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Redskins And Eagles Played First Football Game At Bristol Motor Speedway


Saturday's football game between Tennessee and Virginia Tech at Bristol Motor Speedway is being billed as the "Battle at Bristol."

Here's a little bit of trivia about Bristol: Did you know that another football game took place at that same venue a little more than 55 years ago, and it involved the Washington Redskins?

That's right, the Redskins took on the Philadelphia Eagles on Sept. 2, 1961, in the very first football game to be played at Bristol. It was called the "First Annual Pro-Bowl Football Game," and it was actually an exhibition game that attracted 8,500 fans – a much, much smaller crowd than the Volunteers and Hokies will bring in on Saturday evening.

Here's what the official game program looks like.


Last April, was able to catch up with Billy Ray Barnes, who was Philadelphia's starting tailback at the time of the game. They were able to get Barnes to reflect back on all he could remember from the contest.

"That game was 52 years ago and I'm glad I don't remember much," Barnes said. "When we showed up at Bristol, the field was the worst field I had ever seen. We played a game one time at the Fairgrounds in Ohio and it was just a tick better than the field at Bristol."

As you can imagine, times were a lot different back then compared to now. Technology wasn't as advanced as it is now, and players weren't afforded the luxuries that they have now. Back then, Barnes and the rest of the players had to fend for themselves, and make due with what they got.

"We just went and played where we were told," Barnes said. "We were getting 50 bucks a game and thought we were rich. When they told us we were playing at Bristol Motor Speedway, well, we just went and played."

In 1961, the seating capacity at BMS was 18,000 – a far cry from what it is now [nearly 160,000]. Even though the building was about half-full for the game, Barnes said those who came out had a good time and were into it.

"The crowd was good, but it felt like a practice," Barnes said. "The stands were so far away from the field it was hard to get into it. We couldn't even hear the fans cheering until we were leaving the game."

Pittalks asked Barnes a few more questions about the game. A few of Barnes responses are pretty comical:

Pittalks: What were some of the funny things about playing there?
Barnes: It's probably no secret, but back when I played, some of the players would have a cigarette during halftime. At Bristol, there was only one bathroom at the north end of the field. Both teams were sharing the same bathroom. At halftime, we all met up there, and had a few cigarettes and then went on and finished the game.

Pittalks: Who won the game?
Barnes: I don't remember. I'm pretty sure we won though. I do remember this for sure; I got tackled one time and landed so hard in a puddle I didn't know if I was going to get up before I drowned. There were puddles everywhere on that field.

Pittalks: Where did you guys get dressed and ready before the game?
Barnes: We stayed at some small place in town and we dressed there. We showed up ready to play. One of the things that really surprised me when we got there was how steep the track was. You guys call that what?

Pittalks: Did you even get to take a lap around the track before or after the game?
Barnes: No, we wanted out of there as soon as the game was over. That was the worst field most of us had ever played on and we just wanted to get home.

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