You have to close your eyes to imagine it. To see the giant concrete football stadium, now a ghost, behind Scott High School. To see 26,000 fans, most in their Sunday best, jammed into the seats and standing in a ring, 10 or 20 deep, around the field. To see the icy cloud of breath that must have hovered over the festivities on a cold, overcast day.
It was Thanksgiving morning, 1923. As the story goes, close to 40,000 people tried to buy tickets to the game. More than $20,000 worth of deposits were returned by the Scott and Waite High athletic departments, because ticket orders could not be filled.
The Maroons, as Scott s teams of that era were nicknamed, won 14-13. In later years, the Scott-Waite rivalry would decide City League championships. That one helped decide the national championship; Scott s last of many, back in the day when both Toledo schools would travel from coast to coast, from Florida to Oregon, to tackle the best head-on.
But it was the Thanksgiving morning game between the two Toledo powers that perhaps meant more than any other in the nation. The games were sold out weeks, sometimes months, in advance. Betting lines were published. Wire-service reports sent details around the country. Major Midwest newspapers assigned reporters and photographers to cover the contest. The Detroit papers used to publish “extra” editions the same afternoon and fly them into Toledo just hours after the game.
Scott and Waite first met in the bowl behind Scott on Thanksgiving morning in 1914. Scott was one year old; Waite had just opened the doors of its east-side campus. There were no bleachers then; many fans simply pulled their buggies or new-fangled automobiles up to the edge of the field, and the crowd was estimated at 2,000.
The tradition would continue for half a century, through the golden era of national championships, to monolith-like stadiums on both sides of the river, to crowds of 20,000-plus, to the Jack Mollenkopf era and those Hungarian hunks, Elmer Scallish and Bill Gregus, at Waite.
The folks who couldn t get tickets for that 1923 Waite-Scott tilt had an option. For the first time, two other Toledo schools, Woodward Tech and the newly opened Libbey, played a Thanksgiving Day game. The series didn t last long, but when DeVilbiss opened in 33, Libbey found its traditional Thanksgiving foe and another rich rivalry was born.
Scott and Waite met exactly 50 times on Thanksgiving morning, Libbey and DeVilbiss 31 times. It ended in the early 1960s, thanks to complaints by basketball coaches, the expansion of the school district that diluted talent and derailed dynasties, and a certain amount of fan apathy that resulted.
Later in that decade, the Shoe Bowl, the City League s championship game that raised so much for charity through Old Newsboys sponsorship, opened as a Turkey Day affair. In the early 1970s, though, the inception and then expansion of state football playoffs forced the Shoe Bowl to be played earlier in the month. Eventually, it was discontinued.
And that was that. Scott s big stadium fell into disrepair and was torn down. Ditto Libbey s lively old house. Page Stadium still exists, but DeVilbiss football does not. Jump in your car this morning and check out the local prep football fields, including Waite s Mollenkopf Stadium, the lone remaining tie to the storied past. Empty bleachers, the chalk or paint on the fields fading to nothingness, blades of grass wilting and turning khaki.
Sort of a cold, empty, dead feeling where there used to be such magic.
The games started at 10 in the morning. Mom would put a turkey in the oven, then bundle everyone up and head for the game. Scott-Waite. Libbey-DeVilbiss. Take your pick.
Powerful Scott, with legends like the great quarterback Eddie Evans, dominated the early years of its series against Waite, and still had the upper hand through the late 1930s before a coach named Jack Mollenkopf came on the east-side scene.
Scallish, a bruising two-way tackle, and Gregus, the fullback, started as freshmen for Waite in 1943, and during their four years the Indians beat Scott 59-6, 26-14, 52-0 and 57-0.
“We used to pack them in,” recalls the 75-year-old Scallish, a two-time All-Ohio player who later returned to Waite as head coach. “It was nothing but standing-room-only on Thanksgiving Day. Mothers might have stayed home to cook, but everybody else in town went to a ballgame. I remember people sitting up on the stadium walls. What was really special was that grads and ex-players would be home for the holidays, so the old legends were around and you d visit with old friends.”
Scott s old stadium seated upwards of 15,000 fans, and could accommodate 20,000-plus. The stadiums at Libbey, DeVilbiss and Waite all seated in the neighborhood of 10,000, and with added bleachers and standing-room areas, regularly welcomed as many as 12,000 fans on Thanksgiving mornings.
In 1949, Blade sports columnist Chet Sullwold added up the Thanksgiving crowds for games at Waite and Libbey, factored in a city population of 300,000 and determined that one of every 15 Toledoans was at a prep football game that morning.
You never knew who would author his name into the Turkey Day lore of the Scott-Waite game. Roger Reese was the Tribe s star quarterback in 1956, when Scallish was in his final year as an assistant coach before taking over for the respected Lou Meszaros. But Reese was hurt on a running play late in the game, and a little-used sophomore named Pete Stoner came off the bench to throw a game-tying touchdown pass to Leroy Weathers on a fourth-and-32 play over a frozen, snow-covered field. Scribes called it the Blizzard Bowl.
“There really was the sense that you were a part of history, of a great tradition, when you played in the Thanksgiving Day game,” Stoner says today. “There was a huge build-up by the media and the stands were packed. It was a big-time atmosphere.”
Waite had a slow start against Scott in a series that starred the likes of Francis Lengel, Boni Petcoff, Ernie Vick and Frank Baumgartner. But the Indian dynasty soon took shape and Waite finished with a 31-16-3 edge in the Thanksgiving Day series.
Libbey, which joined Waite as a Toledo public schoolboy power during the 1940s, got an early jump on DeVilbiss, give or take the great Bob Chappuis years, and owned a 17-4 edge in that series after a 27-7 win in 1952.
But DeVilbiss had a rookie coach named Hilton Murphy in that 52 game and, believe it or not, the Libbey Cowboys never again beat the Tigers, who almost overnight became the city s premier power, on Thanksgiving Day.
“That was DeVilbiss 12th straight loss to Libbey,” says the 83-year-old Murphy. “The next year we beat them 25-0 at Libbey in just a tremendous game to win our first [outright] championship.”
Murphy s team would win seven titles, and the Tigers success would continue into the 1960s behind the great running back Jim Detwiler. But so often it came down to that Turkey Day meeting with Libbey.
“It was a great series,” Murphy said. “It seemed like it always snowed or rained the day before and we played a sloppy, muddy field. But it was always a thrilling day. You know, it really put the focus on high school football. It was bigger than college ball in this city back then. It s probably hard for people now to believe just how big high school football was in those days. And the Thanksgiving Day games were the biggest of the big.”
This is why Murphy, who left coaching to become commissioner of City League athletics, wanted the Shoe Bowl to be a Thanksgiving Day staple at the University of Toledo s stadium.
It survived for several years until the Ohio High School Athletic Association expanded its playoff system and mandated an earlier finish to the regular season.
Now, Thanksgiving Day football means a drive to Detroit or a flip of the channel changer for a couple NFL games.
It also means boxed stuffing, gravy out of a jar, and defrosted cranberries. Yuck, yuck and yuck.
Things change, and not always for the better.
And in the case of Toledo prep football, the magic of the past is no more than a fond memory.