Monday, November 17, 2014

Rivalry Week: Maine-New Hampshire

Welcome to Rivalry Week -- actually, Rivalry Weeks -- in which we’ll profile what makes college football so special … well, other than the cheerleaders and tailgating. 
For the next two weeks starting today, we’ll look at six great rivalries, all involving teams in our little uniform project. Four of these showdowns still happen annually, while two ended because of teams changing classifications (FBS to FCS, or vice versa). We’ll look at some key moments in each rivalry, with accompanying uniforms and other goodies. Many of the uniforms shown here will be profiled in greater detail down the road, but we’ll take a closer look at a few this week.
We’re not going to mess around: Maine-New Hampshire will kick off our special week(s). The teams play annually for the Brice-Cowell Musket, named for former coaches Fred Brice (Maine) and Butch Cowell (UNH). The musket is an 18th-century flintlock rifle made by one Ebenezer Nutting of Falmouth, Maine, and was first put up for grabs in the late 1940s.
As for the rivalry itself … Well, it pains me to say this as a Maine grad, but there hasn’t been much of one in recent years. UNH leads the series, 52–44–8, and has won 11 of the last 12 games, including an NCAA second-round tournament win last December. (Google “Brice-Cowell Musket” and you’ll see tons of photos of Wildcats celebrating around the fabled firearm.) But it wasn’t always like this, Black Bear fans. Once upon a time, Maine dominated this rivalry, and the Wildcats were none too pleased, as we shall see.
Here are some highlights of Maine-UNH:

The “BEAT MAINE” game, Oct. 13, 1962
I stumbled upon the below photo while poring through the 1963 Prism yearbook online several years ago. When I first noticed the words “BEAT MAINE” plastered the shoulders, I thought it was Bates or some ancient State Series opponent looking to make a statement against the big ol’ Black Bears. 

Yes, UNH went through the time and effort to place the words "BEAT MAINE"
on the players' jerseys before they visited Maine in 1962. Perhaps the Black Bears should
put "BEAT UNH" across their shirts this weekend. This is from the 1963 Prism yearbook.

A close-up of the jersey shoulder.
But as this pastime slowly turned into a research project, I saw the distinctive white jersey with blue sleeves over and over again, and I eventually realized it was Maine’s greatest historic rival expressing its disdain for the Black Bears. When UNH posted the 1963 Granite yearbook online a few years ago, a read through the football chapter confirmed my suspicions. This is part of the actual page:

The numbers are a little off; UNH was winless in its last seven games against Maine, not eight, and there were a couple of ties thrown in (Maine went 5-0-2 in that span). But the jerseys worked their magic, and the Wildcats handled the Bears 21-6 on their way to the Yankee Conference title. And the pep rallies in Durham were barren no more.

Maine’s uniforms were from the heyday of the Michigan-style helmet; otherwise, it was a classic, no-frills look. But red stripes on the socks? 
UNH, as mentioned earlier, had the distinctive sleeves with the silver helmets and pants, which were ditched in 1965. Here's the full UNH uniform for '62:

Note the "BEAT MAINE" shirts lacked numbers of the sleeves; the late '50s roads lacked sleeve numbers, so I suspect these might have been older jerseys recycled for the occasion. I also suspect blue socks were worn at times that year.

The “Batplay” game, Oct. 14, 1978
Where to start with this one? By 1978, New Hampshire was a perennial Yankee Conference powerhouse, and Maine was stuck in a three-year death march in which it went 1-13-1 in YC play. This was the second “1”: a 7-7 deadlock played in a quagmire at Cowell Stadium, even though UNH was a 24-point favorite.
Here, in grainy black-and-white, is how Maine scored its TD.
Maine lined up for a field goal, only for holder Tony Trafton to flip the ball to kicker Mike Hodgdon, who punched the ball into the end zone, where tight end Dave Higgins recovered for the unlikely TD. Just your typical play — one that received national attention, including a blurb in Sports Illustrated (scroll down to the entry marked "Educated Fist").
Before the game, Maine coach Jack Bicknell tipped off the officials he might use the “batplay,” as he had done with the zebras all season. After the game, he noted the rules stated you could bat a lateral pass forward, since it was technically a fumble.
The play came from a book by David Nelson, a former Maine coach who later made his name at Delaware, called Illustrated Football Rules. “I wasn’t looking for loopholes,” Bicknell told The Boston Globe. Loophole or not, the NCAA banned the "batplay" after the season.
Lost among the controversy was that Maine’s defense stopped UNH cold at the 1-yard line and the Wildcats missed four field goal attempts in the muck. 

UNH’s uniforms from this era need no introduction; anyone older than 30 who grew up watching football in the Granite State — or New England, for that matter — remembers this classic look. Maine’s uniforms in the Jack Bicknell/Ron Rogerson era were pretty conservative, almost like Penn State from the neck down. I want to talk about this uniform in more detail later on. No. 89 was future NFL linebacker Chris Keating.

The Alfond Stadium opener, Sept. 12, 1998
A few weeks ago, I mentioned the final game at dilapidated Alumni Field, which was torn down before the termites could eat it first. In 1998, Maine opened shiny Harold Alfond Sports Stadium — and crushed UNH 52-28, even though the Wildcats’ roster featured running back Jerry Azumah, who went on to win the Walter Payton award that year as the best player in Division I-AA (now FCS). Your humble servant was one of the 9,244 fans in attendance.

The Alfond Stadium opener, from the back cover of the 1999 Maine media guide.
I'm somewhere behind the 40-yard-line on the far end, about a dozen rows back.

UNH’s uniforms … see 1978. We profiled them back in August. Maine’s “Darth Vader” unis were profiled here.

The first playoff meeting, Dec. 7, 2013
Maine had steamrolled through the CAA in 2013, winning its first seven league games en route to its first league title in 11 years. Then came a trip to UNH and a 24-3 mauling by the Wildcats. To add insult to, er, insult, Maine hosted UNH in the second round of the NCAA tournament two weeks later — the first time the Bears had ever hosted a postseason game. The Wildcats spoiled the party with a 41-27 win. Someday, Black Bear fans …

We discussed these uniforms in our initial posts on Maine and UNH, all those months ago. 
Later this week: A trophy that got its name from the kidnapping of livestock.

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