Friday, October 9, 2015

Divided We Stand: the Importance of a Good Rivalry

In the article "Divided We Stand" Michael Rosenberg writes, "Rivalries makes sports fun when they otherwise wouldn't be. And everywhere you look, they are getting devalued. Missouri and Kansas stopped playing each other. So did Texas and Texas A&M, and Oklahoma and Nebraska....We should keep rivalries as relevant as we can." (Sports Illustrated, October 12, 2015)


I agree. Last year, marked the cessation of what isn't the *best* rivalry, but a respectable one at that: my alma mater, Notre Dame vs. Michigan. While the Fightin' Irish find a heated rival in USC and and annoying one in Boston College (to me that rivalry is one-sided) the shared rivalry between two storied Midwest programs and their quest for excellence is worth missing. Believe it or not, Wikipedia captures it well. 
The Michigan–Notre Dame football rivalry is a dormant American college football rivalry between the Michigan Wolverines and Notre Dame Fighting Irish. 
Michigan football and Notre Dame football are considered to be among the most elite college programs. Notre Dame and Michigan respectively rank #1 (Notre Dame) and #2 (Michigan) in winning percentage and #1 (Michigan) and #3 (Notre Dame) in all time wins. The rivalry is heightened by the two schools' competition for all-time win percentage, which each has held during their history, as well as national championships, with each school claiming 11. 
Michigan is member of the Big Ten Conference while Notre Dame football is independent. In 2013, Notre Dame joined the Atlantic Coast Conference in all sports except football and hockey but the football team would play five ACC opponents each season, starting in 2014. Notre Dame and Michigan reached a mutual agreement to suspend the series for the 2018 and 2019 football season. Notre Dame then decided to cancel the 2015 through 2017 games, citing the need to play ACC games. 
The word "dormant" caught my attention. It implies that the rivalry at any point in time can be resurrected, and historically speaking between these teams, it has. But a rivalry is special and not worth putting to rest. It demands something of the competitors and the fans. You are asked to evaluate what your program is about and what you stand for. I have found myself asking when I look at "the other" What do we represent? What are our core values? A rivalry gives pause to those questions, as we ask those questions of our opponent. By looking to "the other" we can learn a lot about ourselves.
A great part of this tradition is that athletes from both schools go to the other school to claim the trophy

I write about the importance of a sports rivalry because today the school where I teach, St Ignatius College Prep celebrates what I consider to be one of the greatest ones in all of high school sports: The Bruce Mahoney. This rivalry game between SI and Sacred Heart Cathedral Prep honors the life and legacy of Bill Bruce and Jerry Mahoney—alumni from each school who died in World War II. It is unique in that the trophy is awarded to the school that wins a minimum of two of the three contests (it starts with football and is followed by basketball). Scott James writes "since a ruby match in 1893, they've been competing each year. All concerned believe it's the oldest sports rivalry west of the Rockies." to that I say "wow." 

Every year I tell my students how fortunate they are to have a tradition like the Bruce Mahoney and a rivalry like the one shared with SHC. My high school—Carondelet and De La Salle didn't have that same "rival" that we looked to beat each year. I applied to but one Catholic high school, as it was the only one in the area. Our opponents were important, our contests were challenging, but no true rival colored our narrative.
The joy in reclaiming the Bruce Mahoney Trophy. 
I think it's also important to realize that in San Francisco a city that is always changing, and acutely so with the growth of the tech industry (especially since 2008) that one thing remains. And it's far from being devalued. The rivalry named the Bruce-Mahoney is relevant. Indeed, we stand divided on the gridiron tight. Go 'Cats. 

For more on this rivalry, read
Bruce Mahoney Rivalry: Proof that Authentic Spirituality Leads to Community

Traditions that accompany the Bruce Mahoney Rivalry: The gift of a football jersey
And what I learned from that tradition
Dan Fouts' Advice to Students: Beat Your Rival


Photo Credits
ND vs Michigan
SI Trophy
SHC Trophy

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