–Kenny Rice

For the 118th time DePauw meets Wabash in football this Saturday at 1 PM ET and can be seen live on HDNet.

118 times, rarefied company on the collegiate gridiron. Only 11 other programs have a longer history and only two are big time, BCS rivalries, Minnesota-Wisconsin and Kansas-Missouri. The DePauw-Wabash series is tied with Texas-Texas A & M and Nebraska-Kansas.

What makes any rivalry is the uncertainty of the outcome, a true “throw the records out the window” game. Last year DePauw was loaded, a “sure thing”, but got upset. Two years prior Wabash was unbeaten and lost to their archrivals. After 117 games, Wabash leads 55-53-9, it can’t get much closer than this.

But if you want to know why to tune in and take in some of this Division III gem amidst all the major conference match ups all over the dial Saturday, it’s simple–the simplicity of it all. A bunch of players a couple of steps too slow for the BCS, twenty pounds or more too light playing with no aspirations of the NFL, but truly wanting to enjoy a few more post high school years on the gridiron. Real students not on athletic scholarships, each school consistent with the Ivy Leaguers in graduation rate, who are still a cut above the average prep player and still savor a chance to make a tackle or catch a pass.

It is straight out clichéd for sure, a Norman Rockwell painting coming to life once a November in either Crawfordsville (Wabash) or Greencastle (DePauw) Indiana. But at a time when every “Big” wants to become bigger, geographic consideration doesn’t exist and long-standing rivals are being dissolved as the major conferences make bullish moves that certainly Wall Street would shy from, it is refreshing to see a little, even miniscule piece of the athletic pie still holding up proudly.

So about seventy miles away in Indianapolis, about four thousand temporary bleachers are being sent over to double the capacity at Blackstone Stadium to accommodate the Monon crowd.  Just as amazing the two schools combined enrollment means everyone could bring a date and a friend and still not come close to the attendance for this game. There is a staunch following of alumni and town folks, with several thousand more alumni and friends groups getting together all over the country to watch this game. A lady sitting beside me on a plane last year from California told me how she and her husband go to a party with DePauw and Wabash faithful who moved to warmer climate years ago but never forget the importance and passion of the Monon Bell.

Tickets will be marked to keep fans from both schools–a mere 27 miles apart– on their respective sidelines, such is the intensity of this annual gathering. There were even brawls over a decade back that put this game in jeopardy of continuing.  Small and scholastic should not be misinterpreted as demure and stately when it comes to their football teams and fans.

The Bell itself will ring out non-stop throughout the contest; Wabash students rotate to keep the clanging loud and clear as a reminder that they have it in their possession until the next loss. It will not go unnoticed by anyone especially those in the DePauw grandstand. There is a resounding pride in that old bell that used to sit atop a steam locomotive and sound out a warning to pedestrians and motorists that the Monon Railway was passing by, linking the Midwest to the South.

On paper the unbeaten Little Giants from Wabash ranked in the top ten in the D-3 polls should win this game, much like the top ten Tigers from DePauw should have won last year. But in a game that follows all involved the remainder of their lives, where a hero in this game becomes a legend, it is ill advised to hazard a guess who will win, yet another beautiful aspect of a simple and perfect college day.

To add to the splendor of the event, the as good as it will ever get football analyst Paul Maguire, now in his 41st year in the broadcast booth, will bring his no- holds- barred approach to dissecting the action. There are no excuses because these student-athletes won’t be getting endorsement deals down the road unless scientists and mathematicians someday develop followings. They deserve that respect as football players only for the afternoon, they will make great plays, and they will miss opportunities. .

It is a football game after all. Two small schools but very few are similar in the big picture of gridiron history.

 Watch the Battle for the Monon Bell, Saturday 1 pm ET and follow along on the HDNet Facebook page, and ring the bell for your team!

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