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At Last, a Big Game to Rile Delaware
Proximity, history could charge UD-DSU meetings.
The University of Delaware and Delaware State University have some catching up to do.
Football rivalries don’t form overnight. But UD and DSU already have many of the ingredients to make this one special.
On Tuesday, the schools announced their first regular-season meeting will take place Sept. 19, followed by three annual games beginning in 2012.
There is geographic proximity, the No. 1 priority for a passionate competition, with roughly 45 miles separating DSU’s campus in Dover and UD’s campus in Newark. Many of their graduates also live and work in close quarters.
There are potential grudges, resulting from UD’s historic reluctance to play its in-state counterpart and the perceived elitism that accompanied it.
And there is the David-versus-Goliath factor, with DSU as the perennial underdog going against the six-time national champion Blue Hens. DSU made its lone NCAA Division I-AA playoff appearance in 2007, when it lost 44-7 at Delaware in the first and only meeting between the schools.
The NCAA arranged that encounter. This time, the schools did it themselves.
“Like Michigan or Arizona or Texas, where there are great intrastate rivalries, we will have a rivalry here in Delaware,” DSU acting president Claibourne Smith said.
The Montana-Montana State rivalry is generally considered Division I-AA’s most passionate. Like Delaware and Delaware State, Montana and Montana State are the only Division I schools in their state.
It will take time, however, to come close to building the kind of fervor that accompanies the annual “Brawl of the Wild.”
“I think what makes it special is, you don’t have any pro sports teams in Montana,” said Big Sky Conference assistant commissioner/public relations Jon Kasper, a Montana graduate.
“That makes it really, really special. Everyone seems to care, as the saying goes, from Alzada to Yaak [towns in the huge state’s extreme southeast and northwest corners, respectively]. You’re either a ‘Cat or a Griz.”
And so it will be from Delaware’s northern and southern extremes of Claymont and Delmar, separated by just 91 miles.
If residents cannot attend the certain-to-be-sold out games at UD’s Delaware Stadium, many will have their eyes fixed on televisions or ears tuned to radio or Internet broadcasts.
“It’s going to be a big day in the state of Delaware,” UD coach K.C. Keeler said.
Other state rivalries
Montana and Montana State first met in 1897, and have played 108 times.
Kasper suggested that Delaware-Delaware State could have the same zeal as the North Dakota-North Dakota State and South Dakota-South Dakota State football rivalries, which are temporarily on hold as North Dakota and South Dakota transition from Division II to Division I-AA.
Delaware is quite different from Montana and the Dakotas in that, residing in the heavily populated I-95 corridor, citizens do have easy access to many more sporting and entertainment options, including the professional teams in Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington and New York.
But it was quite evident to UD president Patrick Harker at the 2007 playoff game, attended by a Delaware Stadium postseason record crowd of 19,765, that the seeds of a rivalry existed just from the spirit he saw among the crowd.
“We really believe this is going to be a great game for the state of Delaware,” Harker said. “And that’s not just wishful thinking. The 2007 game proved that the citizens of the state, the alumni, the student bodies, just really got into the in-state rivalry. That’s why we felt it was important to get this done.”
When Montana State’s Bobcats visit Montana’s Grizzlies in Missoula, the local economy typically receives a $3 million to $4 million surge, Kasper said.
Much of that is felt in additional hotel and restaurant business, but also through souvenir and ticket revenue. Montana-Montana State ticket prices are slightly higher than those for other games.
For games in Bozeman, where the standing-room crowd was 14,877 at their last meeting in 2007, Montana State netted $80,000 above the norm just from ticket receipts, said Drew Ingraham, Montana State’s assistant athletic director of marketing and event management.
Ingraham said the two schools view promoting the game as “a partnership,” and work together to sell advertising and stage events. The game even has a title sponsor in many years.
“We have super fan bases at both schools, and both schools and both athletic departments benefit from the income and the exposure,” Ingraham said, “Just like in Delaware, this [college football] is our major sport.”
Delaware should receive an economic boost, too, something often overlooked as the debate raged over whether or not the schools should play.
Blue Hen games routinely sell out 22,000-seat Delaware Stadium, where UD officials have said game-day income regularly approaches $300,000.
But the presence of two Delaware teams playing in a highly anticipated game drawing significantly more attention leads to additional revenue opportunities, said Curt Krouse, UD assistant director of athletics/marketing.
“The Delaware versus Delaware State football game this fall is an exciting event for both of our institutions and fans throughout the state, no matter who they root for,” Krouse said. “We are certainly looking forward to a big and enthusiastic crowd at Delaware Stadium and we’re excited about the potential for new marketing opportunities associated with the game.”
UD officials have not said that they plan to raise the ticket price for the Delaware State game, though 2009 ticket prices have not been determined.
Fervor builds over time
Bozeman and Missoula, Mont., are 166 miles apart, a veritable stone’s throw in the vastness of the U.S. west.
UD and DSU are roughly the same distance apart as William & Mary and Richmond, Delaware’s cohorts in the Colonial Athletic Association. They met for the 118th time in the 2008 season-ending game in Williamsburg, Va. Richmond’s 23-20 overtime win earned it the I-64 Trophy.
Only three college football rivals have met more – Lehigh-Lafayette (144), Princeton-Yale (131) and Harvard-Yale (125).
“It’s always big and it is a rivalry because we’ve played for so many years,” William & Mary coach Jimmye Laycock said. “We’re also close and there’s a lot of tradition involved. I think that’s one of the neat things about college football – the traditional rival games.”
Laycock said that such games are ideal at the end of the regular season, as William & Mary-Richmond is. That’s impossible for Delaware and Delaware State right now because they each have conference schedules that lock them into late-season dates. Each has a traditional conference rival – Howard (DSU) and Villanova (Delaware). Most schools prefer playing nonconference games early.
The Blue Hens and Hornets also have some historic differences that make the game intriguing from a cultural standpoint. Delaware State was originally created as a school for black students in a state with a segregated educational system.
Delaware State being among the country’s historically black colleges and universities makes its rivalry with Delaware unique. Approximately three-quarters of DSU’s students are black.
Towson, another of Delaware’s CAA rivals, has met Baltimore neighbor Morgan State, a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference member with DSU, 21 times. Former Towson coach Gordy Combs referred to it as “a great rivalry game we look forward to playing every season.”
But long series between HBCU schools and non-HBCU schools are non-existent. Washington, D.C., neighbors Georgetown and Howard met for the first time last season.
Montana-Montana State has its built-in stereotypes, too, Kasper said. Montana State was originally an agricultural school, drawing more students from the state’s vast rural stretches. The University of Montana has long been viewed as the more sophisticated and urbane locale.
Mick Dennehy saw both sides of the Montana-Montana State rivalry as an assistant coach at both schools and as Montana’s head coach from 1996-99. He remembers scouring the state on recruiting trips and, in the largest cities and smallest hamlets, finding an intimacy that betrayed Montana’s huge size.
“I always ran into somebody I knew or somebody who knew somebody I knew,” he said. That close-knit feeling was most evident the week leading up to the intrastate football game. Even though people were on opposite sides, it was in support of the same thing – a football team and their game.
“It’ll be a special treat for the players,” Dennehy said of Delaware-Delaware State, “especially the in-state players.”
The Blue Hens and Hornets got a late start on their football series, but they also have a head start in becoming rivals because of Delaware’s intimacy as the country’s second-smallest state.
Keeler said he could tell it was a natural rivalry when informing team captain Matt Marcorelle last Monday morning of the impending announcement of the UD-DSU games. He was surprised at how excited Marcorelle was.
“He said ‘Coach, the electricity in that stadium in 2007 was unbelievable,’ ” Keeler said. ” … You want to play in those kinds of rivalry games.”
“This,” Marcorelle said after Tuesday’s announcement, “is a big-time game.”
Delaware and Delaware State will joins list of notable Division I-AA intrastate football rivalries:
STATE: TEAMS; YEAR STARTED
Alabama: Alabama State vs. Alabama A&M; 1924
California: Sacramento State vs. UC Davis; 1954
Florida: Bethune-Cookman vs. Florida A&M; 1925
Iowa: Drake vs. Northern Iowa; 1900
New Hampshire: Dartmouth vs. New Hampshire; 1901
New York: Columbia vs. Fordham; 2002
North Carolina: Appalachian State vs. Western Carolina; 1932
Pennsylvania: Lehigh vs. Lafayette; 1884
Rhode Island: Brown vs. Rhode Island; 1909
Texas: Sam Houston State vs. Stephen F. Austin; 1925
Virginia: William & Mary vs. Richmond; 1898
At last, a big game to rile Delaware
By Kevin Tresolini, The Delaware News Journal