|DePauw and Wabash square off annually for the Monon Bell, a game which has significant bragging rights on the line regardless of the teams' conference affiliations.|
By Keith McMillan
A state school against a private school. A co-ed college vs. an all-male institution. One college started with books taken from another.
They're all pretext for some of Division III's most heated rivalries.
And whether they've played 117 times like Amherst and Williams, or for half that like Cortland State and Ithaca (game No. 61 this weekend), each is unique in the connection between the two schools.
The teams are usually geographically close, competing for the same students and athletes in nearby high schools and for the same jobs as alumni.
The schools are full of tradition, sometimes marked by trophies like the Knox-Monmouth (Ill.) Bronze Turkey or the DePauw-Wabash Monon Bell. Sometimes the presence of alumni whose playing days are far, far behind them are the most vivid reminders of a long football tradition.
In every rivalry, there's more on the line than meets the eye. At times, a conference championship is at stake. Some years, beating a rival is the only way to salvage a lost season.
Some rivalries, like Rowan-Montclair State, Mount Union-John Carroll and Pacific Lutheran-Linfield, are born out of sheer competitiveness.
The things that make these rivalries special vary in each series, but they take place in late fall from coast (Claremont-Mudd-Scripps and Pomona-Pitzer in California) to coast (Bates and Colby in Maine).
'This is our Super Bowl'
In Massachusetts, Williams and Amherst met for the 117th time in 118 years last Saturday. The rivalry is the most-played in Division III and longer than any in Division I-A or II. Steeped in history, the competition began long before football was played at either institution.
In 1818, the Williams Board of Trustees contemplated moving the college to a site east of its current home in Williamstown. Amid disagreement, President Zepheniah Swift Moore handed in his resignation and founded Amherst Academy (which later became Amherst College) with faculty, students and books from Williams.
To save Williams, the first college alumni society was formed in 1821.
A distaste for each other remained when the two teams first met on the football field in 1884. Williams still refers to Amherst teams as "the Defectors," instead of the Lord Jeffs.
In 2001, the teams compete in the academically elite New England Small College Athletic Conference, which does not allow its football teams to play out-of-conference games or participate in the national playoffs. When each team entered their meeting last Nov. 10 undefeated, more than just bragging rights were on the line.
"This is it. This is our Super Bowl," said Pat McGee, a defensive lineman for the Lord Jeffs said in a piece I wrote for the 2001 Stagg Bowl game program. "Sometimes we're disappointed, but then the fact that we don't that we don't get to participate in the playoffs makes this game that much more special. We know this is it."
Williams won the game on a 1-yard run in overtime. The 23-20 victory completed an 8-0 championship season for the Ephs and marked the seventh time they've spoiled a perfect mark for the Lord Jeffs. Amherst returned the favor this season by handing Williams its only loss in a 45-35 shootout.
Several aspects of a rivalry game make it different than any other scheduled game.
"First is tradition," said McGee. "You have to have tradition to make a rivalry special. Next is competition. … Games with Williams have always been competitive."
"The first thing that stuck out to me," said Monmouth coach Steve Bell, recalling his research before he applied for the job, "is that [at the time], the rivalry was tied 50-50-10. That shows how intense a rivalry it is. It shows how close it is."
How's this for competitive? Wabash beat DePauw with a 52-yard touchdown pass on the last play of the game in last year's 108th meeting, bringing the Monon Bell back to Crawfordsville, Ind. The Tigers still hold a 50-49-9 advantage in the series.
The 258-pound bell and its 33-pound frame are the centerpiece of a rivalry between schools situated just 28 miles apart.
"I think it's the greatest symbol of any rivalry in the country, I will tell you that," longtime DePauw head coach Nick Mourouzis said. "If you were to see it and ring it, you would feel [the same way]."
Captains Tom Decker of Cortland and Dick Carmean of Ithaca figured in 1959 that the best way to mark their "Route 13 rivalry" was with the Cortaca Jug. The teams have painted every result on the original jug, which was replaced by a second jug two decades ago because the first ran out of room. The 2002 Cortaca Jug game will be televised from the Red Dragons' brand new stadium live on local cable, AM radio and the Internet. The game drew 12,500 in 1995, and this year's tickets sold out more than a week in advance.
Another trophy, the Bronze Turkey, has a long and storied history.
It first appeared in 1928 when two Illinois newspapers, the Monmouth Review Atlas and the Galesburg Register-Mail, each donated $40 for its purchase. The turkey was perfect because the game was played then on Thanksgiving Day.
The bell and the turkey are often victims of the spirited pranks that mark many of the rivalries.
In the 1940s, the Bronze Turkey was missing for five years until it was found buried under an indoor dirt track in the basement of Monmouth's Waid gymnasium.
Stolen again in the spring of 1984, the Register-Mail bought a new turkey in 1985. Monmouth seized control of the series — and the turkey — with seven straight wins in the series. Perhaps due to the Scots' success, the turkey thief had a change of heart. The original turkey quietly reappeared at a 1993 Monmouth class reunion.
The pranks, though usually less complex than they were years ago, still continue today.
"I don't know if you're a guy from Wabash calling trying to pump me for information," said Mourouzis during last year's Monon Bell week, fearing that a prankster was posing as a reporter. "It's very unusual that I get this call."
"There were always some good antics about the bell," said Randolph-Macon head coach Scott Boone, a wide receiver at and 1981 graduate of Wabash. "The alumni loyalty and little office wagers, the stories about people sneaking in and stealing the bell. Those are the kinds of things that make a rivalry special."
Boone should know. After playing and coaching in more than a dozen Monon Bell games, he came to R-MC, where they've been playing rival Hampden-Sydney since 1893.
"The No. 1 thing (that makes a rivalry)," said Boone, "is the for the most part, the recruiting is almost entirely overlapped."
Boone said two or three kids each year choose R-MC or H-SC over the other. Sometimes high school teammates split up by choosing the rival schools.
"I think the reason [ours is] such a rivalry is that the students know each other," said Mourouzis. "Pick any rivalry… Michigan-Michgan State, Indiana and Purdue. The kids are from the same state, from the same high schools, and sometimes they made decisions where one went one way, and another went the other. That enhances the rivalry."
"Both situations I have been in," said Boone, "both schools location-wise are fairly close."
Monmouth and Knox are 15 miles apart. Pennsylvania rivals Moravian and Muhlenberg are separated only by the Lehigh River.
Alumni are a also big part of most rivalry games. Many encounter each other at jobs once they leave school, and keep the rivalry alive by the water cooler.
"The alumni base intermingles as professionals," said Boone. "At Wabash it was in Indianapolis, here it's in Richmond."
Boone and Bell said their phones ring off the hook during game week with well-wishers.
"Everybody picks up the phone that week," said Rick Giancola, the Montclair State head coach who is also a 1968 graduate of rival Glassboro State, now known as Rowan.
"The first question I was asked at my first luncheon talk after I was hired," said Bell, "was 'are you going to beat Knox?''"
"With the alums," said Moravian coach Scot Dapp, "especially the ones from way back, no doubt they'll say if you beat Muhlenberg, it was a successful season."
This year, the 7-2 Greyhounds bring a six-game winning streak into their home game against 8-1 Muhlenberg. Moravian cannot make the playoffs, but they keep Muhlenberg from getting in.
It's the same story for Cortland. The Bombers have a good shot in Pool B as the Empire 8 champion, but the Red Dragons have no chance, even though both teams are 7-2.
Hampden-Sydney snapped the Yellow Jackets' six-win streak with a 38-26 win in Ashland last year, and 6-3 R-MC would love to keep the Tigers from going 8-2.
Whether it's a championship on the line or two teams trying to salvage lost seasons, there's always something at stake in a rivalry game.
"I think everything's on the line no matter what's on the line," Boone said.
During many of the games, alumni gather at locations far from the respective campuses to watch the game via satellite.
Alumni also make a big impact when they speak to current players.
"As a player who played in the rivalry games, you kind of feel like you've been fighting the same battles that guys have been fighting for centuries," said Amherst's McGee. "You get the old guys coming up to you after the game and telling you they scored the winning touchdown in 1942. That makes you feel good."
Sometimes fans take the rivalry games a little too seriously.
Hampden-Sydney won the 100th game in its series with Randolph-Macon in 1994. Fans tore down the goalposts and tossed them in Chalgrove Lake, where a plaque now commemorates the victory. When Randolph-Macon won at Hampden-Sydney in 1996, visiting fans tore down the home goalposts. When they attempted to do the same in 1998, Hampden-Sydney fans stood guard to protect their goalposts, and a melee ensued. Now, uniformed police officers guard the goalposts at either home field.
At Cortland, state troopers are on hand to regulate, and reportedly have even had to have their dogs bite people in the post-game disruptions. The crowd's chants are said to be pretty cruel too.
The Tigers and Yellow Jackets engage in peaceful competitions in the week prior to "The Game," including a blood drive and dueling editorials between the two college newspapers. Students at the two colleges split the "running of the football," where the game ball is traditionally jogged from one campus to the other in time for the coin toss.
The trophies, the pranks and the presence of thousands of fans and alumni all contribute to the atmosphere surrounding a Division III rivalry game.
When St. John's and St. Thomas met last season in the 100th anniversary of the first matchup, one reporter couldn't help but gush at the scene.
"The game was just a subplot to many who attended," wrote Patrick Donnelly of WCCO.com in Minneapolis. "The rivalry, the pageantry, the chance to spend a glorious Saturday afternoon under that canopy of pines and turning leaves — that was the main attraction."
At Cortland, local bars will be serving bagels — and beer — by 8 a.m. on game day.
To explain the rivalry at Cortaca, PnG Sports broadcaster and Ithaca graduate John McGraw has a recipe.
"Take two very good football programs that are only about half an hour apart," he said, "add some wild fans, extremely close games regardless of the record and mix that all into one blender with a dash of booze and class differential and that's the Cortaca Jug."
Out west, one rivalry game is a bit different.
Pacific Lutheran players love to play at Linfield's "CatDome," even though it's the home field of the Lutes' most competitive rival. The teams exchange pleasantries at game's end, traits of both programs.
At all the rivalry games, atmosphere is half the fun. Who needs homecoming when everyone will be there for the rivalry game?
"The games I've been in with Hampden-Sydney," says Boone, "There's always been more people lined up two and three deep standing around the field than there are sitting in the stands."
"The alums come back for one game," said Bell, who also expected 3-4 rows of standing fans surrounding his field for the Knox game. "It's packed."
"The kids always ask 'when's the Cortland game' or 'when's the Ithaca game,'" said WKRT broadcaster Eric Reinhardt, adding that the Red Dragons' New Jersey Athletic Conference schedule doesn't draw nearly as much interest as the finale.
The atmosphere is also great for bringing in recruits, added Bell, who brought 48 visitors to the 2000 Monmouth-Knox game, a huge group by Division III standards.
Small-time, big games
Division III players aren't accustomed to TV cameras, visitors from print media outlets as large as the New York Times and Sports Illustrated or the roar of 10,000-plus fans. The rivalry games are sometimes as big as it gets in the NCAA's small-school division.
"In 1988 when both Ithaca and Cortland came in undefeated at 8-0 and with a legitimate shot at the National Title," said McGraw, "Sports Illustrated called it 'The Biggest Little Game in America.' Over the past 43 years of the Cortaca Jug's existence, it's been the biggest little game in many people's lives and come this Saturday afternoon, it will be the biggest game of those young men's lives."
It's big for the coaches too, but rivalry games are easier to prepare for.
"It's like night and day," said McGee, comparing the week before the Williams game to other weeks. "Our coaches, and I'm sure the coaches at Williams do the same, they do a great job of preparing you for every game. But this week is [another level]. Everyone knows how much it means to people all across the country, to the alumni, the students, the faculty and staff from both schools."
The Williams-Amherst game is broadcast on cable throughout New England. Other rivals host parties where the game is shown via satellite.
At Montclair State, the season-ending contest with Rowan usually decides the New Jersey Athletic Conference championship.
"The kids know the history of it," Giancola said.
"What I tell my kids," Bell said, "is 'this is what you play college football for.'"
A lot of times, the biggest game is also the last game.
"The kids don't want to put themselves in a situation where they lose their last college football game to their rival," Boone said.
"As a senior, we just sit back and take it in," McGee said before the game. "We want to try and remember what it smells like in the locker room, try to remember what your buddies goofing around is like. I'm just trying to soak it all in, because in a few days we're not going to have it."
But what's special about rivalry games, as McGee will someday find out, is that they never go away.
While you may not remember the rest of the season, the Cortaca Jug is a game you remember the rest of your life," said McGraw.
"Any games like this are the ones you remember," said Bell.
"To finish off strong," said Dapp, "you feel like you've had a good year. That rivalry [memory], it's always going to be there."
Top 10 rivalries
Okay, okay. That was a long piece on rivalries, and yet we still yearn for more. As much fun as we've had with rankings and lists this season, why not do it one more time? I'll volunteer Division III's ten most interesting rivalries, in no particular order:
Amherst vs. Williams: It's got the story, the intensity and often the conference title on the line. Plus only Lafayette-Lehigh, Yale-Princeton and Yale-Harvard have played more times, and Yale-Harvard will hit 119 this season.
DePauw vs. Wabash: Best symbol in the Monon Bell, plus all reports have it sounding like pure, unadulterated craziness. The stolen bell stories are great, the series is even and the game is sold out this year. Plus, last year's DVD disc was such a great seller you can pre-order this year's on the Tigers' Monon Bell web page at a $3 discount. Whoo-hoo!
Cortland State vs. Ithaca: Can't get enough of the Cortaca Jug game? It has its own Web site (www.cortacajug.com), and it'll be on TV live. They've sold 7,000 tickets and will need state police to remind folks to go home and watch it on cable on Saturday. Ithaca has a 13-game advantage (35-22-3) in the series, but Cortland dominates at home (21-8-1).
Knox vs. Monmouth: It's got the oldest trophy in Division III and the fourth-most games played at 114. The Scots salvaged a .500 season this year with last weekend's 27-23 win, their fourth in a row.
Randolph-Macon vs. Hampden-Sydney: "The Game" to Virginia students and alumni, the 108th meeting will bring this rivalry back to prominence. Since the conference formed in 1976, the game has often had the ODAC title on the line, though Bridgewater has it wrapped up this season. The stories from the '40s and '50s about students driving back and forth from Ashland to Farmville and pulling stunts are hilarious. And the basketball rivalry is just as nuts.
Moravian vs. Muhlenberg: Depending on who you ask, this is a blue-collar vs. upper-class rivalry on a few fronts. Muhlenberg split with other academically prestigious schools and left Moravian and several fellow small Pennsylvania schools behind in the MAC. That this rivalry, amidst coverage of Penn State, Penn, Lehigh, Lafayette and some of the nation's most powerful Division II and III schools, garners any attention at all is a testament to its significance.
St. John's vs. St. Thomas: There's something about the image of monks cheering wildly at a football game that's endearing to me. Beyond that, good football and scenery in mid-fall Minnesota chalks this one up as a game to see.
Hanover vs. Franklin: Okay, so it isn't the only Victory Bell in football. But this rivalry, going on 104 years old this season, is one of the streakiest out there. Franklin dominates for 10 or 12 meetings, then the story changes. Teams didn't play 1924-36 or 1972-87. Currently, the playoff-bound Panthers have taken 12 of 13 from Franklin since 1989.
Claremont-Mudd-Scripps vs. Pomona-Pitzer: I don't know how intense it is, and Pomona-Pitzer has played Occidental more times (104), but I get a kick out of the fact that these two teams come from a five-college conglomerate. So it's possible that arch-rivals take classes together. To boot, independent P-P may have spoiled the Stags' playoff bid when they snuffed their unbeaten season on Saturday.
Albion vs. Kalamazoo: I don't think any school has ever lost more to another than Kalamazoo has to their rivals. The Hornets are 34-78-4 in 116 games against the Britons, who made it 19 in a row with a blocked kick that preserved a 21-20 win in October.
Honorable mention: Pacific Lutheran vs. Linfield, where the Lutes cheered "great job," prayed and then exchanged hugs with the Wildcats after this year's game. Also Union vs. RPI, Wesleyan vs. Trinity (Conn.), Bowdoin vs. Colby, Hamline vs. Macalester, UW-Oshkosh vs. UW-Stevens Point, Coe vs. Cornell, Mount Union vs. John Carroll.
Your take on conference ratings
Last week's ranking of all 27 Division III conference netted about as much feedback as anticipated, but much more than I expected would be positive.
One point of contention: Many thought the NESCAC was too low, others figured it might actually be too high. In hindsight, I probably should have left the conference unranked seeing as there's no statistical basis because NESCAC teams don't play out of conference games. All the information put into that was based on subjective statistical rankings and feelings.
One interesting point about the NESCAC, whose teams also do not participate in the NCAA playoffs. In talking to NCAA decision-makers a few years back, I found that the NESCAC virtually has a playoff spot waiting for it. The NCAA adjusted its Division III playoffs to 28 to bring the division in line with the preferred 7.5-teams-per-playoff-spot ratio. So if the NESCAC added its nine teams to the fray, bringing Division III to 227 eligible teams, the NCAA would probably expand the field to 29 teams. Then, the NESCAC would take the extra spot itself with an automatic qualifier.
Reader Mike Ingram, who compiles computer-based rankings for amusement, sent us his Division III conference strength rankings. Mike says he has 28 years experience, and uses that, along with schedule strength and score differential factors to come up with a numerical rating. If you want another opinion, to compare to where I ranked conferences last week, here are Mike's:
1. WIAC (28.6), 2. OAC (24.8), 3. Northwest (23.0), 4. CCIW (21.1), 5. Iowa (20.3), 6. SCAC (18.4), 7. ODAC (18.0), 8. MIAC (17.1), 9. Centennial (16.9), 10. Michigan (16.7), 11. MAC (15.7), 12. UAA (15.5), 13. PAC (15.0), 14. ACFC (14.7), 15. NJAC (14.0), 16. Empire 8 (12.8), 17. ASC (12.7), 18. Heartland (10.7), 19. Freedom (9.0), 20. UCAA (8.9), 21. Midwest (7.6), 22. SCIAC (7.3), 23. NCAC (6.1), 24. NEFC (3.5), 25. IBC (1.5), 26. Dixie 0.9.
Mike did not rank the NESCAC because of lack of statistical data, but guesses it would fall somewhere between eight and 12.
Top twenty… eight?
And while we're on the subject of ranking the best teams, a lot discussion always comes up at this time of year about scrapping the three-pool system and simply taking the 28 best teams. Mike also sent me his top 20, which seemed to factor in the conference strength ratings quite a bit: His top 5 was Mount Union, Linfield, John Carroll, Trinity (Texas) and Baldwin-Wallace.
Before you jump out of your chair, check this out. I checked another web site that does Division III rankings just for comparison, and Mount Union was first, John Carroll 14th and Baldwin-Wallace 17th.
If these rankings are accurate, how come the 7-2 Yellow Jackets have no chance at making the playoffs? Does that mean the Division III pool system is flawed? Do we want the 28 best teams, or do we want each team in Division III to have a fair shot at making the playoffs when the season begins? The pool system has opened the door to playoff teams that wouldn't have made it under the old system, like 1999 national champion Pacific Lutheran. It also enables teams in automatic qualifier conferences to schedule strong out-of-conference opponents.
Is the current playoff system best for Division III? Just something to think about.
Readers' under-the-radar all-stars
During the season, I've been asking Around the Nation readers to point out players who might not get any recognition because they don't play for hugely successful teams. This is also about the time of year I get mushy about seniors playing their final games (see last year's Nov. 9 column under Appreciation)
Here are some of the names you submitted, with a note of interest about each player:
Will Anderson, RB, Bethany: Set school record with 1,186 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns, and surpassed career rushing mark in 3-7 Bison's finale. He finished his career 54 yards short of 3,000, but it's no wonder. He's 6-foot, 230-pounds. You try tackling him!
Grant Burrough, QB, Frostburg State: Junior quarterback has had passing days of 352, 346, 391 and 452 yards in leading Bobcats to 5-4 record. They play Salisbury for the ACFC title this Saturday.
Mike Choby, LB, Grove City: Sophomore played middle and outside linebacker and led 3-7 Wolverines with 95 tackles, including 42 solo. Did we mention that he's a sophomore?
Rich Gear, WR, Delaware Valley: Granted a fifth year due to a season-ending knee injury suffered as a freshman. Despite playing for three coaches and not winning much, Gear will go down as the most prolific receiver in school history.
Christopher Gribes-Pierce, QB and Lewis Howes, WR, Principia: Howes caught 17 passes for an all-divisions record 418 yards in mid-October. Gribes-Pierce is racking up 289 passing yards per game. Howes has 71 receptions. An Illinois college of 550 people that has been competing since 1932, the Panthers are 5-4.
Dan Ryan, WR, DePauw: Set or tied seven conference records in Nov. 2 win over Centre. Most impressive mark is his streak of 16 straight games with a touchdown catch brought to a halt earlier this season.
Luis Uresti, WR, Sul Ross State: The Lobos lost their first seven this season, but have won their past two. Uresti leads the nation in receptions per game at 9.5 and has 997 receiving yards through eight games.
Andy Wellendorf, WR, Mt. St. Joseph: Freshman leads the team with 11 touchdowns on just 25 receptions. The Lions lost 16 straight coming into the season but are 5-4.
You guys must like offensive players! Few defenders got any love.
Games to watch
Wittenberg at Wooster: Winner is a Pool C playoff candidate. Loser gets "Thanks for playing, we had a great season," speech.
Wilkes at King's; Albright at Widener: Pioneers can still steal the automatic bid with a win and a Monarchs loss. If they both lose and Moravian wins, King's should emerge from a three-way tie.
Franklin & Marshall at Gettysburg: This one's not about records. Diplomats have lost six in a row but would like to send 28-year head coach Tom Gilburg out with a win.
Augustana at Wheaton: There's an automatic qualifier waiting for the winner, since both teams are 6-0 in CCIW action. Each has one out of conference loss, which means slim Pool C hopes for the loser. IWU at Milikin is a good conference game with no playoff implications.
McDaniel at Johns Hopkins: Blue Jays beat Green Terror last season. Doing so again could create another three-way tie at the top of the Centennial. The Centennial's tiebreaker for the AQ is based on a strength-of-schedule formula, which could give Muhlenberg the title.
RPI at Hobart: Matchup of 7-1 UCAA teams has serious Pool B playoff implications.
Salisbury at Frostburg State: Bobcats can spoil unbeaten record, ACFC crown and possibly a playoff berth for state rival Sea Gulls.
Ferrum at Christopher Newport: Winner of this Dixie Conference clash clinches 6-4 record — and a seventh seed in the playoffs.
Capital at John Carroll: Blue Streaks need win over Crusaders to stay in Pool C contention.
UW-La Crosse at UW-Stout: Eagles can close out automatic qualifier with a win. Stout is one of four teams just a game out of first, with two conference losses. Two more, Eau Claire and Stevens Point, meet on Saturday. Would we expect anything else from the WIAC? Stout and Whitewater still have shots at the playoff berth.
Willamette at Linfield: Talk about leaving no doubt. No one's come closer than 35 points to Linfield since Oct. 5. But would you believe that the 6-3 Bearcats can nail down the Northwest Conference title with a win? It's true. WU would also be a solid Pool B candidate in that case, since its losses have come to Whitworth, Mary Hardin-Baylor and out of division.
Claremont-Mudd-Scripps at Redlands: Can a team that won its first eight miss the postseason? Sure, if CMS doesn't win at Redlands, it could happen. Stags are playing to become the first SCIAC team since 1994 to make the playoffs.