From Arkadelphia to Europe: the trip that transformed football
ARKADELPHIA (KATV) —
Every retired football coach can tell a tale. Former Henderson State assistant George Baker has many.
This tale, fitting for Battle of the Ravine week, begins in the fall of 1975.
Ouachita ended the Reddies' run to perfection. Two months later, however, in February 1976, the Reddies got revenge with an off-season , off the field win that still resonates.
"We started hearing these rumors the NAIA is going to send two teams to Europe," Baker said.
The rumors became reality. The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics was sending the top two teams nationally, Henderson State and Texas A&I, to Europe.
The No. 2 Reddies were going; Ouachita was not. Henderson State became the first American college football team ever to play overseas.
"We were making history as we go," Baker said.
In three weeks, they played five exhibition games against Texas A&I, stopping in West Berlin, Vienna, Nuremberg, Mannheim and Paris.
"I sprinted down to see the Mona Lisa and I guess I'm showing my backwards side, but she looks just like she does in the history books," said Charlie Boyd, a Reddies defensive back from 1975-78.
They estimated around 25,000 fans watched each game, though not all of them were enamored by American football.
"Our football players were booed," said former Henderson cheerleader Jacque Hill. "After every play, they stopped and they talked about it. Now you're coming from a country where soccer, you don't stop."
"I think they liked soccer better," Baker said.
Henderson lost all five games, but historically speaking, Henderson hardly lost. The Reddies remain Europe's first introduction to American football.
"You couldn't lose going over there. You were making history, doing things no one had done there yet," Hill said.
"I think we opened some doors."
Every retired football coach might have tales, but few made as monumental an impact as this one.