November is here, and that means one thing: rivalry games. We all know the classics like Florida-Florida State, Ohio State-Michigan, Auburn-Alabama and Oklahoma-Texas. Those mammoth battles are fought every year, with seemingly endless media coverage and possible national championship implications.
But mega-rivalries are not the only ones out there. A lot of lesser-known rivalries are rich in history and passion—without the hype. To these teams and their fans, these games couldn’t mean more.
I played in such a rivalry at Lafayette College, so I experienced the intensity, tradition and pride that infuse these games. No matter the level, rivalry games are special. They’re all the alumni want to talk about. They’re why you run eleven sprints instead of 10. They’re the games that can make or break your season. To me, Lafayette vs. Lehigh might as well have been the Super Bowl.
We sought out such lesser-known rivalries to bring their tradition and emotion into the limelight. If one of the big D-I match-ups turns into a blowout, flip the channel and check out one of these equally worthy showdowns.
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FAMU vs. Bethune-Cookman
Photo: Facebook, Florida Classic
If I say famous Florida football rivalry, you think of the Gators and the Seminoles. But Bethune-Cookman University and Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University have clashed annually for the last 34 years in a game known as the “Florida Classic.” Featuring two historically black colleges, the game is almost as much about the marching bands as it is the football. Currently held in the Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium in Orlando, this inter-state rivalry attracts tens of thousands of fans every time the two teams face off.
In 2003, 73,358 fans turned out to watch the Wildcats and the Rattlers wage war in both the game and during the halftime show. FAMU enjoyed a period of early dominance in the rivalry, winning 16 of the first 22 Florida Classics. But BCU has won the last three straight. The two teams will meet for the 35th annual Florida Classic on Nov. 22.
SUNY Cortland vs. Ithaca
Photo: SUNY Cortland Athletics
Known as “The Battle for the Cortaca Jug,” the rivalry between SUNY Cortland and Ithaca College goes back to 1930. The Cortaca Jug (whose name is a combination of Cortland and Ithaca) was introduced in 1959, when the Cortland captain purchased a jug at a yard sale and met with the Ithaca captain to paint the jug in their respective team colors. The Cortaca Jug was born, and the rivalry game had its trophy.
Ithaca has hoisted the Cortaca Jug 34 times since its inception, but Cortland has won the last four meetings. Last year, Cortland’s celebration was so rowdy that this year’s game was nearly called off. But the two schools, separated by a mere 21 miles, will battle on Nov. 15 for the right to lift that funky jug.
Montana vs. Montana State
Since their first meeting in 1897, the University of Montana and Montana State University have faced off 113 times. Dubbed “The Brawl of the Wild,” the game pits the UM Grizzlies against the MSU Bobcats. Pat Kearney, who wrote a book on the rivalry, told missoulian.com that the game “is without question the biggest sporting event in the state every year.”
The winner of the rivalry game gets the Great Divide Trophy, which might be the coolest trophy in sports. The massive piece of hardware is highly symbolic, featuring a bobcat and a grizzly entrenched in battle on a rocky mountain, vying for the golden football on top. UM holds a massive series lead, winning 70 games to MSU’s 37. The two teams will meet for the 114th time on Nov. 22. Head here to check out some of the history and the highlights from last year’s game.
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Wabash vs. DePauw
Few rivalries can match the history of Wabash College and DePauw University, two small Indiana schools that have faced off on the gridiron 120 times. The victor gets the Monon Bell, a 300-pound locomotive bell. Stealing the bell from the rival school before the big game has become somewhat of a tradition, and there have been at least nine bell heists in the rivalry’s history.
One such heist, dubbed “Operation Frijoles,” involved a Wabash student tricking the DePauw president into believing he was a government worker from Mexico City. The student convinced the president to show him around the school so he could take pictures to show prospective Mexican students. He even convinced him to let him photograph the Monon Bell (which was hidden away), allowing Wabash students to return later and steal it. It’s a wild story.
The series is tied at 53 victories each. One of the most memorable moments came in 2001, on a game-winning tipped Hail Mary known simply as “The Catch.” The old rivals will clash on Nov. 15 in the 121st Monon Bell Classic.
Henderson State vs. Ouachita Baptist
Photo: Facebook, Battle of the Ravine Rally
Henderson State University and Ouachita Baptist University meet annually in “The Battle of the Ravine.” The two schools are neighbors, located literally across the street from each other in Arkadelphia, Arkansas. If you’re the away team in the rivalry game, you simply dress in your home locker room and walk to the opponent’s stadium. Aside from the proximity, it’s got everything you want from a rivalry—tradition, as the oldest Division II rivalry in football; tightly contested, as HSU leads the all-time series by a mere three games; and pranks, as HSU students once commissioned a plane to drop thousands of red marshmallows (HSU are the “Reddies”) on the OBU campus.
Oh, and they also kidnapped OBU’s homecoming queen one time. In a town of only 10,700, families and friends often find themselves on opposite sides of the rivalry. The two teams meet on Nov. 15 for what should be a classic, since both teams currently sport impressive records.
Amherst vs. Williams
Known as “The Biggest Little Game in America,” the rivalry between Amherst College and Williams College has been marked by bad blood for nearly two centuries. It all began in 1821, when the then-president of Williams, Zephaniah Swift Moore, decided to relocate the school. There was blowback from the administration, as many didn’t want to relocate. Moore decided to leave Williams and took 15 students with him to start a new school. That school was Amherst.
Ever since, there’s been a fierce rivalry between these two smart schools. One former Williams assistant coach used to say in his pre game pep talk, “If you wish to be happy for an hour, get intoxicated. If you wish to be happy for three days, get married. If you wish to be happy for eight days, kill your pig and eat it. If you wish to be happy forever, beat Amherst.”
For the 2007 match-up, ESPN’s College GameDay was broadcast live from Williams. The most played football rivalry game in Division III, the Lord Jeffs and the Ephs have met 128 times. The next chapter in this storied rivalry will take place on Nov. 8.
Lafayette vs. Lehigh
Dubbed simply “The Rivalry,” Lafayette College and Lehigh University is the most-played game in all of college football. I had the privilege to play in four of these games (go Lafayette!) and can attest to its tradition and intensity. The two eastern Pennsylvania schools first met in 1884 and have played each other every year since except 1896. When two schools face each other 149 times, hatred is inevitable.
The two institutions are separated by only 17 miles, giving opposing fans (and players) plenty of opportunities to rub elbows and exchange words. There is no historic trophy in this rivalry, with just the game ball going to the victors as their lone token of triumph. The series currently favors Lafayette 77 to 67. Lehigh won five straight games from 2008 to 2012 before Lafayette broke the streak last season. The 150th meeting will take place on Nov. 22 at Yankee Stadium.