THE MONON BELL RINGS TRUE EACH YEAR FOR PURE COLLEGE ATHLETICS
–Kenny Rice

It will probably be one of those blustery Midwestern days this Saturday. It usually is. The kind that wakes you up immediately as you walk outside to the front porch for the morning paper. There still are front porches and papers are still read in this delicious slice of Americana where town pride and watching out for neighbors is a given, not a requirement.

Those clinging splashes of colors on the trees and that “winter is approaching” chill means something extra in mid-November for residents of Greencastle and Crawfordsville, Indiana. The blood pumps faster, the gut tightens a bit, and being emotional is being alive in these towns just twenty-seven miles apart. The Game, Their Game is here. The one that means the whole season, regardless of how it has gone so far. The one where an old bell from one of the last steam locomotives of the Monon Railroad will be in the possession of the winner for the next year, is as valued as a work of Picasso.

Saturday at 1 o’clock for the 120th time Wabash and DePauw will play a football game, which simply referring to it as a game is an understatement. It is officially the Monon Bell Classic, and it is that–classic in every way for the schools, communities and alumni around the country as much for the players. A hero in this game is one for life, becoming part of the lore automatically. They will hear the cheers from admirers who couldn’t be there but will watch the national AXS TV coverage from Los Angeles to Chicago to New York and wherever a graduate now lives.

So much passion that the seating is segregated; a ticket to the side of your team is only good for there, that other group must sit on their side. Husbands and wives might be separated for three hours of gridiron play, family members might only wave occasionally at each other from distant sidelines. You are either for Wabash or DePauw and that is that, the way it may have always been when the schools first collided on the field in 1890.

So much interest that even though these schools combined have less than 3,000 students, over 8,000 will fill Blackstock Stadium on the DePauw campus in Greencastle, more the doubling the regular seating capacity after 4,000 temporary bleachers are brought in from Indianapolis to accommodate the fans some having gone to neither school, but are as much a part of what contributes to this rivalry as a magna cum laude graduate.

At the very core of what makes this special, different from Alabama-Auburn, UCLA-USC, Ohio State-Michigan, are the athletes. They are Division III kids, no scholarships for being able to run or catch or tackle. They are either receiving some type of academic stipend, financial need grant, or working their way through a school (both powerhouses in this department) that almost guarantees a solid start in the workforce upon receiving their diploma. If one wonders how many real “student-athletes” there are in the world, watch these men, for they all embody the essence of classroom first above athletics.

The indomitable Paul Maguire will provide analysis to Rich Cellin’s play-by-play for AXS TV. The legendary Maguire, who from AFL championship days to network television broadcaster spans six decades, covering Super Bowls, and most of those marquee rivalry games in his career, quickly grasped what Wabash-DePauw is all about the first time he watched the Little Giants clash with the Tigers.

“It’s true America, what sports are all about. I get goosebumps when these teams come out onto the field and their fans are cheering anticipating what lies ahead this afternoon. These programs have established the true meaning of sportsmanship, what it means to simply compete, to play a game they love. These kids are paying their own way, they don’t have to take up hours out of their week to practice and to play, but they chose to do this. It is pure college students playing a game that creates a lifetime memory.”

It is different, special, exciting and always worth a visit to south central Indiana this time of year for a fan of real football. Bundle up and get ready for an experience.

 

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