College football isn’t its usual spectacle this year, and it maybe it shouldn’t be held at all, but it goes on. So does as much of its tradition as possible, including rivalry games. Some have great names: The Holy War (BYU vs Utah), The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party (Florida vs Georgia), The Backyard Brawl (Pittsburgh vs West Virginia), Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate (Georgia vs Georgia Tech), Bedlam (Oklahoma vs Oklahoma State), and my personal favorite, The Soul Bowl (Alcorn State vs Jackson State). Some have underwhelming names; The Battle of I-75 sounds more like a terrible commute than intense athletic competition. I’m here to fix that.
On Wednesday, November 4, the Bowling Green – Toledo rivalry will be renewed with its 85th football game. To celebrate this I will run from Doyt Perry Stadium, the home of the BG Falcons, to the Glass Bowl, the home of the UT Rockets. The course is 26.2 miles and the run will be known as The Marathon Of Hate.
If you’re a runner you won’t ask why I’m running 26.2 miles. You know there isn’t any particularly good reason other than that I want to. But why am I so invested in this rivalry? Now that’s a much better question.
First of all, BG versus Toledo is one of the best college sports rivalries in America, and possibly the best among the so-called “mid-major” universities. Ken Rappoport and Barry Wilner’s Football Feuds: The Greatest College Football Rivalries lists it as the #25 college football rivalry. Amazingly enough, the 84 games played over 100 years have resulted in 40 wins for BG, 40 for Toledo, and 4 ties. Last year the Falcons were 27-point underdogs but somehow broke a 9-year losing streak and pulled off the win.
More importantly, I competed for Bowling Green in six dual meets against Toledo, three in cross country and three in outdoor track. While my efforts never impacted the final score, we never lost in any of those six meets.
I now live and work in near the University of Toledo, which is also where I grew up. My parents and eldest brother are UT graduates, while I and my other brother earned our degrees at BGSU. I am the PA announcer for all home track and cross country meets at both universities. In short, the rivalry has always been a big part of my personal and professional life.
IS IT REALLY THAT HATEFUL?
It used to be. More on that later. These days it’s simmered down quite a bit. Part of that is because it’s overshadowed by the more intense Ohio State-Michigan rivalry, which is somewhat evenly split in northwest Ohio.
Another reason it’s not so antagonistic any more is because of the post-WWII expansion of the educated middle class, where many workplaces are composed almost entirely of college graduates. For example, I’m a high school teacher and obviously all of our teaching and administrative staff have degrees, and most of us earned them at either Bowling Green or Toledo. That’s the norm in this area for the kind of mid-level professionals that G5 universities churn out by the thousand: teachers, nurses, office drones, and the like. So while you can have fun with the rivalry, you still have to remain civil.
So why call it “hate”? It’s partly meant in jest, but a better explanation comes from Bill Simmons. Eleven years ago, when he was a blogger for ESPN, he coined the term sports hate. He used it to describe individuals rather than teams, but the idea translates perfectly to college rivalries.
If you’re not familiar with the term, “sports hate” is an underrated part of fandom. Everyone has guys they don’t like, and more importantly, guys they enjoy not liking. The reasons are unique to us. There doesn’t have to be anything rational about it. Sports hate can be triggered by one incident, one slight, one game gone wrong, anything.
If you read my basketball book, you might remember me making roughly 500 jokes about Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He was my least favorite athlete of all time. I loved rooting against him. Everything he did bothered me: every expression, his goggles, the way officials constantly bailed him out, even the monotony of his skyhook — and his Lakers uniform made me sports-hate him even more. When he announced his battle with leukemia this week, you know what happened? I felt terrible for him and hoped he would recover soon. I may have disliked him as a player, but still, my life as a sports fan was always more interesting with Kareem in it. Again, there’s a difference between real hate and sports hate.
Everyone involved knows there’s no real hate in this rivalry, but we all also know winning it can make or break a whole season. Paraphrasing Simmons, our lives as sports fans are more interesting with our rivals as a thorn in our sides.
This is a bigger football rivalry than you realize. BG won the 1959 college division national championship, led by Bernie Casey, future NFL All-Pro and star of such films as Brian’s Song and I’m Gonna Git You Sucka. From 1968 to 1970 Toledo won 35 consecutive games, led by quarterback Chuck Ealey, a future CFL championship MVP. Coaches who have been involved include Bo Schembechler, Urban Meyer, both Jim and John Harbaugh, and Nick Saban.
There is so much more to this rivalry than football. The first athletic clash between the two universities was in a basketball game on January 27, 1915. The teams have virtually always gone head-to-head in every varsity sport offered by both universities. The last before both campuses shut down in March was a women’s swimming & diving dual on February 8.
Still, football and men’s basketball get the lion’s share of attention. In 1924 Bowling Green officials accused Toledo of having a ringer on their football squad in captain Gilbert Stick since he also played for a local semi-pro team, but conference rules (the long-defunct Northwest Ohio Intercollegiate Athletic Association) did not bar such arrangements and the protest was overruled. In 1934 an on-field brawl after Toledo’s 63-0 drubbing led the two universities to sever athletic ties for fourteen years.
The rivalry returned in 1948, first on the basketball court. A traveling trophy, rare in basketball, was introduced: a peace pipe. Representatives from the two universities ceremonially smoked it at halftime. On the football field the peace didn’t last; the 1951 game was marred by dirty play and concluded with a seven-minute melee including both squads and about a hundred fans, and Toledo coach Don Greenwood resigned the following day.
Records seem to be hazy on exactly when, but the peace pipe was stolen from Toledo athletic offices sometime in the 1970s (of course a pipe went missing in the 70s). In 1980 a miniature replica was placed atop a traveling trophy for the football rivalry, which was retired in 2011 as part of the NCAA’s move away from inappropriate Native American symbols.
And that leads us to the current Battle of I-75 trophy, a bland and boring knicknack sponsored by a local Kia dealership. Yuck. No, it needs to be known as the MARATHON OF HATE!
26.2 miles or 42.2 kilometers, from one stadium to the other. Starting in Bowling Green it parallels I-75 and traverses flat farmland, a reconstructed War of 1812 fort, the Maumee River, and suburban and urban landscapes before arriving at the University of Toledo. An interactive map is available here.
There will be more about this event in coming weeks, including a podcast or two. Stayed tuned, true believers!