The Bell of the (Foot)Ball
by Sean Meiers
The Monon Bell
We're getting ready to head into rivalry weekend for BCS college football, and rivalry games are some of the biggest games of the year. Coaches have been fired when they lose year after year to their rival. I heard it said that an Ohio State coach could lose every game in the season, but if he can Michigan, he's got job security. Us older folks can remember the Fla St vs Miami games and kicks going wide left or wide right to the elation or disappointment of fans, depending on your team. Personally, there's a 14-game win streak that Va Tech has against UVA for the Commonwealth Cup that is in danger of ending this year.
Me, in my Anthony Rendon jersey, with the Commonwealth Cup at a Nationals Game
So what in the world does this have to do with the Monon Bell? And what is the Monon Bell. The Monon Bell is an old 300-pd Locomotive bell that is the prize in the Wabash College and DePauw University rivalry game. A few weekends ago I attended the 125th Rivalry game between these two schools as son attends Wabash college. Yes, these are two Division III schools, and you might think, "How good can this game really be?" The answer is, "Quite good."
Because it's a RIVALRY game, with all that entails. The schools are geographically close, and they have been playing this game almost continuously since 1890, making it the oldest rivalry game west of the Allegheny Mountains in college football. Then there are the players; these young men are never going to play professional football; their time in college is the last time they are going to be able to play organized tackle football. They are playing the game because they love to play it. How big is this rivalry game? Still630, a distillery in Saint Louis has made a bourbon the last three years to celebrate this game and the first two years are sold out.
125th Edition Monon Bell Bourbon in our A017 display case
Fans on both sides of the ball were cheering or jeering all the big plays (and it was a fumble recovery for a touchdown, not a forward pass by the DePauw QB!). The Wabash men were ringing the bell almost non-stop during the game, even carrying it back and forth in front of the fans. The final score of 24-17 with Wabash winning the game, the win sealed with a Wabash interception with just over a minute left to play.
And like all great rivalries, there are attempts to steal the trophy. Wabash owns one of the five all-time greatest rivalry pranks, known as Operation Frijoles, as selected by Sports Illustrated. Jim Shanks, a Wabash student arranged a meeting with the President of DePauw, William H. Kerstetter. Shanks, posing as a representative from Mexico City for the US Information Service, convinced Kerstetter to offer two full scholarships to students from Mexico. Shanks then asked for a tour of the campus and a picture with the Monon Bell. Reluctant because the last time he had shown someone the bell it was stolen, the dean of the school, the only individual who knew were the bell was located, showed Shanks the Bell. And it was stolen. Again. It was eventually "found" and returned to DePauw the day before the game, DePauw kept it for about 24 hours before having to give it to Wabash when they lost the game. To this day, Wabash men are wearing t-shirts commemorating this event.
And that is what makes a great college rivalry: fans totally involved in the game, college hijinks in conjunction with the game, and a trophy that changes locations every year or fourteen.