Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Vanished landmark Phillips Field to get historical marker

Phillips Field long ago hosted many of Tampa’s biggest high school and college football games.

Times files

Phillips Field long ago hosted many of Tampa’s biggest high school and college football games.

TAMPA — The playground, sidewalks, landscaped berms, tennis and racquetball courts of Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park overlay a lot of history, and only visitors with long memories know about the vanished landmark.

Local historian Fred Hearns campaigned to change that, and on May 5, he and others will gather to dedicate a historical marker commemorating Phillips Field, the city's most popular football venue before Tampa Stadium opened in 1967.

During the segregation era, it was where Tampa's two black high schools, Middleton and Blake, played their games. And it was the only place that could accommodate the crowd for the annual Thanksgiving Day game between the big rivals among the white schools, Hillsborough and Plant.

More than 13,000 spectators would pack into the stadium, despite the fact that hundreds would have to stand.

University of Tampa football star John Matuszak, the top overall NFL draft pick in 1973, played there. So did Bob Hayes, a Florida A&M University standout in track and football and a 1964 Olympic gold medalist.

Buffalo Bills kicker Pete Gogolak booted what was said to be the first soccer-style field goal in professional football — a 57-yarder — during an exhibition game there against the New York Jets in 1964.

"I used to love the atmosphere there. We always had the thing packed,'' said Lloyd Mumphord, holder of two Super Bowl rings and a cornerback on the Miami Dolphins' undefeated 1972 team. He played for Middleton, graduating in 1965.

"I played everything. I used to go on the field for kickoff and come off at halftime — I played cornerback, fullback, linebacker, played everything,'' said Mumphord, 66, now living in Opelousas, La.

Hearns, retired as director of the Tampa Community Affairs Department, led the campaign to erect the historical marker at the park, which is now on the grounds of Tampa Preparatory School.

"There was nothing there, no signage,'' said Hearns, nothing to indicate Phillips Field ever existed. He appealed to the Hillsborough County Historical Advisory Committee, which approved it. Robert Kerstein, a University of Tampa history professor, did the research for the marker.

Hearns recalled the pep rallies, the festive atmosphere each year when Blake and Middleton played each other.

"I don't remember too many people going to school on the day of the game,'' he said.

Middleton and Blake each played five times a year at Phillips Field, culminating in the big game against each other, Hearns said.

"The university was kind enough to allow the black schools to play there. They did not have to do that.''

On Thanksgiving Day, fans of Hillsborough and Plant would turn out.

"The place would be jammed,'' recalled Plant alumnus George Levy. "Women would wear corsages — everybody dressed up — and men wore coats and ties.''

Levy watched his first Plant-Hillsborough turkey day contest as a 10-year-old in 1943. "I've probably been to just about all of them.''

He attended the University of Tampa games, too. A University of Florida graduate, Levy and friends would go watch the Gators play in Gainesville in the afternoon and rush back to see the Spartans' night game at Phillips Field.

The land, formerly the estate of I.W. Phillips, was donated to the city of Tampa in 1934, which turned it over to UT for the football stadium.

UT played its first game there on Oct. 4, 1937, defeating South Georgia College, and its last game on Oct. 21, 1967, defeating Furman. UT played the University of Florida Gators there several times between 1938 and 1942, losing each time. It was the site of the college Cigar Bowl in the late 1940s and early 1950s. UT, which played in Tampa Stadium when it opened, ended its football program in 1974.

Bethune-Cookman College played its Tilt of the Maroon and Gold game there.

During World War II, people packed the stands to watch the tough Third Air Force Gremlins football team from Drew Field take on teams from other military units.

For years, revving engines marked Saturday nights at Phillips Field, as stock car racers zoomed around an oval track. People even watched boxing matches there. Tampa heavyweight Tommy Gomez, known for his powerful punches, won two bouts at Phillips Field in the 1940s.

Hearns said he's planning to have a reunion after the dedication ceremony. He's inviting fans of all teams that played there, Blake, Middleton, Hillsborough, Plant and the others, to wear their school colors.

If it's a good turnout, he said, they may have a reunion every year.

Philip Morgan can be reached at pmorgan@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3435.

* * *


This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: It was George Levy who reminisced about the football games he attended at Phillips Field. The Times misidentified him as Leonard Levy, his twin brother.



If you go

The marker dedication ceremony for Phillips Field is scheduled for 3 p.m. May 5 at the entrance to Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park, on N Boulevard at Cypress Street. A free reunion of all schools that played there follows the ceremony.

Vanished landmark Phillips Field to get historical marker 04/18/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 17, 2013 4:10pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Pasco sheriff's team of volunteer Jeep drivers go where few dare

    Public Safety

    Times Staff Writer

    He got the text in the middle of treating patients. He was needed in the morning — and so was his dark blue 2002 Jeep Wrangler.

    The Pasco County Sheriff's Office's newly-formed Volunteer Jeep Search and Rescue Unit stops for a moment to wait for fellow Jeep drivers to catch up during a mock search-and-rescue exercise and off-road training in Shady Hills in June. [CHARLIE KAIJO   |   Times]
  2. What you need to know for Friday, July 28

    News

    Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what you need to know today.

    Jermaine Ferguson takes the $5 entry fee from a visitor at Fort De Soto Park on Wednesday. Pasco County has done away with recession era park fees. What about Pinellas and Hillsborough counties? [LARA CERRI   |   Times]
  3. The Killers coming to Hard Rock Live in Orlando

    Blogs

    They're reliable festival headliners, and they're about to embark on a North American arena tour.

    The KIllers
  4. Back to School 2017: What you need to know

    News

    With the start of classes less than three weeks away, the Tampa Bay Times' back-to-school special report debuts today.

    The Times' annual back-to-school coverage debuts today with information families can use to start the new year. [Times files]
  5. Hillsborough and Pinellas to keep park entry fees, while Pasco makes them free again

    Local Government

    One thing stands between Mark Crawford and the mackerel schooling in the topaz saltwater around the pier at Fort De Soto Park: a toll booth. And even if the lady inside is as sweet as orange blossom honey, she still wants his five dollars.

    Jermaine Ferguson takes the $5 entry fee from a visitor at Fort De Soto Park on Wednesday. Pasco County has done away with recession era park fees, but Hillsborough and Pinellas county plan to continue to charge people to use parks like Fort De Soto and Lettuce Lake Park. LARA CERRI   |   Times