Friday, February 5, 2016

Gibbs' return to Little Rock in '63 stirred crowd

Jake Gibbs played most of his first four
sons of pro ball as catcher for the
Yankees' AAA farm team at
(International League).
Uncommon commons: In more than 30 years in sportscards publishing I have thrown hundreds of notes into files about the players – usually non-star players – who made up the majority of the baseball and football cards I collected as a kid. Today, I keep adding to those files as I peruse microfilms of The Sporting News from the 1880s through the 1960s. I found these tidbits brought some life to the player pictures on those cards. I figure that if I enjoyed them, you might too.

Casual sports fans in attendance at the July 10, 1963, ballgame in Little Rock, Ark., may not have fully understood what was happening when the Richmond Virginians sent a pinch-hitter to the plate in the top of the eighth inning.

The city had gone the previous season without a professional ballclub after decades as a mainstay of the Class AA Southern Association. When the Class AAA International League had gone to a two-division, 10-team circuit for 1963, Little Rock had received an expansion franchise. They were a top farm club of the Philadelphia Phillies.

The Richmond pinch-hitter was catcher Jake Gibbs. As he was announced, the crowd erupted with cries of "sooiee!" They remembered the last time Gibbs had appeared in Little Rock.

On Oct. 22, 1960, Gibbs was on the field at War Memorial Stadium as the All-American quarterback for the undefeated Ole Miss Rebels. They were playing #14 Arkansas, that season's eventual Southwest Conference champion.

The Razorbacks and Rebels had faced each other dozens of times since 1908. From 1940-47 and 1952-62 they renewed the rivalry annually. 

In 1960 the game was tied 7-7 late in the fourth quarter when Gibbs engineered a drive beginning on the Mississippi 25-yard line and stalling just inside the Arkansas 40-yard stripe.

Allan Green came on for a 39-yard field goal attempt. Gibbs was the holder as Green lined up for the kick. The roar of the home crowd was deafening. Referee Tommy Bell, a Southeastern Conference official, called time out to quiet the crowd so the Rebels could hear their signals. Green, however didn't hear Bell's whistle and kicked what would have been the winning field goal.

He had to retry the attempt but the result of the re-kick was the same, Ole Miss won the game 10-7.

Arkansas fans were howling mad. They swore that Bell signaled the kick was good as soon as Green's foot contacted the ball. They said the try went wide.The home folks felt Bell's call was a make-good and they roasted the ref. Without multiple cameras and the benefit of slo-mo replays, Bell's call was the final word.

The game came to be known in Arkansas as the "Tommy Bell Game." Although Bell went on to a 15-year career as one of the NFL's most respected officials he had few fans among the Razorback faithful.

The fans in Little Rock got some measure of satisfaction that July night when their one-time nemesis Jake Gibbs popped out.

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