Most Bearkat fans know about the history of the Battle of the Piney Woods (it has been pretty well documented over the last two years on GoBearkats.com) and the Bearkat football rivalry with Texas State. Both are historical, standing as the two longest running FCS rivalries in the state of Texas. Not many fans however understand that 25 years ago, the Lamar rivalry with the Bearkats was just as fierce – albeit mostly one sided toward the end.
The Bearkats and Cardinals have met 32 times since 1935 with the Kats holding a 22-9-1 record against the rivals from Beaumont. The series came to a screeching halt following the 1989 season when the Cardinals dropped football.
During the Kats championship runs in the 80’s, the Bearkats won five straight from 1984-88. It is the last game in that run that anyone ever wants to talk about. Known as the “Game of the Black Roses” or the “Black Rose Bowl” or countless other names, the signature event of this rivalry stems from a very ugly moment in Sam Houston State football.
Following a 16-14 win at Bowers Stadium (then known as Bearkat Stadium) a Sam Houston fan presented Lamar head coach Ray Alborn a bouquet of black roses. That act led to an ugly brawl and is the lasting memory of Lamar football for many Bearkat fans.
It has been 23 years since that incident and for the first time, the Cardinals will make a return to Bowers Stadium. Naturally the talk of the Black Roses is kicking up again.
Before we start romanticizing about the past, let’s take a look at what the Black Roses actually signified. When Bearkat Stadium opened in 1986, the Kats were dominant at home. They had won the first 13 games at the new stadium and had an overall win streak of 15 in Huntsville.
The Black Roses essentially marked the “death” of the dominance. The Kats lost a week later at home to arch rival SFA and then the following week to North Texas. In the final home game of the year, Southwest Texas took advantage of the Kats new found inferiority at home and clipped the Kats 10-3.
From the moment those black roses hit the turf, the Kats went nearly a year before posting a “W” at home. The ship was not righted however. The Kats went on to lose three of five at home in 1989, giving them a 2-6 record on their home turf following the Black Roses. Not to mention the five-game win streak over Lamar was snapped in 1989 as well, with a 41-0 thumping in Beaumont.
The win over Lamar in 1988 elevated the Bearkats record to 20-8 overall following the opening of the stadium. They won a conference championship in 1986 and posted an 8-3 record in 1987. The Kats started the 1988 season with a 3-2 record, dropping only road games to Boise State and Southwestern Louisiana (now Louisiana-Lafayette).
In the aftermath of the Black Rose Brawl, the Kats went on a tailspin. They lost the final six games of 1988 and the first three in 1989, finishing the year just 3-8. 1990 wasn’t much better, mustering only a 4-7 mark. While the first 28 games following the opening of the new stadium were nothing but successful, the 28 following the Black Roses were an exercise in futility. The Kats went just 7-21 over the same stretch to the end of the 1990 season.
While many Bearkat historians like to jubilantly talk about the 1988 game against Lamar as a badge of honor for the program, it actually was anything but. It truly marked a dark period for Bearkat football and one Sam Houston didn’t recover from easily.
I don’t think the Cubs have missed a return to the World Series because they refused to let a goat in the stadium in 1945. I don’t believe the Rex Sox suffered the massive World Series drought because of Babe Ruth. I don’t believe the Bearkats went on a two-and-a-half year slide because one fan took it upon himself to storm the field and present a visiting coach with a bouquet of spray-painted flowers.
But with the Kats sitting at 7-0 and No. 6 in the country, I’m not willing to take any chances. Leave the roses at home on Saturday and move on. The last thing this team needs right now is another ugly incident to mare what has been a thrilling resurgence for Bearkat football.
-- Jason Barfield