Jack Spage "Spadjo" Richards (1926–2009)
Jack “Spadjo” Richards was an amateur boxer, former Razorback, and professional football player from Benton (Saline County). From March 1942 to 1943, he served as a U.S. Marine, notably in the Battle of Guadalcanal in World War II. He was a letterman at the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County) in 1948 and 1950. Between 1951 and 1955, he played for the Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins, and Chicago Bears. Following his sports career, he worked for Alcoa and as an iron worker and heavy equipment operator until his death in 2009.
Jack Spage Richards was born on March 22, 1926, to Frank William Richards and Ludy Ann Miller in Benton. He was the youngest of seven children. He got his nickname “Spadjo,” sometimes spelled “Spagejo,” because he was tongue-tied as a child and could not pronounce his middle name. The Richards children who were not already married were very involved in raising Jack, as his mother died in 1932 and his father died in 1940. In March 1942, Richards enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps as a private first class. Reportedly, he lied about his age to enlist—telling the recruiter he was seventeen when he was only fifteen.
Richards was sent to boot camp in San Diego, California, for three weeks—including two weeks of marching and one week of rifle training at Camp Pendleton—before he was sent to fight on the island of Guadalcanal in the South Pacific. While in the service, Richards suffered from a burst eardrum; the injury was likely from parachute training or the exploding mortar shells and grenades on Guadalcanal. After his ear became infected, he was shipped back to San Diego to the Naval Hospital at Balboa. The diagnosis was “jungle rot,” so Richards was medically discharged and sent back to Benton.
Richards began his career in sports as an amateur boxer. On January 10, 1946, the Arkansas Gazette reported that he landed a knockout punch against Camp Robinson soldier Edward Pulver at a tournament in North Little Rock (Pulaski County). In December, he was recognized by the Gazette as part of the 1946 Arkansas High School All-Conference Team. He was the only member from Saline County. In December, he was signed by Razorback coach John Barnhill.
On July 16, 1950, the Arkansas Gazette reported that Richards had married Barbara Braun of Fort Smith (Sebastian County), whom he had met at UA. Soon afterward, he was drafted in the eighth round by the Philadelphia Eagles as a tight end in 1951. In the summer of 1952, it was announced that Richards was joining the Washington Redskins. Jack and Barbara divorced sometime in the mid-1950s.
On August 10, 1955, the Arkansas Gazette reported that Richards had appeared on the roster for the Chicago Bears. During his time with the Bears, he suffered a broken rib and a punctured lung. Those injuries and a broken vertebra ended his professional football career in 1955. In 1956, Richards married Iris June Graves in Benton. They had one daughter, Jacqueline Kay Richards, in 1957. June had another daughter, Judy, from her previous marriage.
On Thanksgiving 1955, Richards “came out of retirement” for the annual Reynolds-Alcoa football game, dubbed “the original Aluminum Bowl,” at Benton’s C. W. Lewis Stadium, where he represented Alcoa against longtime friend and rival “Muscles” Campbell, who represented Reynolds Metals.
Richards worked for Alcoa in Bauxite (Saline County) for many years, and then as a heavy equipment operator for Pickens-Bend and McGeorge Construction in Benton. He was a member of Holland Baptist Church there for fifty-one years. He died on September 5, 2009, at his home in Benton.
For additional information:
Bailey, Jim, and Orville Henry. A Story of Arkansas Football. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1996.
“Benton’s Richards, Born to Fight, Keeps up Battle in Career Twilight.” Arkansas Democrat, November 29, 1985, p. 2C.
“Jack Richards Signs to Play for Redskins.” Arkansas Gazette, July 8, 1952, p. 2B.
“Razorbacks Get Richards, Parks, Dottley.” Arkansas Gazette, December 22, 1946, p. 10A.
Cody Lynn Berry
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I wanted to thank the entry author Cody Berry for putting the life of a legend online; now he will be read about and not totally forgotten.
And I’m so honored and blessed to have had such a wonderful grandfather and grandmother. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of them. I can’t wait to go home to see them one day in heaven. They haven’t left me; they are my guardian angels.