November 10, 2011

Rivalry: From the fan's perspective

More news about: DePauw | Wabash
Any time DePauw and Wabash face off, you can expect emotions to be running high.

By Ryan Tipps
Wabash '00

November in Indiana is usually cold – especially at night. Layers of clothing are necessary, and your breath turns into thick hovering clouds around you. But for the six nights before the Monon Bell Game, fraternity pledges and independent freshmen each take turns “guarding” the Wabash campus throughout the night in case any DePauw students are up to no good.

The freshmen gather at the entrances to campus, huddled for warmth around small fires burning in barrels. They don’t expect to sleep, and a Pepsi or something a little stronger is often used to help get them through the night. Also helping, too, that week is talk of the upcoming game, a rivalry that dates back to 1890. It’s not uncommon to hear the boisterous rally cry on the Little Giant campus: “DePauw to hell, we want the bell!”

And so it goes with the rivalry. The all-time series stands at 55-53-9, with Wabash having the edge. But since the Monon Bell trophy was introduced in 1932, DePauw leads 37-36-6. The rivalry has spawned a tribute song, “The Ballad of the Monon Bell,” which was recorded in the 1980s by a DePauw alumnus and member of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, as well as a book, “Battle for the Bell: The DePauw-Wabash Rivalry.” And for years, student newspapers, The DePauw and The Bachelor, had taken the lead on the public chiding between the two institutions. DePauw long put out the parody paper The Bachelorette, while Wabash printed The DeBauch. In both, the humor was as crude as the rivalry was intense.

Of course, the Monon Bell atmosphere comes down to the game itself. And while there have been some pretty long stretches in which one team has dominated, the fact that the overall rivalry is so close fuels the excitement and the “anything can happen” perception. Over the past 15 seasons that I’ve attended the game, two moments stand out:

The first was Wabash’s 2001 victory, which snapped a DePauw five-game Monon Bell winning streak. With the game in Greencastle tied and just 2.7 seconds left on the clock, quarterback Jake Knott lofted a pass from his own 48 toward the end zone. It fell 5 yards shy, where wideout Ryan Short tipped the ball back over the heads of a row of defenders and into the waiting hands of Wabash’s Kurt Casper for the touchdown. A stream of red-clad fans poured out of the stands and onto the field to celebrate with the players.

The other standout moment came in 2007, again with a tie score and just a couple of seconds on the clock. DePauw sophomore Jordan Havercamp had never made a collegiate field goal but was being called upon for a 47-yard attempt. Almost everyone in that stadium was sure the game would be pushed into overtime, but Havercamp made sure that didn’t happen. His kick sailed through the uprights, and dejection on the Wabash side was mirrored by the eruptions of cheers from the home stands filled with black and old gold.

For several years, Wabash had that 2001 game to lean on as one of the rivalry history’s great wins. It was good that DePauw had its game-winning kick in 2007. It gave the Tigers a spark of their own in the rivalry. Each team needs these kinds of moments to maintain the momentum of rivalries. The lore of greatness on the field is just as important as the final score.

It’s the energy of the game, the addition of thousands of fans and the unity the Monon Bell inspires that brings me back each year. Being an alumnus of Wabash, there is no prouder time to be a part of the school than in the week surrounding the Monon Bell matchup. The game is such a singular focus that for most onlookers, there’s nothing that they want at that moment more than a win. And everyone around you wants exactly the same thing as passionately as you do.

Finally, it would be unfair not to add one other interesting element of this rivalry: the heists. Over the years, there have been several attempts by students to steal the bell trophy from their opponent prior to the game, and a few instances have been successful. The most memorable accounts are highly detailed and play on the naivete of the institution that had won the trophy last.

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Keith McMillan

Keith McMilllan, who has been a columnist for D3football.com since 2000, has provided color commentary on D3football.com's national broadcasts of the Stagg Bowls. He played at Randolph-Macon in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference for four years and covered it for two more.

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