Skip to main content

The Journal Gazette

Friday, November 10, 2017 1:00 am

Nothing small about rivalry of 2 small schools

Column by Austin Candor

When rivalries become the center of college football talk, a showdown between two liberal arts schools is rarely the conversation starter.

But mention the Monon Bell, and you have a tradition that predates other more noteworthy rivalries such as Civil War, the Iron Bowl, and yes, even The Game. Sorry, Big Ten fans.

On Saturday, the sleepy town of Greencastle will be the loudest it's been all year. That's because the DePauw Tigers will host the Wabash Little Giants in the biggest game of the season for either team.

As a senior at DePauw, I can say the game puts to rest the well-established stigma that NCAA Division III sports aren't worth watching.

The two schools first squared off in 1890, but things only got interesting 40-plus years later when the programs introduced a trophy in 1932 for the winner to carry home: a 300-pound locomotive bell from the Monon Railroad, which ran through Midwest cities such as Indianapolis, Chicago and Louisville in the first part of the 20th century.

The railroad might be forgotten, but the Bell's legacy is here to stay.

And at times, it's hard to tell if the players or the team's fan base wants it more. Over the years, certain fans of the losing side have felt it necessary to return the Bell to where they think it belongs.

Since the trophy's existence, there have been eight successful Bell heists. This past October, four of Wabash's finest tried to make it nine by sneaking onto DePauw's campus over the school's fall break. The group of Little Giants, which included Wabash's talented sophomore kicker Schuyler Nehrig, managed to unbolt the Bell from its display before getting a rude awakening from a hidden pressure alarm.

By the time Nehrig and company had clumsily rolled the bell to the curb outside DePauw's Lily Center, Lt. Rick Keller of the Greencastle Police Department was already on the scene.

“Can you tell me why I shouldn't charge you with theft?” Keller asked the Little Giants in an exchange reported by the Greencastle Banner Graphic.

“Tradition,” one of the students replied.

Keller wasn't about to buy it. “Theft is not a tradition,” he said.

The four perpetrators will be cleaning Blackstock Stadium after Saturday's game. But with the two schools only 27 miles apart, you can't blame fans for trying to get creative. Not when they want to make history too, even if it's off the field.

But let's not forget about the heroics that happen on it. Take last year's Monon hero and recent DePauw graduate Matt Hunt. The 5-foot-10 quarterback came to DePauw as a freshman in 2013 when the Tigers hadn't seen the Bell in nearly five years. Just two games into his collegiate career, Hunt was already seen as the Chosen One to bring Monon glory back to Greencastle.

After three years of coming up short, Hunt and the Tigers finally broke through in Crawfordsville. With Wabash up 34-30 and only 40 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Hunt went into the end zone to find his younger brother Andy and put DePauw ahead for good.

“The best feeling I've ever had in my life,” the Tigers quarterback told reporters following the game.

Austin Candor is a former intern for The Journal Gazette.