Editor’s Note: Seventh in a series on the turf at Trinity Mother Frances Rose Stadium. After 11 years, a new turf is being installed on Earl Campbell Field.

Fans filled the bleachers in droves and spilled over to the hills for the first matchup of its kind in the city of Tyler.

Rose Stadium saw overflow crowds before one memorable fall day nine years ago, countless between John Tyler and Robert E. Lee and during other notable high school playoff games.

But the one-and-only college version rivaled the original Rose City football rivalry for a three-hour period on Sept. 6, 2003 with one of the largest turnouts in the history of Rose Stadium.

The game occurred during the third year of the first reign of President George W. Bush, two months after the San Antonio Spurs won their second NBA title, and a month before the Florida Marlins captured the MLB championship.

A collaboration between Nelly, Diddy and Murphy Lee, “Shake Ya Talifeather,” ranked atop the pop charts heading into the contest, one discussed all-around town in the weeks preceding it.

What expected to be a 10-game club schedule for Texas College’s new program turned out to be a memorable season for the Steers, thanks to their a smash debut hit.

With UT Tyler transitioning its new athletic program into the American Southwest Conference, all while keeping football on the shelf, Tyler Junior College dominated the college football landscape in town.

That all changed when then-Texas College president Dr. Billy Hawkins decided to bring in East Texas native Jay Brown in the fall of 2002 to help resurrect the Steers’ football program, one in hibernation since 1963.

The Steers spun off partially from the Apaches, with close to a dozen former TJC players on TC’s opening day roster, along with two former coaches.

Once the mixed crowd on both sides settled and the contest started, the Steers struck first when Jeremiah Banks hit John Ross on a 2-yard rollout pass midway through the first quarter.

The Apaches answered with the next 22 points to take control. TC charged back with Banks’ 34-yard strike to Dontay Spillman, who led Louisville in receiving yards for the half the season the previous year.

TJC capped a 28-13 victory over TC with Vincent Brown’s 5-yard TD run, his second of the game.

Only eight yard separated the teams in the total yardage department, won by TJC (333-325).

TC running back Jonathan Combs, an all-conference player just two seasons prior at TJC, topped all rushers with 165 yards. Combs coughed up the ball twice however and TJC won the takeaway battle 7-1 in a physical game, recovering four fumbles and intercepting three passes.

“We expected them to be tough,” then-TJC head coach Dale Carr said of TC. “Our players knew they were going to come out here hitting. I was thoroughly impressed. If they protect the ball better, it’s a different outcome.”

TJC finished the 2003 ranked sixth nationally after routing Rochester (Minn.) 55-3 in the Heart of Texas Bowl. TJC chalked up 10 wins for the first time in 34 years.

Meanwhile the Steers carried the momentum into a 7-3 season. The next two years the Steers captured Central States Football League crown. TC closed out the 2005 season nationally-ranked, and kicked off the 2006 campaign off No. 14, all while becoming a hotbed for Division I transfers along the way.

A handful of Steers continued their careers in the NFL, led by Combs, who spent time with the Washington Redskins.

For the first time, an NFL player listed both TC and TJC on his resume, made possible starting with the 2003 matchup.

“We were just happy to see it all get underway,” Brown said. “The guys played real hard and I had no problem with their effort. They gave all they had and they really fed off the energy of the crowd.”

Days after the game, the community still buzzed about the turnout, estimated at 14,500 by the Tyler Morning Telegraph. The schools discussed making the game annual, a hope never manifested.

The Steers gained a measure of revenge in a one-side victory over the Apaches in a scrimmage the next season, played out in front of a dense crowd at a much smaller setting at Pat Hartley Field on the TJC campus, the last meeting between the neighboring programs after the memorable affair.

“What can you say about a crowd close to 15,000,” Hawkins said. “The young men represented Texas College and Tyler Junior College well. I think it’s a thrill for these young men, both at Texas College and TJC, to play in front of a crowd like that. I was so pleased the community came out in support.”

 
 

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