Greetings, Lion fans, today we’re back with reason #99 of what makes College Football so great, and why we love it so……rivalries. The Game, The one on the schedule that everyone points to as soon as it comes out.
Oh my goodness, rivalries. There’s nothing else like them. Again, unlike the pro game, where players change teams so often, and a good deal of the time end up playing for the other team in a game like what we’re discussing here, the college players stay the same for the most part. For many players, they grew up in the same neighborhoods, nearby towns, and there is always the desire to see who’s the best. Who’s The Man.
How do they begin? There are any one of a number of reasons. A questionable officiating call. A statement by a coach or player that makes it into the media, and onto the opponent’s bulletin board. A perceived insult by one fan base to another. It can be as simple as two teams that just don’t like each other.
For the Lions, the two most intense and quite often bitter, have been with Midwestern State, and Tarleton State, until their departure for Division I-FCS after the 2019 season.
In the case of Midwestern State, there was a clash of personalities between Colby Carthel and Bill Maskill. They just did not get along. Mix in some close and heartbreaking games, and the fight was on. It probably reached it’s peak in 2017, when a Lion team ranked #2 in the nation, riding a wave of momentum, went into Wichita Falls, and came out with their only loss in a national championship season, 47-42. This game had everything. Questionable officiating. Luis Perez was bitten by the turnover bug. The defense just never could get a stop. Despite all that, the Lions were still in a postion to win at the end.
Then, in 2018, along comes the Texans of Tarleton. The difference in the Texans and the Mustangs, was there was still some respect between the two. The Texans, however, were different. They are the kind of team that was good, and like to let their opponent know how good they were. They are a team that plays right on the edge of sportsmanship, and often cross that edge into dirty play. The Lions and Texans engaged in one of the most bitter, intense faceoffs at any level.
In 2018, the Texans came into Commerce, and aided by a rash of penalties, many of which seemed to be very questionable. So much to the point that Lion legend Blake Cooper, who is one of the most decent and mild mannered people I’ve ever known, said to me, ” I don’t have any idea what in the hell those officials are doing,”, thrashed the Lions.
Fast forward to Thanksgiving weekend, and the two teams were back at it in a second round playoff game, this time in Stephenville. The Lions fell behind early, Kristov Martinez’s leg kept them in it until Kane Wilson led them in a furious rally that had the Lions inside the Texans 30, with 1:30 left, timeouts to spare, and a chance to win that was extinguished by a quarterback sack and fumble. All that, and then endure trash talk from hundreds of a spoiled, arrogant fan base…..well, you get it.
Fast forward to 2019, and while David Bailiff had taken over in Commerce, the brewing feud just got hotter. A disputed fumble return swung the game to the Texans, and led to Bailiff to call for instant replay in all of Division II.
Every good rivalry needs a rubber game. One to decide it all. That’s what the Lions had facing them in December of 2019. It would be the final encounter between these two, as the Texans had announced prior to the season that they were transitioning to Division I. Their attitude was, 1. Frustration at not having the #1 seed in the region and having to face the Lions in the first round; and 2. “We’ll stay at home, waltz right through, take a short drive to McKinney, win a national title, then ride off into the sunset.” On this day, though, it was not to be, as the Lions left with a 23-16 upset. The silence in Stephenville was deafening.
Rivalries run deep in Texas. One of the longest running is between Texas A&M and Texas, a Thanksgiving mainstay from 1915 until the Aggies’ departure to the SEC in 2012. Entire households were divided over this one, and each blames the other for it ending.
One that certainly deserve a mention is the one that takes place during the State Fair of Texas in early October. The Red River Showdown between Oklahoma and Texas. Each school gets the same number of tickets. Rally Night in downtown Dallas was legendary, and the jail cells were often near capacity.
Look around the country, and you’ll find one. The Uncivil War between Oregon and Oregon State. USC-UCLA in the Rose Bowl. Bedlam in Oklahoma with OU and Oklahoma State. The Backyard Brawl between Pitt and West Virginia. The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party between Florida and Georgia. (Note: 33 years ago, I was on a temporary assignment in Clearwater, Florida on that weekend, and all over the state of Florida, it is exactly as described.) The classic battle between Ohio State and Michigan, which occurs often with a Rose Bowl birth on the line. Another one just as intense was one that culminated in the legendary “Catholics vs. Convicts” game, Notre Dame and Miami. There was trash talk before the game, a fight during pre game, and a bitter battle between two supremely talented teams that gave the Irish their last national championship in 1988. Wide Right and Wide Right 2 between Miami and Florida State.
Probably the two most notable, however is the Iron Bowl between Alabama and Auburn, of which Lion strength coach Joey Caldwell is a veteran, and the Army-Navy game, but for different reasons.
Fans of Alabama and Auburn live, breathe, eat and sleep the Iron Bowl 365 days a year. Families are divided. This one gets nasty. So much so that in 2010, in response to a Cam Newton jersey being placed over the statue of Paul Bryant, an Alabama fan poisoned the trees at Toomer’s Corner in Auburn, disrupting a longtime Auburn tradition of “Rolling Toomer’s Corner”, which involved covering the trees in toilet paper. The Alabama fan spent 70 days in jail and was banned from attending all Alabama sports events for life until his death in 2019.
Army and Navy, the two service academies, though, is a much different situation. From kickoff until the final whistle, they battle each other tooth and nail. Unlike other examples cited here, though, when the game is over, they are comrades in arms again. These young men that go out and defend our country become friends again, and in one the most incredible displays of sportsmanship, stand at attention while the other sings their alma mater. The goal in this game isn’t to beat down the other, but to “sing second”. In Army-Navy, the winner of the game sings their alma mater second. That, my friends, is class and respect.
Some great rivalries, however, are gone forever, due to conference realignment, etc. An early season classic between Notre Dame and Michigan. Oklahoma and Nebraska had a “Game of the Century” in 1971. In 2021, Texas and Arkansas, who once battled yearly in the SWC until Arkansas left for the SEC in 1992, renew their rivalry after one of the greatest games of all time, the 1969 “Big Shootout”, in which a narrow 15-14 Texas win in front of President Richard Nixon, propelled the Longhorns to a national championship in the Cotton Bowl.
So, if you’re a fan of college football like we are, there are a lot of games to choose from. Just pick something to like about one, and dislike about the other, sit back, and enjoy.
College Football. I do love it so.