Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Rivalry Week(s): UConn-Rhode Island

Well, my computer remains on injured reserve, and will until next week, but here's the bulk of the UConn-Rhode Island rivalry post, which lacks uniforms for the last game profiled here ... but you can find the 80s Rhody unis here. Again, all apologies.
UConn-Rhode Island? Sounds like a decent basketball game. But believe it or not, it was an intense football rivalry for many years, and for many years was their Yankee Conference finale. (UConn traditionally ended the regular season against … Holy Cross? Yup, the Cross used to play UConn the week before the BC game every year.) 
The campuses are only 60 miles apart, which makes for a natural rivalry. But this game was played for the coolest-sounding prize in all of college football: The Ramnapping Trophy. In 1934, some UConn students had the gall to kidnap Rhody’s mascot — a real-live ram — and parade it around at the game against URI. You can see clips of that game here; is that the Notre Dame box UConn is using?

A pair of stills from the 1934 UConn-Rhode Island "Ramnapping" film.
Plenty of light blue to go around. Well, if these pix were in color.

The irony to all this? UConn had no mascot or nickname; the team was often referred to as the "Aggies" or even “Blue and White.” (An old UMaine Prism yearbook from this period calls them the "U-Conns.")
In 1935, the Ramnapping Trophy was dedicated and presented to the winner of the UConn-Rhody game each year. The newly-christiened Huskies dominated the trophy series, 40–19–3, and the overall series, 51–35–8.
Let’s look at a few classic games …
The Ramnapping game, Nov. 11, 1934
The one that started it all … if you can say that about a rivalry that began in 1897. Read a fun essay about the history of the trophy's origins here.

The Ramnapping Trophy, circa 1935.
Needs a ram, though.

UConn’s unis look really slapdash. I was particularly amazed at the use of light blue;  I had no idea UConn ever used that. If you see the images above, you’d think fans must have had a hard time telling the teams apart. The “white” in the caption looks more like a dirty gray, so I’ve reflected that here.

Rhody’s uniforms during the 1930s were pretty flashy, with the super-sized, iconic “RI” logo on the front. I believe ’34 marked the debut of numbers on the jersey fronts. The shoes should be high-tops; I'm working on that one.

The Yankee Conference deadlock, Nov. 16, 1957
Heading into their YanCon finale in Storrs, Conn., both teams sported 3-0 records; the winner would clinch the league title. Instead, they battled to a scoreless draw, ignoring pundits who predicted a UConn victory and/or a high-scoring game. The teams shared the title that year; wonder if they shared the Ramnapping trophy? With its shared crown, UConn won the second of five straight YC titles.

You’ll notice the teams used very similar templates, right down the font used for the helmet numbers. This was the last year Rhody sported a pale blue monochrome look until 2007; as for UConn; gold pants were won on and off until 1964. In 1957, both gold and blue pants were worn. Interesting how the striped socks were worn with the blue pants only.

The 1957 UConn Huskies in action against Delaware, as shown in the 1958 Nutmeg.
These pix have nothing to do with Rhody, but they were too cool to ignore.

The UConn and Delaware captains gather for the coin toss.
Those Blue Hen unis hardly changed until the 21st century.
Note the red, not yellow, flag, stuffed into the referee's back pocket.

‘Ehr’ Force Bombs Huskies, Nov. 16, 1985
Exactly 28 years after their scoreless tie, the Rams and Huskies went the opposite route and staged a shootout for the ages. This was during one of Rhody’s few periods of brilliance, when QB Tom Ehrhardt led the team to back-to-back NCAA tournaments by throwing on every down. Against UConn, Rhody trailed by deficits of 35-21 and 42-28 (at halftime! What is this, Baylor-TCU?) before Ehrhardt cranked it up to 11. He finished with 566 yards and EiGHT touchdown passes in a 56-42 win. 
The TD record remains a YC/Atlantic 10/CAA record; the league yardage record was broken by Old Dominion’s Taylor Heinicke, who threw for a mere 730 yards against UNH in 2012.
As one of my old Rhody media guides puts it: “The Ehr Force stands as a measure for all future Rhode Island teams. It stands as a monument to the achievements of a great player and a great team.”

The greatest quarterback in URI history, Tom Ehrhardt, and coach Bob Griffin talk strategy in 1985
in this image from the 1986 Renaissance yearbook.

Another UConn-Delaware game, this one from 1987.
The pic is taken from the '88 Nutmeg, complete with a partial school stamp.

We talked about Rhody’s uniforms here. UConn used the above look, with a few variations, from 1977-88. We’ll talk more about these unis down the road. 

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