Sept. 24, 2006
Old rivalry prepared us for war
By Jim Heffernan
Duluth Central skunked Denfeld in football a little
over a week ago, and the next day I drove around town to survey
the destruction. There was none. The streets were not strewn with
crepe paper; the two schools were not painted in the colors of their
Life appeared normal, as though the gridiron tilt
of the city's oldest football rivalry was just another game. I suppose
it is today, and to quote the lyrics of an old popular song, "Ain't
that a shame."
I fear a great tradition has been lost -- one
the police and school officials are happy to be rid of if, indeed,
any current school officials and cops remember the great days of
the Denfeld-Central rivalry when boys were boys and girls were girls
and dogs ate dogs. You get it.
I suppose I have dredged up these memories once
or twice in the past, but I feel it is important at times to record
aspects of local history that would otherwise be overlooked. One
of these is the chaos that accompanied the annual Denfeld-Central
football game. I was part of it in the mid-1950s when I was a student
In those days, Denfeld vs. Central was like Sunni
vs. Shiite, cat vs. dog, Klobuchar vs. Kennedy, Pawlenty vs. Hatch,
Oberstar vs. Grams, shirts vs. skins, Kramer vs. Kramer, etc. Volatile.
And in a baffling policy that seemed to feed into
the most dangerous aspects of the rivalry, Duluth school officials
of that day always scheduled the Denfeld-Central game as close to
prank-prone Halloween as they could. It was always the final game
of the season for both teams, so by then the inter-school hatred
had reached a fever pitch.
Both schools scheduled their biggest annual pep
rallies the day of the game. At Denfeld it was named "Maroon
and Gold Day," with most students wearing the school colors
and kids with cars decorated them with crepe streamers in the appropriate
Some of those cars found their way to the campus
of the opposing school for a little innocent prank-making like painting
things such as the school building exterior or nearby parked vehicles.
Water balloons and eggs flew like Scud missiles from highly decorated
speeding cars, with the reaction on the receiving end: "This
time they've gone too far."
A few days before this year's Denfeld-Central
game, when Denfeld went down to ignominious defeat, the Denfeld
Class of 1956 held its 50th reunion. It was in their senior year
(I was one class behind) that Denfeld had a winning football team
with the city championship in sight. But on a windy, rainy Halloween-week
night at Public Schools Stadium, the field a sea of mud, coach John
Vucinovich's Central Trojans pulled off an unexpected victory.
For their half-century reunion, the Class of 1956
submitted short sketches about their lives since leaving Denfeld.
Duluthian Rollie Strand, who was in the Hunters' backfield that
night, took the opportunity to remind his classmates these 50 years
later that everybody knows Denfeld should have won, and that "we
know who the best team was that year." It still stings, even
though Strand, the turncoat, later spent several years coaching
There are those who would decry such a bitter
rivalry and ask, "What does this have to do with education?"
It has everything to do
with education. What better way for youth to experience the emotions
that lead to war between nations?