Football fans often discuss the best games they’ve seen — the ones that had the most excitement, the highest drama, the best players. But rarely do we stop to think about the importance of a single game in a broader picture of development — what a single game can do to affect the development of the sport in an entire state.
That’s why this list is here.
Listed below are the 10 games, in my opinion, that affected the growth of football in Wyoming most dramatically. These games had ramifications that went beyond the two schools playing in them. These games established, or broke, traditions, symbolized the stature of the sport or gave us a glimpse of how great the game could be, given the right conditions to evolve.
In chronological order, they are:
1. November 3, 1908: Laramie 6, University Prep 5. The unofficial berth of Wyoming high school football was witnessed by a smattering of spectators on a Tuesday afternoon on the campus of the University of Wyoming. That day, for the first time, two teams from different Wyoming high schools squared off against each other. Technically, both teams were the “home” teams — both squads used the university field as their home field. A Plainsmen extra point made the difference in a game in which national rules still dictated that touchdowns were worth five points apiece, not six. This game sparked numerous other in-state clashes in 1908 — Prep hosted Cheyenne High 18 days later, and five days after that, Prep returned the favor by traveling to Cheyenne while Natrona traveled to Douglas. It was the start of something big.
2. November 25, 1911: Sheridan 9, Laramie 8. After high schools toyed with interscholastic games in 1908, 1909 and 1910, the squads from Laramie and Sheridan emerged as the state’s top teams in 1911. For the first time, two teams scheduled a game to help decide a state champion — albeit unofficial and on a dramatically smaller scale than what football fans would expect to see for a title game today. On the final Saturday of November in Sheridan, both teams notched a touchdown and a field goal apiece, but Sheridan’s extra point after its score helped the Broncs win the first unofficial Wyoming state championship.
3. December 5, 1924: Worland 27, Natrona 7. Believe it or not, after the 1911 de-facto championship showdown between Sheridan and Laramie, it took 13 more years before two schools tried to stage another unofficial state championship game. Such an opportunity came around in 1924, when Worland and Natrona finished as the top two ranked teams in the state. Natrona brought Worland to Casper, but it was the Warriors’ day on the field. The 20-point victory helped the Warriors win the first recognized unofficial state title decided by a playoff game — a trend that became more and more popular throughout the 1920s and led, in part, to the state-sanctioned playoff that started in 1931.
4. November 19, 1925: Natrona 20, Midwest 0. The first night high school football game in the United States wasn’t played in Texas or California or Ohio. Nope, it was right here in Wyoming. In short, this game was the start of a national trend that continues to this day. The reason for installing lights at the Midwest field was simple: most oilfield workers could not attend games during the day because of the work schedule. More than 1,000 people attended the night game. The field — which sat where the community’s softball field currently exists today — was lighted by a 3,000-candlepower searchlight, 15 2,000-candlepower electric lights and by gas flares from the surrounding oilfield; for better visibility, the teams used a ball that had been painted white.
5. November 20, 1941: Glenrock 22, Big Horn 20. Prior to 1941, postseason playoffs were solely for large schools. Small-school playoffs and postseason games did not exist. However, at the conclusion of the 1941 season, the six-man conference champions from the northeast district (Big Horn) and the southeast district (Glenrock) decided to stage a postseason game to determine the six-man champion of Wyoming’s eastern half. Glenrock won a thriller in front of a hefty crowd in Sheridan, helping prove two important points: that small-school playoffs could be just as exciting as large-school playoffs, and that the crowds attending the games would be big enough to justify their expense. The momentum of small-school postseason games was slowed by the events that took place 17 days later when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, but when playoffs were re-established by the WHSAA in 1948, they took special care to include a six-man playoff structure — thanks in large part to the success of this game.
6. November 28, 1946: Sheridan 20, Cody 19. The success of the first playoff game after the conclusion of World War II helped spawn the playoff system that was built two years later. The two blue-and-yellow Bronc squads were the top two ranked teams of 1946, and with the support of the Casper March of Dimes — which sponsored the game and collected the profits from the gate receipts — settled their differences on the field at Casper’s NCHS Stadium. The revival of the de-facto state championship game, dubbed the “Turkey Bowl” because it was played on Thanksgiving, prompted the WHSAA to set up a real state championship bracket, which went into effect in 1948.
7. November 18, 1961: Star Valley 49, Buffalo 0. Don’t blame Star Valley for the demise of Wyoming’s postseason playoffs, which were eliminated after the 1961 season. Instead, blame consolidation, budget tightening and Wyoming’s long distances between schools. WHSAA members had long discussed eliminating the statewide playoffs due to travel costs and fears of non-competitive playoff games, and had actually staged their first vote to eliminate the playoffs more than a month prior to this game, the Class A title game. However, what this game did was highlight all the reasons why the playoffs weren’t working at the time. Buffalo struggled through an early winter snowstorm and incurred heavy travel costs simply to reach Afton. By the time they got there, they were overmatched by a buzzsaw of a Braves squad. The problems surrounding the game, more than the game itself, were the reason why the postseason was eliminated by the WHSAA, but this game illustrated those problems most vividly. Playoffs didn’t come back for the Class AA schools until 1968; the rest of Wyoming’s schools had to wait until 1975.
8. November 1, 1975: Saratoga 14, Upton 12; Pinedale 6, Basin 0, OT. On this date, for the first time in 14 years, Class B schools had a chance to participate in postseason games. Worries about travel and competitiveness had faded behind the desire of the state’s coaches and players to settle the championships on the field, and the opening round of the Class B playoffs helped prove how vital a playoff system was to a successful — and complete — statewide game. Pinedale beat Saratoga 10-8 one week later to win the first sanctioned Class B championship of the modern era.
9. August 31, 2002: Guernsey-Sunrise 41, Riverside 14. The Vikings and the Rebels are the answer to a good Wyoming trivia question — who were the first two Wyoming varsity teams to play against each other on a turf field? The two squads met halfway in Casper to open their 2002 season, meeting on the new turf that had been installed that summer at Cheney Alumni Field. With Natrona opening its season on the road, the Vikings and Rebels had the first chance to play a live, full varsity game on turf. Now, 10 years later, more than a dozen schools have artificial turf on their football fields and several others are considering scrapping their grass for the fake stuff.
10. September 4, 2009: Kaycee 56, Snake River 36. By a few minutes, this showdown between the Buckaroos and the Rattlers edges out the other six-man games scheduled for the first week of the 2009 season — Wyoming’s first sanctioned six-man season in almost 60 years. The game was also the first ever for Kaycee and the first for Snake River since 1958. The state started with eight six-man teams in 2009, but are now up to 10 and could see even more growth before reclassification in 2013, finally giving some smaller schools like Kaycee and Snake River a viable option for football.
What do you think? Any other games that should be singled out for their historical significance? Post your thoughts below, if you have some, or even if you just want to talk big games.