This past weekend featured some of the biggest rivalry games in all of sports as Ohio State fell to Michigan in the 108th installment of “The Game”, Alabama defeated Auburn in the “Iron Bowl” in their 76th meeting and Oregon clobbered Oregon State in the 115th “Civil War”. In a couple weeks one of the longest running and well-known rivalries will take place when Army takes on Navy for the 112th time.
In football, most major rivalry games take place at the end of the regular season. In my opinion, ALL major rivalry games should take place at the end of a season! By having the game as the final game it gives both teams something to look forward to despite their results during all of their other regular season games. If a team has a terrible regular season, much of that can be wiped out and forgotten with a victory over their rival. On the other hand, a loss to a rival after a successful season hurts even more. For my fellow Ohio State fans out there, how did it feel when John Cooper was head coach and OSU had outstanding regular seasons but got beaten by Michigan in The Game 10 out of 12 years? AWFUL!
For anyone who’s ever been a part of a huge rivalry as a player, coach, or fan there is no more exciting time than the weeks and days leading up to a rivalry game. Every big rivalry from the high school to the professional level features traditions, pranks, trash-talking and hope. Here in Ohio, high school football is king and there are hundreds of huge, long-running rivalries including my alma mater the New Philadelphia Quakers and our rival the dover Tornadoes. That’s not a typo. Since I was involved in this rivalry I’ve been writing dover with a lower-case “D” that’s how much I hate them. I HATE DOVER. Ask anyone from New Philadelphia…they’ll tell you the same. Ask anyone from dover what they think, they’ll tell you they hate New Philly…and that’s how it should be. During dover-Phila week each school has different themes each day for their students centered around beating the other school. On Thursday night it’s the annual bonfire and pep-rally. Then on Friday night it’s game time! The winner on Friday night goes home with bragging rights and memories for a lifetime. The loser…disappointment, tears and a different kind of memories.
For me, I was 0-2 in my final two games against dover but I’ll never forget those two games. Freezing temperatures, a borderline-illegal play and a 0-14 defeat as a Junior. As a Senior, dover was 8-1 coming into the game and we were 2-7. We didn’t have a chance right? If it weren’t for an errant extra point we may have won that game, but instead fell 6-7. My final play was an interception which ended with me getting tackled and then illegally “speared” after the play with a 15-yard penalty for dover. For me, a hip pointer and I was done for the game. Watching dover score their only touchdown while I was standing on the sideline was more painful than the injury itself.
The point of me telling you this? If you’ve never been a part of something like this you wouldn’t understand. If you have, I hope you can take 5 minutes to think about when you were part of the rivalry and think about how it felt to be part of something bigger than yourself, your team and your school. Every year when rivalries are renewed, entire communities and fan bases relive their experiences through the current players on the field. It’s not quite the same as playing, but it sure feels good when your team wins!
PS – I still hate dover!