The novel coronavirus pandemic has put an end to so many traditions in 2020, but this one was as unexpected as any.
Unless news comes in next week from the Missouri State High School Activities Association that the Webb City football team will be bumped up to join Carthage in Class 5, it’s likely that the Webb City Cardinals and Carthage Tigers won’t play each other on the football field for the first time in at least 101 years.
Carthage school officials had to take the Tigers out of the game that was to have been played Friday night because one student-athlete was infected with the coronavirus, forcing a number of other players, including starters on both offense and defense, to quarantine.
The Cardinals and Tigers have played twice in a single season on at least one occasion. When they were both Class 4 schools in the same district, they met in the regular season and in the playoffs.
And there’s a chance, if MSHSAA moves Webb City to Class 5 and puts the teams in the same district once again, that they could meet later this year in the playoffs.
In a coincidence not related to the coronavirus, Webb City High School athletics lost one of its biggest fans with the death on Monday of William E. "Bill" Jackson at age 99.
No. 1 fan
Cardinals Coach John Roderique said Jackson epitomized the history and tradition of Webb City football, and he will be missed.
“No question about that: Football is a game where there are guys who play football and then there are football players, and there’s a difference,” Roderique said. “Bill was a football player, and he loved it. He loved our kids.
“There are a lot of really big football fans in our community, and I’d hate to insult any of our older fans who have been really supportive, but if you ask him, he was Webb City’s No. 1 fan. He was certainly a great fan of all sports — football, basketball, baseball; he loved all the team sports.”
According to his obituary, Jackson died at the Missouri Veterans Home at Mount Vernon.
The obituary said Jackson was an avid Webb City football fan and the longest surviving former team member. He served in the U.S. Coast Guard in World War II and the U.S. Navy during the Korean War.
Joplin writer and former Carthage Press Sports Editor Brennan Stebbins wrote a chapter about Jackson in his 2014 book “Big Red Dynasty: The Championships, Tradition and Dominance of Webb City Football.”
Stebbins said Jackson was a fixture on the sidelines at football games.
“I remember that he always had a grin on his face, and he was just happy to be there,” Stebbins said. “He always seemed to be so amused to be so close to the action.”
According to the book, Jackson played for the Cardinals in his sophomore, junior and senior years, 1936-38, including the first game played at night under lights in Webb City and the first Webb City football game to be broadcast on the radio.
The book says Jackson worked at Beech Aircraft in Wichita, Kansas, until retiring in 1978 and moving back to Webb City.
From then until he moved to the home at Mount Vernon, he attended all the football games he could.
“Always decked out in Cardinals attire, including a Webb City ball cap, Jackson can likely count with a hand or two the number of games he’s missed since 1978,” the book said. “In that time, Jackson has seen coaches come and go; he’s watched players go on to play professional football; he’s seen an old stadium torn down and a new one built in its place; he’s witnessed hundreds of Webb City wins, dozens of conference and district titles and more state championships than he can count on two hands.”
Roderique said Jackson was an inspiration to Cardinal players for decades.
“We haven’t had as much contact here more recently because of his health but he was really special, not just to me and our coaches, but to our players,” Roderique said. “He was really special. He was just a good, genuine guy. He cared about the kids and cared about the program. He talked about playing football at Webb City back when he was a youngster. It gave our kids and our coaches a lot of meaning to our traditions and history.”
Unless the Cardinals and Tigers meet in the playoffs, 2020 will mark the first year in at least 101 years that the Route 66 rivals haven’t met on the football field.
The website webbcityfootball.com has an archive of season results dating back to 1920, and Carthage is listed every year. Other sources show games between the two schools in 1919 and a few years in the 1900s, but sources going back that far have gaps in them.
The gridiron tradition was a date to circle on the calendar not just for coaches but for fans.
“It’s a game that you always look for when the schedule comes out; you always know when that week is,” said Carthage head coach Jon Guidie said this week after having to the Tigers out of Friday night's game. “You know it’s going to be an exciting game and an exciting atmosphere, certainly for our fans in both communities. To not have a chance to play that game is very disappointing and very unusual.”
“It’s a big rivalry game,” he said. “I think the towns people and the communities make it more than probably what it is. It’s a game, it’s a conference game, it’s a potential district seeding game, but it’s still just one game.”
This matchup that was slated for Friday night would have had added excitement this year because for the first time in that long history, it would have been a game between two defending state champions.
Carthage captured its first ever football state title in Class 5 while Webb City captured its 15th state title in Class 4.
However, in its last class adjustments two years ago, Webb City was one of the largest Class 4 schools in the state, meaning it was possible that the new classifications, due out Wednesday, Sept. 23, could bump the Cardinals to Class 5 and MSHSAA could put the Cardinals and Tigers in the same district.
That would mean a possible matchup this season in the playoffs.
Webb City book
Always Buying Books, on North Main Street Road in Joplin, only had a few copies left of Brennan Stebbins’ book, “Big Red Dynasty: The Championships, Tradition and Dominance of Webb City Football.” The book is also available on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/Big-Red-Dynasty-Brennan-Stebbins/dp/1329001028 and at other online sellers. The book was written in 2014 and covers the history of the Webb City football program up to that time.