Last week the biggest rivalry in the State hit the battlefield via the Governor’s Cup at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. Fans talked trash on the radio, through Twitter and Facebook, and to each others’ faces. There was an entire day dedicating to Hating Louisville. Fans trekked through the rain and paid hundreds of dollars for tickets to watch a football game. What is it that stirs people’s emotions and creates a rivalry as big as the one in our state?
In order to see why rivalries mean so much to the people involved, we have to look at one that is much smaller, where people don’t care as much in the outside world because they don’t understand why it is such a big deal. Last Friday I went home to watch my rivalry unfold: DeSales vs. Holy Cross. These Catholic schools have a combined enrollment around 500, but it does not take away from the nasty taste that one gets in the mouth after playing in this game.
Many people consider this game “The Battle for Dixie Highway”, with the winner owning bragging rights in South Louisville. Being the best around, is deeply engrained into kids since they started playing against or with each other in CSAA (Catholic Schools Athletic Association) competition starting in 3rd grade. The CSAA is the most hard fought competition you will find in sports. To this day I will see someone that I remembered playing against back in the day. Players will be friends with the guys they are playing against, or they will down right hate them because they lost to that person in a Toy Bowl. The guys that I lost to in the Toy Bowl my 8th grade year, were my high school teammates and some of my best friends. The guys I played with in middle school, turned out to be playing across from me each year when I played Holy Cross.
It’s not just the players that know each other well, it’s also the coaches. My little brother Nathan is DeSales’ starting QB this year. Three coaches on the Holy Cross bench coached him in grade school. My high school DLine coach traded sides last year and now is loud mouth on the bad guys sideline. The head coaches share history in the rivalry as well. DeSales 1st year coach Harold Davis beat the old Bishop David a couple of times during his run as one of DeSales’ greatest Defensive Backs. Holy Cross’ Todd Crumbacher is in his 1st year of coaching his alma mater, where he helped pound DeSales many times in the early 2000s. If you think they don’t want to win as bad as the players, you’re wrong.
Whenever competition happens between someone you are familiar with, you will do anything it takes to beat them. My next door neighbor Luke Simmons will still brag about giving my St. Paul Raiders our only basketball loss my 8th grade year, just like I won’t ever let him forget about the 3 I hit in his eye or the fact that we beat them in the Championship game. That emotion makes rivalries special, and leads the players and fans to do crazy things. Students paint up and shave mohawks in their hair, parents arrive 2 hours before to tailgate, and if you’re an alumni it is the one game of the year that you make sure to go to.
When they finally throw the ball on the field, it isn’t just a game anymore. Unless one team is just that good (like my 2009 team that won 47-0), emotion is going to make the game close NO MATTER WHAT (you will see). Players talk trash on the line before the snap, they boast more than they would in any other game, and they will start a fight over the most minute things. They will commit stupid penalties and make dumb, immature decisions (I played in 2008 with a broken back. I didn’t know it was broken, but I did whatever I had to do to play in that game). These emotions make for the most exhilarating experience you can have in sports.
This year was a perfect example of a great rivalry. DeSales entered the game #2 in 2A and heavily favored (Frakes gave them a 21 point spread) to beat Holy Cross for the 5th time in 6 years. Holy Cross only dressed 30 kids, with many of them being freshman, compared to a 60 man DeSales squad. DeSales had just played a hell of a ball-game against 3A powerhouse Central, and was prepared to keep the wheels turning.
Then the emotion that comes with a rivalry was let loose as soon as the ball was kicked off. Dominique Mack of Holy Cross returned the opening kick for a touchdown, putting the Holy Cross side into a frenzy and leaving DeSales fans saying “Whaaaaaaat?” From there, the game was a classic knock down drag em out rivalry game. Penalties for unsportsmanlike conduct hindered drives; players were either timid or too overzealous; nobody could get a leg up in a back and forth brawl.
After Nathan Roush’s touchdown to Lucas Schwieckhart with 4 minutes to go in the 3rd quarter, DeSales seemed to be pulling away. However Holy Cross charged right back down the field to make it 21-16 with 46 seconds left in the 3rd quarter. Holy Cross just wouldn’t give up, despite players being ran to death playing both sides of the ball. That all ended in the 4th quarter after Roush took a QB keeper 55 yards to the end zone. The Colts began to physically tear apart Holy Cross, forcing 3 and outs before DeSales Dylan Byrd put it out of reach with 2 long touchdowns. Byrd’s 169 yards and 4 touchdowns along with Roush’s 150 yards of offense and 2 touchdowns were just too much for the Cougars, with the final score 42-16.
Now that may be just another 2A vs. 1A game in Louisville to most of you, but for the South End of Louisville it means much, much more. Catholic school enrollment is at an all-time low. Starting in 2005, 10 schools have merged into 3, with St. Paul as the only parish-school left in the tight knit community. Holy Cross has taken the biggest hit from this and as families leave the area, it leaves question marks for the future. This game not only keeps the doors open for both schools, but it gets families back to the South End. No matter who wins, the South End community is the biggest winner of them all.
Holy Cross and DeSales truly emulate everything that goes into being a rival. You may hate Louisville and Rick Pitino, but when you need your fellow Kentuckian’s support it will always be there. The South End rivalry helps the schools stay afloat, whilst the Governor’s Cup launched Louisville into what is now a football program that has won a BCS Bowl Game and has a 55,000 stadium. Without rivalries I probably wouldn’t even have this job. Rivalries don’t just give us something or somebody to hate, they provide us with stability and growth in our very unstable world.