Former Hickman quarterback Sam Barbee fumbled in a high school football game 25 years ago, and he still hears about it.
It was not a typical Friday night. Nov. 11, 1981, was the first night Rock Bridge and Hickman played against each other.
The infrequent crosstown contests have turned into annual community gatherings. The teams first played sporadically, in 1981, 1994 and 1995, but they have competed every year since 2000. Hickman has won more contests than Rock Bridge, six of the nine games, but Rock Bridge won the first game 7-0. The relationships forged through this game, and high school football in Columbia, still resonate in the community.
Rock Bridge and Hickman met in the district championship in 1981. Rock Bridge (9-0) had won 30 consecutive games, mostly against smaller schools, and Hickman (7-2) had advanced to the Class 4A quarterfinals the year before.
Barbee fumbled at the Hickman 15-yard line with 1:35 left in the third quarter. Two plays later, Rock Bridge quarterback Ken White threw a touchdown pass. Hickman had a chance to tie on its last play, but Rock Bridge defensive back Steve Ballenger broke up Barbee’s pass as time expired.
People have not forgotten about that game. Barbee is now a lobbyist in Jefferson City, but lives in Columbia. He coaches his son Chas’ Columbia Youth Football League team. Usually coaches jaw at officials, but during one game, the roles flipped.
“I had a referee in the CYFL give me trouble for fumbling,” he said. “Maybe the game was more significant for other people.”
Barbee had friends on both teams that night, including
Hickman players Todd Critchfield, Russ Scott and Stefan Craig and Rock Bridge players Jeff Westwood and Danny Nichols.
“Win, lose or draw, we’re all still going to be friends,” he said in the Nov. 11, 1981, edition of the Columbia Missourian.
That prophecy was true, both immediately after the game and 25 years after. Although Westwood hounded Barbee all night and even sacked him on the next-to-last play of the game, Charles Barbee, Sam Barbee’s father and Hickman’s team physician, fixed Westwood’s dislocated left thumb the day after the game.
Sam Barbee still keeps in touch with his high school friends. They do not have to rely on their memories to relive the game. Charles Barbee recorded it. Barbee and his friends all reunite every five years to watch the game.
“We laugh and yell and ooh and aah,” he said.
The enthusiasm has trickled down to Sam Barbee’s son. Chas has told his father he wants to play football for Hickman.
Former players are not the only ones with something still invested in the rivalry. Former Rock Bridge coach John Henage said he attends both Rock Bridge and Hickman games, depending on which team is at home that week. He will run the 25-second clock at tonight’s game.
Bob Nolke, former Rock Bridge defensive coach and Hickman principal, will join him in the press box.
“On a given Friday night, I’ve got two teams to root for,” he said.
Nolke said the game has turned into an community event.
“It’s an opportunity for (Columbia) to showcase (its) schools,” he said, “and the whole program, not just the football.”
Current collegiate players remember the rivalry’s significance.
“It doesn’t matter how overmatched the teams are each year,” said John Stull, former Rock Bridge and current Missouri defensive lineman. “Even if you lost everything, but beat Hickman, your season would be complete.”
That sentiment never ends. The joshing hasn’t stopped for Sam Barbee. His friends from Rock Bridge still like to poke fun at him.
“They say things like, ‘That looks like me hitting you 25 years ago,’” he said.
Jenifer Langosch contributed to this report.