for two weeks Arkansas State University. Two Razorbacks were featured in this game – Danny Brabham, who played linebacker for the Oilers and Alworth, who would go on to become the first AFL player inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
While at this point in his career, Alworth didn’t yet have much national starpower, he had become very much the draw in Arkansas as this 1965 Sports Illustrated article points out:
…Alworth does not have the star status he deserves.
An exception is the state of Arkansas, where Alworth was an All-America halfback at the university in Fayetteville. It would not be enough to say that the people of Arkansas have affection for Alworth. They have passion for him. At one pro exhibition game in Little Rock the stands were jammed with people who had come to see Lance. On the second play of the game Alworth was knocked out. He was carried off the field by Ernie Ladd and Ernie Wright, which made an interesting photograph in the Little Rock papers the next day, since Ladd and Wright are Negroes. Lance returned at the half to wave at the crowd and assure them that he was all right, and he appeared twice on television, but his coach, Sid Gillman, did not put him back into the game. The people were not there to see theChargers or their opponents, the Houston Oilers, but to see Alworth, and club officials expected a noisy protest from the stands. There was none. The people simply loved Bambi too much to want him to risk getting hurt.
As far as I know, there hasn’t been a major pro football game in Little Rock since 1964. In 2005, Little Rock businessmen offered the New Orleans Saints free use of War Memorial in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, but that fell through as Saints brass decided making money actually mattered to them.
It’s still fun to ponder what would happen if one day another NFL preseason game was played in Little Rock. Indeed, I often wonder if people would rather have a preseason NFL game featuring a couple teams with Razorback connections (e.g. Raiders, Patriots, Cowboys) in which the Arkansans would be guaranteed to play, or get another Razorbacks game at War Memorial (this Hogs game would be against a Jacksonville State or Troy level team, not against a major college).
Enough with the wondering. What’s your take?
H/t to Hot Springs native Don Duren, an amateur sports historian who wrote an article for Garland County Historical Museum’s annual publication which proved extremely helpful in researching this.