By JOHN INMAN
Thanksgiving Day football usually means different thing to different people. It usually involves watching the Dallas Cowboys on television. On that day in 1960, the Heavener Wolves played Stigler on a bright and sunny afternoon at Harvey Stadium. In 1958, the Wolves battled Idabel Washington that afternoon.
But, for many, it was just another day for Heavener and Poteau to play. The two LeFlore County rivals haven’t met on the turf in years — they’re in different classifications now – but when the Wolves and Pirates met back in the day, it was always played on a Thanksgiving Day afternoon, recalls Billy “Red” Addison, 85, a halfback on the 1942 Wolves team.
“That’s when we played. It was always the last game every season and always on Thanksgiving Day,” said Addison recently. “The years we played less than 10 games, I remember once we played only eight, but it was the last one and we played them on Thanksgiving Day. The game was rotated every year, once here and the next year in Poteau, but it was always a big game.”
Neal Martin Tate, 86, a quarterback for the Wolves from 1939-42, said “We beat them seven times in a row, and didn’t allow a point in some of those games.” In fact, Tate said he scored the game’s only touchdown in a 6-0 win his sophomore season and threw a pass (to end Bob Anderson) for the only score in a 6-0 triumph the next season. The twin 6-0 wins came back-to-back in 1941-42.
Jack Davis, a defensive end/linebacker in the late 1940s and 1950, said he “saved his best for last. I always seemed to play well against Poteau in the last game of the season.”
It seems it’s always been that way. Dan Blair, who played in 1965-66 for Coach Bill Perry echoed the same sentiment. “I do recall beating Poteau in ’65 8-6, which made our season successful in the town’s eyes. If you lost all and won Poteau you did well,” indicated Blair.
Addison said his “favorite football memory” was beating Poteau.
Incidentally, Addison was considered the fastest player on the team his junior year. “I remember going to Shawnee for the state finals in track. I ran the 100 (yard dash), 440 (yard dash) and mile relay. I finished second one year in the 100. We did win the track meet, but everyone on the team thought I was the fastest (one). Coach (Allen) Keen was the track coach, too.”
Addison and Tate both said Keen “could outrun everyone with him running backward.”
“It’s true,” Addison chimed in. “He challenged the whole team to run. (Since I was the fastest one) I was the only one to accept the challenge. He beat me running backward. I don’t remember how far, but he did beat me.”
Keen’s nickname when he played professional football with the Philadelphia Eagles (in 1937-38) was “Rabbit.”
“I didn’t know for sure that’s when he played … guess that’s why they called him that, because he could run so fast,” laughed Addison .
Tate noted Keen introduced the “spread offense” to Heavener. “It was nothing like the spread offenses you see now days, but he spread us and we passed the ball. He had that pro experience, and spread us out some.”
Addison added, “All the defenses were geared more to stop the run, I guess, so we threw the ball a little.” He said, “15 or 20 percent of the time, we passed.”
Addison said a 100-yard game was a “good measuring stick” for a running back, just like now. “We tried to run (the ball) most of the time. I didn’t catch too many out of the backfield. The ends were always the primary targets.”
He continued, “We depended on the run game. We didn’t have many long runs; we just tried to ground it out, three and four yards at a time. I guess you could say we played more of a smash-mouth game.
“We didn’t have eighth-grade football, or little leagues like now,” Right off the bat, as a freshman, Addison lettered. “I started for three years.” Addison said. He joined the Navy after his junior season along with four other from the team. “You only had to be 17 and have your parents’ consent to join the military then.”
Addison ’s father, the late T.C. Addison, owned the “five and 10 cent store” but sold out to Del Towery. Tate’s father was also Neil Martin and owned Tate’s Dept. Store, which the Tate family sold in 1985. The “dime store,” or Ben Franklin’s, as it was later called, and Tate’s were separated only by Olive Brother’s Grocery in downtown Heavener.
Both Tate and Addison said they like to watch football on television, and are fans of OU, OSU and the Dallas Cowboys. Addison and Blair still live in Heavener, while Tate has moved to a Fort. Worth retirement home. Davis lives in Poteau after years of high school coaching in Arizona and California .
History note: Keen married Bo Shupert ’s dad’s half sister, Jeanne Thirkill, while she was still in high school. Bo’s dad was Nova Shupert. Allen died in 1984 in Kansas City at the age of 69 and is buried, along with Jeanne, in Memorial Park in Heavener. Their son, Jim played college football at Wyoming.