NEW ORLEANS -- The Jesuit/Holy Cross rivalry--or Holy Cross/Jesuit rivalry, depending on which side of Tad Gormley you're sitting--isn't just any high school football rivalry. It is "the" rivalry in the city. It's the oldest rivalry game here and, as far as anyone knows, at least the 5th oldest in the country.
Jesuit and Holy Cross have been meeting on the football field since 1922. This year will be the 98th game between the two Catholic League schools.
Over the years, the rivalry has evolved.
"The Jesuit/Holy Cross game, I think it was 1940, drew 35,000 people in City Park stadium, which only holds, I think, 24,000," says Mat Grau, Jesuit Alumni Director and member of the Jesuit class of 1968. "The Jesuit/Holy Cross rivalry was so important to me that I wanted to make sure that it was important for the students as well."
Grau says he and Jesuit Athletic Director David Moreau were looking for the right way to pay homage to the rivalry. And, in 2006, they got some help from a rival.
"We had thought about teams that had trophies or different banners that went back and forth," says Steve Donnes, Holy Cross class of 1976. "And, the question arose after the storm, 'Why didn't we have that?'"
Donnes went to Holy Cross. But, his three brothers went to Jesuit. His father and grandfather went there. And, he says he has 47 nephews and cousins who attended Jesuit. So, he was very familiar with the Jesuit/Holy Cross rivalry.
"That week was a very rough week at home," says Donnes. "And it certainly didn't get any better whether we won or lost or Jesuit won or lost."
To honor the rivalry, Donnes and his brothers created the Golden Football, a trophy with a golden football on top that stays with the winning team until the next game.
"Really, that's what jumpstarted the great American rivalry of Jesuit/Holy Cross as an event, not just a game," says Grau. "We started getting together with Holy Cross to start organizing all these events around the game."
The "events around the game" are extensive. There is a pre-game tailgate outside Tad Gormely Stadium. There are specially-made game day t-shirts (the Jesuit t-shirts say "Jesuit vs. Holy Cross;" the Holy Cross t-shirts say "Holy Cross vs. Jesuit"). There is a parade with both schools' bands and cheerleaders marching into the stadium. They honor a "Legend of the Game" and a distinguished military alumnus from each school. There is a scholarship athlete award for the football players with the highest GPAs. And, they recognize a senior player for community service.
Grau says the two schools have been preparing for the rivalry game since the end of last year's game.
"We have a committee of about 12 people--six of us from Jesuit, and six of from Holy Cross. And we have met at least four times," says Grau. "We prepare this event we are talking about for the students, for our alumni, for the teams and the players, and we think for the community of New Orleans."
Donnes is proud of his contribution to the event. But, he hopes the Golden Football will go back to his alma mater this year.
"It helped foster the tradition and keep it alive and really kind of just brings it a little bit closer to home for these guys so that they realize what an amazing event that this is," says Donnes. "You are dealing with the best of New Orleans on both sides. And, I really believe that."