Before the Super Bowl, there was Jesuit vs. Holy Cross

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NEW ORLEANS -- In 1940, a high school game in New Orleans drew almost 35,000 spectators to a stadium built to hold around 25,000.

"You had people on the sidelines. In the end zone," says Mat Grau, Jesuit Alumni Director and member of the Jesuit class of 1968.

It was Jesuit High School versus Holy Cross School.

He has a panoramic photo of the stadium and its overflowing crowd hanging in his office. Back then, the stadium was called City Park Stadium. Today, it is Tad Gormley Stadium.

"I wouldn't say the only game in town, but it was one of the only games in town," says Grau. "You didn't have the Saints. You had only a few NFL teams. You had some college--so, it was not just a Jesuit/Holy Cross thing. It was a civic thing."

At the time of the 1940 match, the two teams had already been playing each other for 18 years. It started in 1922. And, the rivalry lives on today.

"A lot of history," says Grau. "As we understand it, it's the 5th oldest continuously played rivalry in the country."

Part of the rivalry was based on neighborhood pride. Jesuit High School moved to its current location on Carrollton Avenue and Banks Street in Mid-City in 1926. At that time, Holy Cross was located in the Lower 9th Ward near the Mississippi River.

"Holy Cross was downtown and Jesuit was Mid-City," says Grau. "Back then they may have even thought of it as Uptown. Right there you had a neighborhood rivalry."

The two teams were also part of the original lineup of the Catholic League when it formed in 1955.

After Hurricane Katrina, the two schools didn't want their rivalry to become a casualty of the storm. In 2006, Holy Cross alumnus Steve Donnes suggested they play for a travelling trophy, similar to the rivalry traditions of some college schools. They called it the Golden Football.

"Really, that's what jump started the great American Rivalry of Jesuit/Holy Cross as an event, not just a game," says Grau. "That's one thing we value a great deal, especially at Jesuit, is the connection of the past with the present. Not living in the past. But, taking things from the past that are good and valuable​."