Editor’s Note: First in a series on the turf at Trinity Mother Frances Rose Stadium.
The last time Robert E. Lee and John Tyler collided on natural grass is known as the “Mud Bowl” — a primary reason their shared venue now has artificial turf.
On Saturday, Nov. 11, 2000, the Red Raiders and Lions met under cold and gloomy conditions in front of 14,000-plus fans at a soggy Rose Stadium. On that afternoon the teams combined for only six points. On that afternoon the teams produced one of the most memorable games of their illustrious series.
One that former Lee coach Mike Owens places at the top of his 15 years involved with it.
“Playing John Tyler is always big, but the mud game sticks out to me,” Owens said last year, just after stepping down from Lee. “(Lee’s) Jimmie Gamble broke for about a 90-yard run and that was the only touchdown scored all day.
“That was one of the best games I’ve ever been involved in because both teams were kicking each other’s rear ends on defense. Nobody was moving the ball and we had to have a goal-line stand (in the first half) to keep them out and stop them.”
Gamble’s rumble to pay dirt actually came from 70 yards out and with less than seven minutes left in the game, putting the Red Raiders ahead to stay at 6-0. The PAT was blocked in the midst of air-bound mud near the goal line, just minutes before Lee defensive back Courtney Dotson intercepted a pass to secure the win.
The triumph in the regular-season finale — the last game on natural grass at Rose Stadium — gave the Red Raiders a 9-1 record and the District 12-5A title, matching the then-school record for single-season wins.
“The mud is my friend,” Gamble said after the game. “I love getting dirty. We achieved our goal of winning district. Now we’re going for state. We’ve just got to take things one game at a time.”
Lee didn’t secure a berth in the state championship game for another five years, though, falling in the first round of the 2000 postseason. JT, on the other hand, followed up a 7-3 regular season with a run to the Class 5A Division II final, where the Lions fell to Katy.
JT outrushed Lee 181-144 in their final meeting on the Rose Stadium thicket, but the Lions coughed up two fumbles (lost both) and were intercepted once.
The Lions unsuccessfully threatened the end zone on multiple occasions, plus moved the ball only 24 yards on 11 plays during one series.
The Red Raiders, surprisingly, finished the clash without fumbling the ball — but were intercepted twice, once by Aaron Ross, a two-time Super Bowl winner with the New York Giants (now with the Jacksonville Jaguars) and Jim Thorpe Award winner at the University of Texas — and outgained the run-oriented Lions 51-12 through the air. But their biggest play obviously came on the ground, when Gamble took a counter handoff and somehow trudged the distance with few defenders in sight.
“It was a great football game,” former JT coach Allen Wilson said afterward. “They finally busted a play and we didn’t.”
Said Owens: “We were talking about (the counter) at halftime and how it had to go for more yardage. We knew it had to.”
The game came a week after Tyler Junior College beat Kilgore 34-28 in triple overtime at Rose Stadium to secure a berth in the Southwestern Junior College Football Conference playoffs. The game also occurred in muddy conditions and set the stage — the Apaches and Rangers basically destroyed the field — for the Lee-JT classic.
A season later, Lee and JT met on Rose Stadium’s new artificial turf for the first time and produced another low score (Lee won 14-9) in coach Wilson’s last game on the Lions’ sidelines.