Andy Dorrel, a senior lineman for Wabash, says the game transforms the players. "You just want to hurt, to pound, to beat up," he says. "We lost when I was a freshman, and I didn't even shake anybody's hand, I was so mad. The next year, when we won, it was the greatest experience of my life."
The depth of feeling is all the more remarkable when you consider that this is NCAA Division III football. There are no athletic scholarships and no academic favors for players. The teams practice about 7½ hours a week (15 is the average in Division I schools), and players watch game films and lift weights on their own time, not the coaches'. It is, in many ways, college football as the game was played a century ago.
In other ways it is a different game entirely. When Wabash met DePauw for the first time, on Nov. 22, 1890, at the Wabash athletic field, the players wore moleskin uniforms. It was three downs to a side, five yards for a first down; anybody could carry the ball, and the forward pass was science fiction. A contemporaneous newspaper account is opaque for the modern reader: "At the start Miner by the V trick gained 20 yards on DePauw then pushed the ball to within 10 yards of the Wabash goal when Randall failing in the criss cross trick was pushed near the line and a safety made by DePauw." DePauw won the game 34-5, its only victory of the season. Wabash finished winless.
What feeds the rivalry? To even ask proves one's ignorance of Mononism. "It's DePauw, and that's enough," says Wabash offensive coordinator Scott Boone, class of '81, who earned 11 varsity letters as a Little Giant. "It's Us against Them, roughnecks against pretty boys."
One theory blames the bell. It rang incessantly last Saturday, tolled on the Wabash sideline by members of the Sphinx Club and then by swarms of delirious Wallies to celebrate their team's win. "When you don't have the bell and they ring it, it makes you crazy," says Dorrel.
Stan Parrish, offensive coordinator at Rutgers and former coach at Marshall and Kansas State, was Wabash's coach from 1978 to '82. "I got that job when I was very young," he said, "and I was absolutely terrified when we went against DePauw the first time. Everybody reappeared that weekend like ghosts—the old players, the coaches, the alumni. Luckily, we won.
"The best team I had was the '81 team. We were undefeated, ranked second in the country [in Division III], we had Pete Metzelaars and a bunch of other great players—and we went down to Greencastle and just got whipped. I was devastated. Had we won that game, I was going to leave Wabash. But I could not see leaving [after] losing that last game, because that's the way they remember you."
The next year, with Little Giant Stadium packed and fans watching from the trees, Parrish's "third-best" Wabash team beat DePauw 31-6 and finished undefeated. That left the young coach free to pursue his fortunes in Division I. "I'd written my final chapter," he said, "and I could go with a clear conscience."
Parrish, a member of the Wabash Athletic Hall of Fame on the strength of his 42-3-1 record, allowed a sigh. "That," he said, "was the best place at the best time."
It still is. The front page of last Saturday's Indianapolis Star shouted THE MONON BELL in type usually reserved for war. A small box referred readers to page C1 for news about another game of local interest: Notre Dame-Florida State. One could picture ear-to-ear smiles on the faces of Wabash and DePauw alums reading the Star over breakfast.