Paducah Tilghman and Mayfield High School celebrate 100 years of hard hits, big plays, tough tackles, one-sided wins, tremendous touchdowns, fabulous field goals, gridiron greats, and trash talk as part of one of Kentucky’s most long-standing football rivalries
Here's a math quiz for Paducah Tilghman and Mayfield fans.
The storied football rivalry started in 1911.
So why will September 7 be only the 100th time the teams have battled on a gridiron?
The Big Blue and the Big Red didn’t tangle in 1913, 1916, 1918 and 1920 and the enemy elevens tussled twice in 1917, according to Lisa Mitchell, Paducah school board secretary and ’84 PTHS grad.
Now for a history quiz: Which school has won the most games?
“It depends on whose record book you go by,” Mitchell said.
The controversy starts with the 1912 game, added Mitchell, who admits to bleeding blue and white. Mayfield and Tilghman grid historians affirm it was a shutout, but differ on who blanked who.
“We say we won 26-0,” Mitchell said. “They claim they won 22-0."
But chroniclers of the Tornado and the Cardinals suspect both schools may have suited up ringers—town toughs and college kids—for the first game. They also agree that the 1911 contest ended in a scoreless tie.
Even so, everything else about the inaugural Big Game is a mystery. “There is nothing in print that confirms the score, no newspaper, yearbook or student paper," Mitchell said.
Mayfield archives are similarly silent.
Where the teams butted helmets—leather—is apparently unknown, too. It might have been Paducah. For a long time, the Cardinals have hosted Tilghman in even-numbered years and the Tornado is the home team on odd-numbered years.
“Paducah and Mayfield do not just put on football games, they produce loud, contentious, reverberating history.” -Bob Hill, Louisville Courier-Journal
Tilghman fans are quick to point out that it's "Tornado," not "Tornadoes." Time was, many high school team names were singular. Eventually, the Mayfield "Cardinal" became a flock of Redbirds.
At any rate, nobody seems to know why there was no game in 1913. But in 1916, Mayfield didn’t just refuse to play Paducah. The school cancelled football. “Without a coach and with strong opposition from school officials, no Mayfield team was formed,” says an old Paducah Sun-Democrat clipping in Mitchell’s office.
The clipping isn’t dated and doesn’t have a byline. But whoever wrote the story got the information “from the 1936 football program of the Thanksgiving game between Tilghman and Mayfield.”
The 1918 skirmish was cancelled “due to a football armistice during the World War,” the story also said. The global conflict caused “a wonderful team at Mayfield High School . . . to be wasted.”
World War I ended on November 11, 1918, and the series resumed in 1919. Mayfield’s “team of race horses and new coach, Carlisle Cutchin, who loved an offense, pummeled “a fairly weak Tilghman team,” 85-6, the clipping said.
Cutchin went on to coach football, baseball and basketball at Murray State University. The soccer field (the old football field) and volleyball arena (formerly the basketball arena) bear his name.
In 1920, Paducah school officials nixed the game against what the Sun-Democrat dubbed “Mayfield’s Wonder Team.” The paper explained that Mayfield boasted “a star at every position, a huge score over every opponent and a state championship.” The Paducah grid squad was “apparently even weaker than in 1919,” hence school brass “suggested that the teams not meet since there could be no doubt as to the result.”
Yet most years, the outcome of the Big Game is almost always in doubt. Mayfield will be the defending Class A champs this time. “But any time Tilghman and Mayfield play, you can throw the record book out the window,” Mitchell said. “It doesn’t matter. When these two teams play, anything can happen and often does.”
Added Mitchell, “This is a classic football rivalry, not one of hatred but of respect. Mayfield-Tilghman is special because only 25 miles separate us, both schools have long, rich histories, great programs and die-hard fans. The schools and teams respect each other and respect the rivalry. This will never die."
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