When Union quarterback Drew Connolly talks about the Dutchman Shoes Trophy, he gets downright possessive.
“We want our shoes back,” the senior from Foxboro. Mass., said Wednesday at the midweek press conference that precedes the annual renewal of the rivalry between Union and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. “They stole them from us last year.”
The “Shoes” will be up for grabs for the 61st time Saturday when the Dutchmen host the Engineers at 1:30 at Frank Bailey Field. RPI has won four of the last five meetings between the two teams, including a 21-7 win in Troy last year.
Connolly hurt his shoulder in last year’s game against RPI, and could only watch as the Engineers hoisted the “Shoes.”
“I felt helpless,” he said. “That was a game we could have won. The other guys were out there, trying as hard as they could, but all I could do was watch.
“That’s been a motivation factor for me all year.”
“We were watching tape the other day, and on the play before he got hurt, we had a route from the hashmark to our sideline, and he threw an 18-yard rope,” said Union coach John Audino of Connolly, who has moved up to fourth on Union’s career passing yardage list with 6,431. “The next play, he goes down, and obviously, that was part of our problem on offense.”
The rivalry between Union and RPI is the oldest in New York state, with Saturday’s game being the 109th meeting between the two schools. The Dutchman Shoes Trophy was created in 1949, after student committees from both schools met in response to damage incurred at the two schools both prior to and after the game. But no one is sure how the trophy got its name.
“You know, I was thinking about that the other day,” said RPI junior quarterback Mike Hermann. “Maybe it’s because Union won the first couple of games and felt they had a right to call them the Dutchman Shoes. But all that really matters is what motivates us. We’ve been unfortunate to lose the Transit Trophy [the reward to the winner in the annual game between RPI and Worcester Polytechnic Institute] the last couple of years, but we feel this is more important to us.”
Union College athletic director Jim McLaughlin, who played for the Dutchmen for four years prior to his graduation in 1993, best sums up the “Shoes.”
“No doubt, it’s the most hideous trophy in each of our cases, but it’s the most coveted, too,” he said.
As well as a source of pride.
“I was so glad when we won the ‘Shoes’ two years ago,” said Union co-captain Kevin Quillinan, a senior from Yorktown. “If we hadn’t won, that senior class would have been the first one to go four years without winning the ‘Shoes.’ ”
While Audino will be playing for the “Shoes” for the 20th time, Engineers coach Tim Landis is part of the rivalry for the first time.
“No good rivalry ever gets old,” said Audino, who has helped erase the bad taste of an 0-3 start with victories in three of the last four games, said. “This is always an enjoyable week. The kids get up for it. I’m sure RPI is getting up for it, and there’s a lot of great interest locally. I’ve been doing this for 35 years at a bunch of different places, and this [rivalry] is as good as I’ve seen anywhere.”
“They [the Shoes] kind of remind me of the Stanley Cup,” said Landis, who has a 3-3 record, with alternating wins and losses, in his first season. “You get the opportunity to take them around and show them off, and I’ve heard some stories about what’s been put in them.”
Although a rotating schedule within the Liberty League has moved the Union-RPI game to an earlier date in recent years, first-year league commissioner Tracy King, who also attended the press luncheon, hopes to give it a permanent position on the final weekend of the regular-season calendar.
“We’ll have eight teams next year and no byes, so why not do that?” King asked. “They don’t play the Army-Navy game in the middle of the season.”