Grown-ups on both sides of the rivalry had spent the week selling sportsmanship and harmony, but someone forgot to tell the P.A. announcer at the 29th Muck Bowl, which took place on Nov. 14 in Belle Glade, Fla. "Pahokee, we are going to ride you like the Lone Ranger rode Silver!" boomed the announcer to a standing-room-only crowd of more than 10,000 at Effie C. Grear Field. "Drum major, flip the switch. Let's do this!"
And that salvo was just for the battle of the bands at halftime, when the Blue Devils of Pahokee High led the favored Raiders of Glades Central High 21--19. Despite the schools' proximity (12 miles apart) and the fact that many players have lived in both towns, the enmity between the sides during Muck Bowl week borders on implacable. Consider this sulfurous snippet from the pregame speech delivered by Blue Devils defensive coordinator Rick Lammons:
"You do not call us out, then say there's gonna be peace. These people asked for a goddam war! So guess what, fellas, we're gonna give them a goddam war!"
Once the roar and bloodlust in the room subsided slightly, Lammons brought it home: "O.K., now let's have a prayer."
It's time to deal with the rabbits, so skip ahead if you have a pet bunny or loved the novel Watership Down. For decades, as long as farmers have set fire to the sugarcane fields before the harvest, boys in Belle Glade and Pahokee have hunted rabbits. "They come out of the fire," explains Raheam Buxton, a Pahokee High cornerback bound for Miami, "and we're there waiting for them." How does one, um, dispatch the furry creatures? "Hit them over the head with a cane stalk," says Buxton, helpfully adding that if a bludgeon is not at hand, you can "chase them till their hearts burst."
"Sooo, you can run a rabbit to death?" I ask, wondering if I'm being put on. Buxton nods.
"Now, a cottontail," says Buxton, warming to the subject, "is good for a linebacker to chase. Because they make a lot of cuts."
"Are you messing with me?"
"No, I'm serious. They're shifty."
Local lore has it that the Muck, as this part of south-central Florida is known, produces so many fast football players because they grow up chasing rabbits. That's an oversimplification. It's not that they chase rabbits. It's that they find it necessary to chase rabbits.