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Gilman Vs. McDonogh: Since 1914

October 15, 2015

When the Country School for Boys first met McDonogh School on the football field, World War I had just begun. The Boston Braves and Philadelphia Athletics were meeting in the World Series. The U.S. President was Woodrow Wilson. 

A century later, World War I has been relegated to the history books, the Braves and Athletics have each relocated twice to other cities and 16 men have occupied the Oval Office since Wilson left the presidency in 1921. 

But the Country School for Boys, now known as Gilman, and McDonogh are still playing football. At 3 p.m. Nov. 7, the 100th regular-season meeting between the longtime rivals will kick off before an expected record crowd at John McDonogh Stadium (the teams also played a postseason game in 2012, when the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association briefly instituted a four-team playoff). 

The players won't be wearing leather helmets, but the passion that this rivalry has stirred for so many decades will still be on display, along with the mutual respect that has bound these schools together. 

Issue 214: Gilman vs. McDonogh: 1956 Game
1956 Gilman vs. McDonogh Game
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Gilman Archives

"It's not just a rivalry between McDonogh football and Gilman football," said McDonogh head coach Dom Damico, now in his 22nd season at the Eagles' helm. "It's really an all-institution game between McDonogh School and Gilman School. Everywhere I go, all year long, that's all that people ask me about." 

The Birth Of A Rivalry

In 1914, baseball was America's game. The National Football League didn't exist when the first meeting between the Country School for Boys and McDonogh took place. 

The schools had been playing football for years before their first meeting. McDonogh began its football program in 1889, and the early 1900s was the starting point for the Country School for Boys. During those early days, the main rival for both schools was Boys' Latin. 

But as the rivalry with Boys' Latin waned, the annual game between the renamed Gilman School and McDonogh began to take on a greater significance. Their first game was no contest, as host Gilman used its size advantage to score a 35-0 victory against McDonogh during the season opener of the 1914 campaign. Jim Clarke scored three rushing touchdowns, including the first in the rivalry's history. 

Issue 214: Gilman vs. McDonogh: 1914 Gilman Football Team
1914 Gilman Football Team
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Gilman Archives

The two schools, which didn't play during the 1916 and 1918 seasons, were already showing signs of the mutual respect that would come to be the rivalry's hallmark. Gilman's student newspaper, the Blue and Gray, reported that "the McDonogh boys, though outweighed, put up a splendid fight but could not resist the slashing attack of the home team." 

Mutual Respect

The nastiest football rivalries seem to garner the greatest amount of attention. But Gilman and McDonogh became a legendary rivalry without the animosity. Gilman leads the all-time series, 59-35-5, but the games are fiercely fought affairs that often come down to the final quarter, and the schools never lose their perspective. 

"It's always been that way," said Bill Mules, who played football at McDonogh from 1956-58 and served as the school's headmaster for 16 years. "It's analogous to the Army-Navy game. That's what makes it unique."

Charlie Britton, McDonogh's ninth-year headmaster, agreed. 

"It's certainly a game that's important to both schools, but it's more of a community event," Britton said. "It's about the old and the young, graduates and friends getting together on a Saturday afternoon to enjoy a spectacle that's been going on for a long time. It runs counter to the glitz of sports. It's what athletics should be." 

Issue 214: Gilman vs. McDonogh: Banner On Finney
Photo Credit: Courtey of McDonogh School Archives

When Henry Smyth first came to Gilman as the assistant headmaster in 2010, he was curious to see if the rivalry was as intense as he had heard. 

"I was interested to see what the week of the game would be like," said Smyth, now in his sixth year at Gilman and third as the school's headmaster. "It lived up to my expectations. It's a respectful rivalry. The boys from both schools have pointed out that the purpose of true competition is to bring out each other's best." 

The game always receives a huge buildup from both school communities. The focus on the season-ending game, and the history that goes with it, is noticed by the players. 

"Mentally, the game is a lot bigger than just yourself," former Gilman quarterback Ambrose Wooden said. "It's about the alumni and the people that played before you. It was always an honor to step on that field, whether the game was at Gilman or McDonogh." 

That perspective hasn't changed much since Wooden played his final game during the 2002 campaign.

"It's very different from any other game," McDonogh senior quarterback Jansen Durham said. "The atmosphere is more community-like. It's a friendly rivalry."

Tim Holley, the longtime Gilman athletic director and a former player at the school, believes the rivalry has grown more special with time. 

"When I was a player, I don't remember Gilman-McDonogh being as meaningful to me," said Holley, whose brother, Rory, also played for Gilman. "I got more into the significance of the rivalry as an adult. There is a very healthy respect and fondness between the two schools that I didn't understand when I was a kid. Now, I always come away from that game feeling very thankful just to be a part of it."

The schools will participate in several joint activities leading up to the game. On Oct. 17 and 24, students from McDonogh's and Gilman's Upper Schools will get involved in a community-service restoration effort. In conjunction with the organization Playworks Maryland, students will repaint basketball courts and four-square courts and put up backboards at the playgrounds of several Baltimore City elementary schools. The project was conceived by McDonogh sophomore Kendall Kurlander, who brought her idea to the headmasters of both schools. 

During the week preceding the game, students, parents and alumni will also work together on the "Stuff A Bus" campaign, to provide canned goods and non-perishable items to local charities. 

Representatives of the Gilman and McDonogh communities will also visit their rival school and address its student body. 

"Bo Dixon [McDonogh headmaster from 1992-2007] instituted the visitation day," McDonogh co-director of athletics Mickey Deegan said. "We will bring the football captains, a captain of each boys' and girls' team, the athletic director, the headmaster, the football coach and the president of the [Student Government Association] to an assembly at Gilman on the Tuesday before the game. On Thursday, Gilman will come to McDonogh and do the same thing." 

Biff Poggi, a former Gilman player and the school's head football coach since 1997, appreciates the authenticity of the rivalry.

"A rivalry is a piece of art," Poggi said. "It's developed and formed and tested and remade over time. It can't survive unless your rival is willing to care about it. You respect your rival because of all the work that they put in."

Issue 214: Gilman vs. McDonogh: 1966 Game
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Gilman Archives

It also helps that the two football programs, which play in the MIAA A Conference, have flourished. 

"The teams have gotten better, to the point where the game is often played for the league championship," said Matt MacMullan, the co-director of athletics and a football assistant coach at McDonogh. "It's a playoff game, a championship game and a rivalry game all wrapped up in one. But the most amazing thing is the tradition when the game is over." 

After the final whistle, players from both teams come together on the field, and the headmaster of the losing school presents the Price Trophy to the victor. 

"When you take 100 highly aggressive football players who are really good and just played a game for three hours, and they have to kneel down face-to-face afterwards and listen to a headmaster talk, and they're respectful and show good sportsmanship, that's something very unique in sports," Damico said. "It reminds me a lot of the hockey handshake after the Stanley Cup finals."

A Mighty Effort

The McDonogh-Gilman game has always drawn the largest crowd of each team's season. Because of its historical significance, the Nov. 7 game is expected to set an all-time attendance record. 

McDonogh, the game's host, has made plans to handle the overflow crowd. The school is bringing in 3,000 extra seats, which will bring the stadium's capacity to 8,000 on game day. There are two large parking lots on the west side of the McDonogh campus, and Deegan stressed there will be additional off-site parking. 

"The McDonogh corporate campus [in Owings Mills, Md.,] is helping us out with parking," Deegan said. "We may have to use shuttle buses to get people to the stadium from the corporate campus." 

Home-And-Home

Issue 214: Gilman vs. McDonogh: 1950 Game
Photo Credit: Courtey of McDonogh School Archives

The Gilman-McDonogh football rivalry is the second-oldest in the state of Maryland, behind only the 127-year-old matchup between Baltimore City College and Baltimore Polytechnic Institute. Calvert Hall and Loyola Blakefield have been playing for 96 years. 

But Gilman-McDonogh is the one rivalry that is held on the school's campuses. The City-Poly and Calvert Hall-Loyola games have long been played at either the old Memorial Stadium or M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.

According to officials at both schools, there was some discussion about moving the 100th anniversary game to a larger site. But tradition won out, and the game will be played at McDonogh. 

"When you've got 10,000 people in a 60,000-seat stadium, it's empty," Britton said. "It won't be empty here in November." 

This year, the game will travel beyond John McDonogh Stadium. It will be streamed to viewing parties in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C. 

The schools do not charge admission to the game, and there are no parking fees. 

"At the end of the day, the kids couldn't care less if it's televised or not. They just want to beat McDonogh," Smyth said. "The most commercial part of the game has been the food trucks that we bring in."

Holley echoed those sentiments. 

"There's a purity, which goes back to the halcyon days of the ‘30s and ‘40s, where we just walked out on the field and played," Holley said. "There is something a little bit more innocent about a game of this nature."

A Lifelong Commitment

Among the thousands of spectators that will crowd John McDonogh Stadium Nov. 7 are the alumni from both schools. Their decades-long dedication to Gilman and McDonogh has helped fuel the rivalry's passion.

"In Baltimore, when people ask where did you go to school, they mean high school," Mules said. "It's the friendships that make me loyal to McDonogh."

Damico, a Philadelphia native, has also noticed an intense sense of loyalty. 

"What's cool is that an hour before the game, I've had people walk up to me and say that they played in 1948, and now I live in St. Louis, and I came for the game," Damico said. "You see groups of three or four older men that were on the team in the ‘40s and ‘50s who are standing together and watching the game. They've given their life to the school, and they're still connected."

Allen "Mac" Barrett came to Gilman as a kindergarten student in 1954. A former basketball player for the Greyhounds, Barrett's father and three uncles preceded him at the school, and his son, Allen, is also a Gilman graduate. He understands why the football matchup between the schools receives more attention than the Gilman-McDonogh encounters in other sports. 

"In football, it's the final game on the schedule," said Barrett, Gilman's alumni special projects coordinator. "You only play a few football games, so if you have to focus on one event, it's probably going to be that game. There are pep rallies, music and pageantry, and all of it lends to a kind of scene, which appeals to an awful lot of people." 

The Memories

The two schools have sent dozens of players to the college football ranks. A few alums have appeared on NFL rosters, most notably McDonogh's Darrius Heyward-Bey and Eric King and Gilman's Victor Abiamiri. Heyward-Bey was a first-round draft pick by the Oakland Raiders in 2009, and he currently plays for the Pittsburgh Steelers. King played with four teams during his six-year NFL career, and Abiamiri spent five seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles.

But for most of the players involved in the rivalry's history, the McDonogh-Gilman game was the ultimate. 

"In recent years, we have upgraded our schedule and traveled all over the place," said Poggi, who went undefeated as a player against the Eagles. "But there's still nothing like the McDonogh game." 

Issue 214: Gilman vs. McDonogh: Coach Dick Working is carried from the field after McDonogh beats Gilman, 46-0, in 1959.
Coach Dick Working is carried from the field after McDonogh beats Gilman, 46-0, in 1959
Photo Credit: Courtey of McDonogh School Archives

It's difficult to select the most notable games in such a longstanding rivalry. But the 1963 game was truly memorable. 

Two of the best coaches in the rivalry's history, Gilman's Redmond Finney and McDonogh's Dick Working, had already led their teams to winning seasons entering the final game. But Nov. 22, 1963 would prove to be unlike any other day in the history of the rivalry. 

McDonogh, led by workhorse running back Andy Beath, won the game, 8-7. But the crowd was unusually subdued. Shortly before kickoff, the news had begun to circulate that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas. 

Issue 214: Gilman vs. McDonogh: 1944 Program
Photo Credit: Courtey of McDonogh School Archives

"I found out from one of our managers in the middle of the game that the president had been shot," said Tom Beck, Gilman's senior captain. "I don't know who else was aware of it, but Mr. Finney didn't tell us until after the game."

Finney served Gilman as a teacher, coach and headmaster for a total of 49 years. But he'll never forget the emotions of that one day.

"The loss of that game didn't seem to be that difficult," Finney said. "Not compared to the loss that the country suffered."

After the loss to McDonogh that closed his Gilman career, Beck was asked by his head coach to speak to the team in the locker room. 

"I just said, ‘Lord, help us keep our heads high as Americans,'" Beck said. "There were more than a few tears. That was the leader of our country who was gone." 

Kennedy had died, but his vision of an integrated American society lived on. In 1965, Stuart Simms became the first black player in the history of the Gilman-McDonogh rivalry. 

"A lot of people wanted Gilman, as a school, to have a student population that would be more representative of the greater Baltimore community," Finney said. "Stuart, who is a magnificent human being, brought that kind of diversity and leadership to Gilman." 

Simms' talent and determination helped Gilman to three consecutive victories during his time at the school, including a 22-6 win in the 1965 game. 

"By the time the McDonogh game occurred, it was not a big deal for our team," said Simms, a standout two-way player who later excelled at Dartmouth College. "Earlier in the year, a player from another school decided that he was going to use racial epithets against me. I don't think he realized that what he did got my teammates really fired up."

Issue 214: Gilman vs. McDonogh: 1946 Program
Photo Credit: Courtey of McDonogh School Archives

During its final two years as an all-boys military school in 1969 and 1970, McDonogh posted consecutive victories against Gilman. But the trajectory of the rivalry was about to change. The Greyhounds' 14-12 win in 1971 started the longest winning streak in rivalry history. The 1972 hiring of former Johns Hopkins head coach Alex Sotir was a big reason for the Greyhounds' eight-game run of success. 

"Mr. Sotir was extraordinarily organized and changed the competitive playing field," said Holley, who rushed for 100 yards and three touchdowns in Gilman's 1976 victory against the Eagles, according to the book "Gilman versus McDonogh - The Football Rivalry" by Mac Kennedy. "He brought a college mentality to the high school game. To this day, I think he was the best coach I've ever had." 

McDonogh soon gained the upper hand. According to Kennedy, who is the director of alumni relations at Boys' Latin, in the final game of the 1981 season, the Eagles ran their winning streak to three with a 14-13 victory during the first overtime game in rivalry history. McDonogh scored first in overtime on a completion from Craig Fitchett to Norman Smith, but Gilman signal-caller John Roe found Michael Sarbanes for a touchdown on the Greyhounds' first possession. Gilman head coach Sherm Bristow went for the win, but the two-point conversion failed, and the Eagles claimed the Price Trophy again. 

Gilman and McDonogh entered the 1998 game with undefeated records, according to "Gilman versus McDonogh - The Football Rivalry." The Eagles had already clinched the MIAA B Conference championship, and a win at Gilman would provide a perfect ending. 

But it didn't happen that way. Behind the passing of Ryan Boyle and a 134-yard rushing effort by Mike Faust, Kennedy said Gilman rolled to a 20-point halftime lead and cruised to a 23-14 victory. The Greyhounds won the MIAA A Conference title and posted the first 10-win season in school history. 

Issue 214: Gilman vs. McDonogh: 1999 Game
Photo Credit: Courtey of McDonogh School Archives

Another undefeated Gilman team, led by quarterback Wooden and defensive end Abiamiri, was the top-ranked squad in the state of Maryland entering the 2002 game with McDonogh. The Greyhounds solidified their standing with a 35-14 triumph, Kennedy reported in his book.

"We had so many guys who were playing their last game," said Wooden, who continued his football career at Notre Dame. "We weren't the biggest team. In fact, I weighed more than some of our offensive linemen. But our team had such a cool vibe about it." 

The 99th regular-season meeting between McDonogh and Gilman determined the 2014 MIAA A Conference champion. The Greyhounds came in with a 5-0 conference mark, with McDonogh one game behind at 4-1. 

"During the last five to seven years, there have been some outstanding games," Deegan said. "I think last year's game was the best I've watched in my 28 years here." 

After the dedication of Gilman's stadium in honor of former coach Sotir, the teams engaged in one of their tightest battles yet. Gilman held a 14-7 halftime lead, but McDonogh forced overtime with a fourth-quarter score. McDonogh junior running back Mylique McGriff scored on the first snap of overtime, and Eagles safety Eric Burrell recovered a fumble on the Greyhounds' first play to secure a 21-14 victory that ensured a tie between the two schools for the conference title. 

"It's the best moment I've had in my McDonogh history," Burrell said with a smile. "I saw the ball and just jumped on it. Next thing I know, everybody's piling on top of me." 

Just Ahead 

The 100th regular-season meeting is drawing near, and the players and coaches realize its significance. 

"I was on the golf course recently when a guy came up to me and said, ‘This is the most important game of the last 100 years,'" Poggi said. "There's no pressure there."

For two of the game's veterans, their final McDonogh-Gilman experience will be memorable, no matter the outcome. 

"It's always a close game, and we seem to bring out the best in each other," Gilman senior running back/linebacker Dorian Maddox said. "I think about the people before us that paved my way."

"This will be my last game ever suiting up for McDonogh," Durham said. "It's the 100th game, and it's going to mean so much to me and my teammates to be a part of this rich tradition again."  

This story has been updated to cite information from the book "Gilman versus McDonogh - The Football Rivalry" by Mac Kennedy.

Issue 214: October 2015