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Football rivalries at their best

September 1, 2008

by Aaron Schultz

It might have taken me a little longer than normal, but I am finally there – pumped and ready for the 2008 football season!

From junior high to high school, to college, to pro football, I can’t wait for the games to begin, which they did this past weekend.

Football season always marks one of my favorite times of the year – fall, and the cool, crisp nights and warm days.

When it comes to football, there is nothing better than a good rivalry game, at least to me.

Football, at any level with any two teams, can be fun to watch, but you can’t tell me watching Ohio State face off against Michigan at the Big House for the Big Ten title isn’t special.

That brings me to the subject of this column – football rivalries.

Each team at each level has that one opponent they want to beat every year.

Of course, teams go into each season looking to win every game they play, but those select rivalry games have a little more special meaning.

What makes a rivalry can be a number of different things, and can form over many years, or even from a single game.

Say two teams have a very spirited game during a season, where things get heated. That, alone, could lead the teams to mark that upcoming game on the calendar the following year.

Or there is always proximity, say from two neighboring towns or states.

Then, there are always rivalries from strength, like the Michigan/Ohio State example from earlier. Those two teams are the cream-of-the-crop of the Big Ten, and have been for decades, which builds on the rivalry.

For me, back in my Lester Prairie High School days, our biggest rivalry was always Holy Trinity.

I knew most of the kids on their team, and they were always pretty good, beating us most years.

That included my junior season, when they topped us 6-0 thanks to a halfback pass from Nate Millerbernd to Jake Hertel.

While my memory isn’t what it used to be, I can still vividly remember Millerbernd taking the handoff, running to the right, then stopping and tossing the pass about 30 yards to a wide-open Hertel, who had gotten behind our safety.

Thankfully, we got revenge the following season, my senior year, as we beat the Trojans in Winsted.

Now, with Lester Prairie and Holy Trinity combined in sports, LP/HT is looking to build some new rivalries as they enter a new conference – Minnesota Christian Athletic Association.

Members of the new conference include St. John’s Prep, St. Agnes, West Lutheran, New Life Academy, Concordia Academy/Bloomington, and Providence Academy.

Prior to my days in high school, Holy Trinity always had a good rivalry with Silver Lake.

Moving to the north, Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted’s football program has been on the rise the past decade, and with that, rivalries have also been heating up with several Central Minnesota Conference teams.

Of those, the hottest rivalry for the Lakers appears to be the Maple Lake Irish.

Last year, the Lakers played Maple Lake twice, during the regular season and in the opening round of Section 4AA play.

Playing a team twice in a season definitely helps build on a rivalry, and that was the case with the Lakers and Irish.

In both games a season ago, the Lakers topped the Irish by identical scores of 12-0, and look for another tight showdown when these two squads face off Friday, Oct. 10 in Maple Lake.

Looking at other big high school rivalries in our area, I’d have to go with the Glencoe-Silver Lake Panthers and the Hutchinson Tigers as the biggest.

These two state powerhouses are always among the top teams in their respective classes – Hutchinson in Class 4A, and GSL in Class 3A.

Besides having two of the strongest football traditions in the state, these two squads are a mere 15-mile drive apart on State Hwy. 23, and are both in McLeod County.

Then, take into account that their games are always close, and the huge number of fans that attend; no one could argue that this is a huge rivalry.

However, as a whole, the Wright County Conference, of which GSL is a member, has big rivalries up and down the league.

There’s Litchfield and Dassel-Cokato; Delano and GSL; Watertown-Mayer and Delano; and the list goes on and on.

Moving on to the college ranks, there is no bigger rivalry in the land than Ohio State and Michigan, but some come close.

The Florida/Georgia game, or World’s Biggest Cocktail Party as it is known, is a close second. That is a game I hate to miss.

College football is made for rivalries, and it shows.

Even the mighty Golden Gophers of Minnesota have a big rivalry with the hated Badgers from Wisconsin.

Despite my hate for the Metrodome, I love heading into the Teflon Toilet to watch a Gopher/Badger football game.

It doesn’t even matter to me that I know my Gophers will find a way to lose – it is still a blast!

Now, let’s head down to small college football, and when you’re talking about Division III football, you are talking about Collegeville and the St. John Johnnies.

St. John’s has dominated the MIAC for years, and back in my days at Hamline University, there was nothing bigger than catching the St. Thomas/St. John’s football game.

I’d like to say the Hamline/St. John’s game was a big rivalry, but that would be tough to consider a rivalry when the Johnnies would beat my Fighting Pipers by 50 points or more.

Finally, let’s take a look at professional football, where “to each their own,” depending on what part of the country you live in.

If you’re in Texas or out East, you may say that the Dallas/Washington rivalry is the biggest, but to me, it isn’t even a debate.

The biggest NFL rivalry is Green Bay and our own Vikings.

Each year Viking fans mark Green Bay’s trip to Minnesota on their calendars and prepare for some good-natured Packer ribbing.

My dislike for the Packers is only surpassed by my hatred for the Badgers. Do you see a pattern here?

The unfortunate thing is, for all of us Minnesota football fans, our worst enemies to the east have had the upper hand in the bragging rights battle for well over a decade now in both the college and professional ranks.

That may all turn around this year, or it may take another decade to do so, but it will, has to, and must turn around. It just has to.

As someone who bleeds maroon, gold, and purple, I can’t continue to see the green, gold, and red of the Wisconsin nation continue to dominate these rivalries.

However, that is what is great about rivalries – there is always next year!