/playoffs/2017/mount-union-salem-legacy

A quarter century later ...

More news about: Mount Union
Composite of images regarding Mount Union's first Stagg Bowl
It used to be new, but now it's expected that Mount Union makes its annual trip to Salem.
File photos
 

By Ryan Tipps
D3sports.com

For years, it was common for many of the Kehres family Christmas cards to be stamped with a Salem, VA, postmark. To this day, Mount Union parents do their holiday shopping in the city, fans crowd the restaurants and bars one weekend a year, and locals recognize and root for this long-time purple power.

If Mount Union had a home outside of Alliance, Ohio, it would be in Salem.

“It’s not Christmas if I don’t see purple,” said Dave Robbins, who served as one of the host families during the early years of the Stagg Bowl in Salem. In 1993, Robbins was tasked with showing Larry Kehres around the town, offering advice on places to visit and helping him and his staff get settled.

“To achieve this level of success, not just for five or 10 years, but for 25 years, that’s incredible. You can’t play PlayStation for 25 years and win 93 percent of your games like we have.”

— Jim Ballard, 1993 Gagliardi Trophy winner

A quarter-century after the Purple Raiders, quarterbacked by Gagliardi Trophy winner Jim Ballard, won their first Walnut and Bronze trophy, the team is about to play in Salem for the 20th time.

“To achieve this level of success, not just for five or 10 years, but for 25 years, that’s incredible,” Ballard said. “You can’t play PlayStation for 25 years and win 93 percent of your games like we have.”

Friday’s game, however, will be measured as bittersweet -- it is the last football championship Salem is slated to host. For the next two seasons, the Stagg Bowl is headed to Shenandoah, Texas, before then being hosted in Canton, Ohio. While Salem still serves as Title Town for other Division III sports, it will be relegated to the archives for football. For Mount Union’s players, fans and coaches, a long and respectful relationship will end. Left will be the memories.

Mount’s first visit to Salem was a remarkable one -- ranking right up there with the Blizzard of ’09 and the two wins against St. Thomas, the first marking the elder Larry Kehres’ final game as head coach in 2012 and the second marking son Vince Kehres’ first Stagg Bowl win at the helm in 2015.

Back in 1993, the mountain air howled, dropping the wind chill to close to zero. The roughly 70-degree temperatures just one day prior had vanished. Pre-internet, it was a shift many didn’t expect. Fans and family, including the wife and young child of then-defensive coordinator Don Montgomery, were bundled up and braving the elements to support their team. Logic suggested that it would be one of the few opportunities that they would ever get.

“We worked so hard in the early ‘90s to get there,” Ballard said. “In ’92, we went to the national semifinals, and that was as far as any Mount team had ever gone. And then for us to come back in ’93 and get over the hump and win it, we were like, ‘There’s never going to be another team like us again.”

Much to the surprise of players and fans, 1993 was less a fluke and more the norm. Mark Grossman, who broadcast Mount Union games for years with Ric Brienza, remembers the muddy 1993 semifinal game that catapulted Mount into the Stagg Bowl -- wherever that was.

“I can vividly remember … talking to our buddies as the game ended, saying, ‘I don’t care where the title game is next week, but we’re going!’ Seriously, we had no idea where the Stagg Bowl was being played, but we weren’t going to miss this ‘once in a lifetime’ experience,” Grossman said. “Never in a million years did I expect a 20-plus year marriage with Salem.”

From the start, Salem positioned itself as a first-class setting for this small-school showdown. Those close to Mount Union noted that the meals and other gatherings created an atmosphere befitting a championship setting. The bowl shape of the stadium itself heightened the feel of the game and amplified the effects of the crowd.

“The lunches were great, the speakers were outstanding. We felt completely taken care of,” Ballard said. “Salem had a big-time feel to it.”

Current Mount Union coach Vince Kehres first spent time in Salem as a high schooler, watching his father lead his team to a 34-24 win over Rowan, another team that made multiple visits to Salem. Kehres has had the unique opportunity to enjoy Salem as a fan, a player, an assistant coach and a head coach.

“They do such a great job of making this a first-class experience for all of those involved in it,” he said. “It’s sad to see it come to an end, but we’re really happy we have the opportunity to get down there one more time.”

From the start, residents of the city were welcoming of these college programs -- to this day, Robbins is a good friend of the Kehres family, having gone to Alliance to visit and having welcomed Larry Kehres and his kin into his home. Robbins, who served as a host for visiting teams for nine years, said that by about the third visit in, the elder Kehres knew the lay of the land in Salem pretty well. Although Robbins may not have been needed as a host as much as he was in that first season, he continued to forge close ties to Mount Union and to the Kehres family.

Robbins even talks about the time the elder Kehres let him call a play for Mount -- in practice, of course. He admits he was probably dating himself when he asked the team to run a Statue of Liberty play.

“We’re going to miss having them here,” Robbins said. “They have a great fan base out of Ohio, which adds to the atmosphere in a big way to have all those fans come down.”

This week, Vince Kehres noted that “when I think of Salem, the first thing I think about is people, the relationships that we’ve built with the people who have been affiliated with the game. The people who have served as our host families over the years, they’ve become friends and people we really enjoy seeing.”

Fans love the city and the setting as much as the team does. For them, it’s reminiscent of a family reunion, a way to bring graduates from different generations together for something unifying annually. For the former players, such as Ballard, who have returned to Salem to see their team, it’s particularly poignant for them to talk about those past teams and those past games while on such hallowed championship ground. Salem has helped foster community among the Mount Union faithful.

“It doesn’t matter when you played because there’s such a mutual respect between the Mount Union teams,” said Ballard, who attended the Stagg Bowl several times through the early 2000s.

“When you get to go back to Salem again, not only are you hanging with the guys you traveled with, but you’re getting to see all the guys you haven’t seen since the previous trip to Salem,” said Grossman, who’s missed the trip to Virginia only twice -- once when his daughter got married and once when he was sick.

Getting to Salem is never easy, and that is, perhaps, why it becomes such a unifying experience. There are always hurdles during the season. The ball has to bounce the right way sometimes. Discipline has to be maintained.

“You certainly can’t take it for granted for one minute,” Kehres said, just days before head coaching in his fourth Stagg Bowl game. “Our approach is to grind out good days throughout the year to put us in a position to win a championship in late December.”

That December game will be somewhere warmer next year, and, among casual Division III followers, it won’t be long before Salem will be talked about in a way that Phenix City, Alabama, and Kings Island, Ohio and Bradenton, Florida are. For Mount Union, though, Salem will be held in higher esteem, and it seems unlikely that the city or that the Roanoke Valley will forget about Mount Union any time soon.

“As a city, we’ve been very fortunate to have D-III football all these years,” Robbins said. “It’s been a great relationship, and because of that, I’ve become quite a fan of Mount Union.”

The definitive history of the USFL: Football for a Buck, by Jeff Pearlman. Available now!
Sep. 21: All times Eastern
Final
at Morrisville State 34, St. Lawrence 26
Video Box Score
Final
at Bridgewater State 42, Fitchburg State 15
Box Score Recap
Sep. 22: All times Eastern
Final
at Delaware Valley 41, Alvernia 10
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Endicott 27, Hobart 24
Video Video Box Score
Final
Framingham State 28, at Massachusetts Maritime 13
Video Box Score
Final
at RPI 44, Buffalo State 14
Video Recap
Final
at MIT 34, Catholic 24
Video Box Score
Final
Springfield 17, at WPI 14
Box Score Recap Recap
Final
Lycoming 27, at FDU-Florham 21
Video Box Score
Final
Emory and Henry 52, at Rochester 17
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Nichols 43, Alfred State 7
Video Box Score
Final
Southern Virginia 14, at Kean 9
Video Box Score
Final
at Merchant Marine 35, Maine Maritime 14
Video Box Score
Final
at Middlebury 37, Bowdoin 24
Video Box Score
Final
at Amherst 37, Hamilton 14
Video Box Score
Final
at Williams 36, Colby 14
Video Box Score Photos
Final
at Ursinus 21, Moravian 14
Video Box Score Photos
Final - OT
Montclair State 17, at Christopher Newport 14
Video Box Score Live stats
Final
at Carnegie Mellon 42, St. Vincent 27
Video Box Score Photos Photos
Final
at Union 49, Curry 6
Video Box Score Recap
Final - OT
at Franklin and Marshall 14, Susquehanna 7
Video Box Score Video Preview
Final
at Trinity (Conn.) 59, Bates 16
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Johns Hopkins 62, Dickinson 14
Video Video Box Score Recap
Final
Misericordia 47, at Wilkes 45
Video Box Score
Final
at Frostburg State 34, Rowan 7
Video Box Score Recap
Final
McDaniel 25, at Gettysburg 0
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Wooster 24, DePauw 21
Video Box Score Recap
Final
Stevenson 38, at King's 17
Video Box Score Recap Recap
Final
at Alfred 38, Cortland 33
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Washington and Jefferson 62, Grove City 10
Video Box Score
Final
at Westminster (Pa.) 21, Bethany 3
Video Box Score
Final
at Allegheny 25, Ohio Wesleyan 17
Video Box Score
Final
at Wesley 43, William Paterson 7
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at LaGrange 42, Apprentice 13
Video Box Score
Final
Denison 52, at Oberlin 27
Video Box Score
Final
at Western New England 59, Anna Maria 7
Video Box Score Recap
Final
Martin Luther 63, at Greenville 28
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at St. Scholastica 23, Westminster (Mo.) 20
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Minnesota-Morris 13, Iowa Wesleyan 7
Video Box Score
Final
at Muhlenberg 62, Juniata 7
Video Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Widener 69, Albright 0
Video
Final
at Coast Guard 38, Norwich 35
Box Score Recap
Final
Anderson 18, at Defiance 14
Video Box Score
Final
at Mount Union 23, John Carroll 10
Video Box Score Photos Photos
Final
Hanover 28, at Bluffton 10
Video Box Score Photos
Final
Westfield State 42, at Worcester State 22
Video Box Score
Final
at Waynesburg 10, Geneva 7
Video Box Score Recap
End of 2nd
7 Brevard
7 Virginia-Lynchburg
Live stats
Final
at Ferrum 81, Greensboro 0
Video Box Score
Final
Ithaca 21, at St. John Fisher 14
Video Box Score Recap
Final
Muskingum 31, at Wilmington 24
Video Box Score Photos
Final
Ohio Northern 13, at Otterbein 7
Box Score Recap Photos
Final
at Austin 12, Hendrix 9
Video Box Score
Final
North Central (Ill.) 35, at North Park 0
Video Box Score Recap
Final
Rhodes 29, at Birmingham-Southern 10
Video Box Score Recap Photos
Final
at UW-Stout 49, Cal Lutheran 24
Video Box Score
Final
Millsaps 21, at Sewanee 14
Video Box Score
Final
Thomas More 38, at Huntingdon 35
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Washington U. 51, Carthage 31
Video Box Score Recap Photos
Final
at St. Olaf 33, Augsburg 3
Video Box Score Recap Photos
Final
at Concordia-Moorhead 55, Hamline 0
Video Box Score
Final
at St. John's 59, Carleton 0
Video Box Score
Final
at Chicago 56, Illinois College 9
Box Score Photos
Final
at Bethel 31, Gustavus Adolphus 0
Video Box Score Photos
Final
Wartburg 42, at Nebraska Wesleyan 14
Video
Final
Coe 35, at Buena Vista 14
Video Box Score
Final
Central 35, at Dubuque 13
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at St. Norbert 91, Grinnell 0
Video Box Score
Final
Loras 35, at Luther 28
Video
Final
at Ripon 28, Knox 3
Video Box Score Photos
Final
at Monmouth 37, Macalester 0
Video
Final
Carroll 16, at Elmhurst 14
Video Box Score Recap
Final
Cornell 28, at Beloit 17
Video Box Score
Final
at Lake Forest 35, Lawrence 34
Video Box Score Photos
Final
at St. Thomas 49, UW-Eau Claire 0
Video Box Score Recap Photos
Final
Mount St. Joseph 59, at Earlham 2
Video Box Score
Final
Dean 42, at Becker 15
Video Box Score
Postponed
N.C. Wesleyan at Bridgewater
Video Live stats
Final
Western Connecticut 40, at Salve Regina 21
Video Box Score Photos Photos
Final
at Mass-Dartmouth 21, Plymouth State 16
Video Box Score Photos
Final
at Tufts 16, Wesleyan 13
Video Box Score Photos
Final
at Salisbury 38, TCNJ 7
Video Box Score
Final
at Rose-Hulman 19, Manchester 12
Video Box Score Recap Photos
Final
at Case Western Reserve 63, Thiel 20
Video Box Score Recap
Final
Baldwin Wallace 34, at Heidelberg 10
Video Box Score
Final - OT
Berry 38, at Centre 35
Video Box Score Recap Live stats Audio
Final
at Wittenberg 45, Kenyon 3
Video Box Score
Final
Northwestern (Minn.) 38, at Crown 18
Video Box Score
Final
at Hardin-Simmons 65, Howard Payne 14
Video Box Score Photos
Final
Illinois Wesleyan 41, at Augustana 24
Video
Final
at McMurry 35, Sul Ross State 24
Video
Final
at Wheaton (Ill.) 63, Millikin 6
Video Box Score Photos
Final
at UW-Platteville 49, Lakeland 12
Video Box Score Photos
Final
Louisiana College 21, at Southwestern 19
Video Box Score
Final
Mary Hardin-Baylor 47, at Texas Lutheran 14
Video Box Score
Final
East Texas Baptist 46, at Belhaven 20
Video
Sep. 22: All times Eastern
Final
at Delaware Valley 41, Alvernia 10
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at RPI 44, Buffalo State 14
Video Recap
Final
at Wesley 43, William Paterson 7
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Washington and Jefferson 62, Grove City 10
Video Box Score
Final
at Frostburg State 34, Rowan 7
Video Box Score Recap
Final - OT
at Franklin and Marshall 14, Susquehanna 7
Video Box Score Video Preview
Final
at Mount Union 23, John Carroll 10
Video Box Score Photos Photos
Final
Ithaca 21, at St. John Fisher 14
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at St. John's 59, Carleton 0
Video Box Score
Final
North Central (Ill.) 35, at North Park 0
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at St. Thomas 49, UW-Eau Claire 0
Video Box Score Recap Photos
Final
at Wittenberg 45, Kenyon 3
Video Box Score
Final - OT
Berry 38, at Centre 35
Video Box Score Recap Live stats Audio
Final
at Case Western Reserve 63, Thiel 20
Video Box Score Recap
Final
Mary Hardin-Baylor 47, at Texas Lutheran 14
Video Box Score
Final
at Hardin-Simmons 65, Howard Payne 14
Video Box Score Photos
Final
at Wheaton (Ill.) 63, Millikin 6
Video Box Score Photos
Final
Illinois Wesleyan 41, at Augustana 24
Video