Phillips Andover-Exeter, a deep-rooted rivalry of prep schools
Phillips Andover (Mass.) and Phillips Exeter (N.H.) have played for 131 years
New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick attended Andover as a postgraduate
Pageantry and student-created pranks keep the rivalry fresh through the years
The framed, felt banner hangs on a wall in the study of Amanda Belichick's apartment.
On the top, written in white lettering, reads "Andover 34." Underneath is a maroon strip with "Exeter 8" written in gray. An heirloom from the 1970 rivalry game between the Phillips Andover and Phillips Exeter Academies, Belichick's father, Bill, gave it to his daughter when she enrolled at Andover in 2000. "It's almost an antique now," said Bill Belichick, the New England Patriots coach who spent a post-graduate year at Andover.
As part of the ongoing 131-year heated rivalry between the two schools, which are separated by 37 miles and both boast Wall Street-endowments nearing $1 billion while living on Main Street in their respective towns, Belichick's memento is relatively new. Not as old as the institutions (Andover was founded in 1778, Exeter in 1781), the football-fueled passions continue to enrich both campuses. "The whole experience at the school, including the game, opened new horizons," said Belichick, who was classmates with former Florida governor Jeb Bush and the U.S. senator from Rhode Island, Lincoln Chafee. "It was the toughest year of my education."
With the next chapter in the storied rivalry, which Andover leads 68-49-10, set to kickoff at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Andover's Phelps Stadium, both schools have dressed up in their annual pageantry this week. A sea of blue has encircled the columned buildings at Andover and made its way into the students' wardrobes, while Exeter's red is worn by the students there. Before the game, there will be a traditional robe reversal as Andover sponsors "Exeter Geek Day", setting aside a time to mock their counterparts with ugly red plaid outfits and dorky, framed glasses; the New Hampshire school sponsors "Anodover Smurf Day." By the time the players return to their dorms the night before the game, the lightbulbs on Andover's will be turned to blue. "I didn't take it seriously when I first got there," said Syracuse quarterback Cameron Dantley, who attended Exeter as a postgraduate in 2004, "but everyone talks about it and you learn quickly."
Intensity reveals itself in unexpected ways leading up to the game. When Vanderbilt tight end Austin Monahan, who attended Andover as a post grad in 2004, was at practice the Friday before the game, he noticed coach Leon Modeste taking off his hat. Beneath it was a shaved head with an 'A' shaped into the back. "Once you see that, you don't want to let him down," said Terrell Ivory, who played in as a post-graduate in 2000 and whose brother, Titus, caught the game-winning touchdown pass in 1995.
A win against its rival can erase a season's worth of misery. The year that Dantley prepped at Exeter, the Big Red were 1-6 before the game while the Blue were 6-1. Exeter won and its season was saved. "It's just like the Harvard-Yale game for prep schools," said Harvard wide receiver Alex Breaux, who attended Exeter. "You walk on campus and both schools' students are dressed like little presidents."
In 2002, Zak DeOssie, who went on to star at Brown and won a Super Bowl last season with the Giants, was the starting quarterback and linebacker for the Big Blue. A North Andover native who was a day student, DeOssie was the first member of his family to attend Andover and played varsity all four years. "I've played in the biggest game in the world but I'll never forget that [2002 game which ended in a] tie," said DeOssie, who threw an interception in the waning moments. "We got 10,000 fans for that game. It felt like those crowds you hear about from Texas."
DeOssie need only look in the alumni directory for Friday Night Lights author Buzz Bissinger, Andover of class of 1971, to draw distinctions. "To compare intensity of the two is like comparing the Atlantic Ocean to a small Rhode Island pond," said Bissinger, who served as sports editor of The Phillipian, Andover's student newspaper.
Though he did not play football, Bissinger left his own mark. Along with six students, he drove up to Exeter the night before the 1971 game with several cans of spray paint, ready to color the Big Red's field blue. Before they could make their way through a backyard near the school, a woman stopped the crew and detained them until the police arrived. "I swear that woman was waiting her whole life to catch an Andover prank," Bissinger said. "We were arrested, detained or whatever, and the acting dean of student affairs from Andover, Peter McKee, had to come up and chide us, but I think he was proud of us."
Bissinger's group is known as "the Andover Seven". In recent years, students have gotten more creative. A few years ago, five Andover students, which included the student class president as well as the mascot, Ian Cropp, hatched a plan to release 60 mice in Exeter's library. They let 58 out of their backpacks (two were lost in transit). The merry pranksters made it back to their dorms. In the days that followed, though, they were caught and forced to sign an apology letter to Exeter administrators. Choosing to remain anonymous, they simply signed as "The Mouseketeers."
"I had red fruit punch dumped on me at a hockey game by Exeter students," said Cropp, who later learned that the Exeter librarian needed to bring in her cat to remove the mice. "My parents framed the censure."
Though Belichick, who says he was never a part of elaborate pranks, does not plan to be in attendance for Saturday's game, his message to the players is always clear. Last spring, Andrew Pohly, a senior captain from Willoughby, Ohio who plays offensive guard and on the defensive line, talked with Belichick at an event for accepted Andover students considering the school. Knowing Pohly was a captain, Belichick, who attends the event each year, had a simple message for the 18-year-old. "All he said was 'Beat Exeter'", remembers Pohly. "That's all he needed to say."