When War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock was officially opened on September 18, 1948, it was the premier football stadium in the state. Constructed at an approximate cost of 1.2 million dollars it would seat about 31,000 fans, and it became the flagship stadium for Razorback fans statewide. The stadium on the campus of the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville has always been home for the Razorbacks, but its’ location in the northwest part of the state has made it less accessible for a large majority of the fan base. Thus for many years following the opening of the Little Rock stadium, there have been at least 3 Razorback football games played there per year. For the past several years the number of games has diminished to 1 game played per year.
The opening game of the Razorback 1948 football season was with Abilene Christian University, and it was played in the just completed War Memorial Stadium. There were two Razorbacks from El Dorado who played in that game; Ray Parks, a halfback, and Berry Lee Moore, a tackle. Both had played for the El Dorado Wildcats under Coach Guy B. (Skipper) Hayes and each had done so well to have been selected to the All-State and All-Southern Teams. In those days an All-Southern selection was the equivalent to a current All-American.
Berry Lee (Bubba) was an amazing football player for his size. He was 6′ 2″, weighed 185 pounds and played on the offensive and defensive lines as a tackle. It was very common for players to play both offense and defense, and the 2 platoon system didn’t become usual until the 1960’s. The average weights for linemen in the 1940’s was 200 pounds or less, so Bubba was usually playing against men his size. For comparison the Razorback offensive line for the 2015 season averaged 328 pounds!
A significant handicap for Bubba was his vision. He was far-sighted and needed his glasses for near vision. Contact lenses were available, but were much larger than now and very painful to wear. He tried them for awhile but soon returned to his special plastic sports glasses. Occasionally he tried to play without glasses, and I notice in the photograph above he doesn’t appear to be wearing glasses. He once told me that without glasses, he occasionally blocked or tackled the wrong man!
All who knew Berry Lee would attest to his quiet and gentle spirit, but put a football uniform on him and his competitive and “Mr. Hyde” nature appeared. I previously wrote about his tough side in a blog entitled “Coach Fischel’s Worst Moment on the Gridiron”. I once had a conversation with Dewey Blackwood, one of Bubba’s assistant high school coaches, and he told me the following story; “When Berry Lee finished his high school career and went to Fayetteville to become a Razorback, I ran into one of his line coaches there and asked him how my boy Berry Lee was doing. He said he was doing great and was becoming a very good football player. In fact he said if Berry Lee weighed as much as 225 pounds, we would force him to practice on the opposite end of the field from the rest of the team. He would injure too many of the players with his tough and aggressive play!” Coach Blackwood was pleased to tell this story, and I wasn’t surprised when he told it.
Bubba said his favorite game as a Razorback and also his last was the game at War Memorial Stadium against Abilene Christian. He sustained a right knee injury early in the game, and the cartilage tear prevented him from further contact sports. The injury according to Bubba happened in the following manner; “I was supposed to stun the tackle in front of me, slide off and block down field for the halfback. I guess I stunned the tackle so hard he fell across my right knee and caused the injury. I continued playing because I wanted to get as much playing time as possible. After the game my right knee swelled so badly I couldn’t bend it.” Our Dad’s advice to him at the time was to avoid an operation and rehab the knee back to proper function. Arthroscopic surgery had not been devised then. Today many athletes are able to return to full capacity within months of a cartilage tear.
Since that initial game in War Memorial Stadium there have been some outstanding El Dorado Wildcats who have played as Razorbacks and starred on that gridiron. They have included Bill Fuller, Jim Mooty, Wayne Harris, Jim Gaston, Buddy Reuter, Richard Branch, Tommy Brasher and Glen Ray Hines from the 1950’s-1960’s era. All these players were coached in El Dorado by legendary coach Garland Gregory. There perhaps were other El Dorado football players during this time span who played for the Razorbacks, but I don’t recall them.
The stadium has undergone expansion and renovation for the past several decades and the seating capacity is now approximately 54,000. Over the years since 1948 there have been approximately 200 Razorback games played there. I had the privilege of attending all the games played there during the years of 1960-1964 while I was a medical student at the University of Arkansas Medical Center in Little Rock. The following year 1965 the Razorbacks won the national championship in football. The contract between the University of Arkansas and War Memorial Stadium will expire following the 2018 season, and some people fear there will then be no more Razorback games played in Little Rock. That decision will obviously impact many thousand fans statewide.
As for my family and me, we had a great start in 1948, and we are partial to the Razorbacks continuing to play in War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock, if only for 1 game yearly.