This game is personal on many levels.
The oldest collegiate football game in New York boils down to several one-on-one matchups between archrivals who want the same thing — possession of the Dutchman’s Shoes Trophy.
Saturday’s 110th meeting between Union College and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute will be held at noon at ECAV Stadium. According to Union records, the Dutchmen hold an 80-25-4 lead in the series and a 46-16 edge since the introduction of the Dutchman Shoes Trophy in 1950. RPI records indicate that Union leads the series, 79-26-4, but suffice it to say that Union, which won last year’s game, has been dominant until the last two decades. RPI has won eight of the last 15 games. The
series, which began in 1886, is the fifth oldest in NCAA Division III and the 16th longest in terms of games played.
But throw out all the numbers and historical perspective. It’s more about raw emotion for these players.
“For me, I know a bunch of guys on Union, and this is all about bragging rights,” said RPI junior nose tackle Ted Abriel, who graduated from Bethlehem. “We lift together and train together in the offseason. For us, we’ve got a chip on our shoulders, because we lost the ‘Shoes’ last year, and we want them back.
“This is completely different from any other game we play,” Abriel said. “We are all hyped up. The coaches are trying to keep
everything more business-like, but we are very excited to be playing this game. Coming into this season, this has been our most important goal, to win the trophy game. This is huge.”
It’s even more personal for RPI senior tight end Mike Blais, a Troy native who graduated from LaSalle Institute.
“My brother, Jerry, played here for four years,” said Blais. “I went to Union football camps when I was younger. But when my brother went to RPI, I thought about coming here. RPI recruited me, and I decided to stay home and play right here. I definitely will have a lot of family and friends here for this game.”
Blais said he attended many Dutchman’s Shoes Trophy games as a youngster, and the meaning of the rivalry is instilled deeply in his psyche.
“I’ve been a fan and a player in this rivalry,” Blais said. “We’ve been talking about this game all week, and we are ready to go. This game could make or break our system. If we win, we could finish 6-3 and maybe get an ECAC playoff bid.”
Blais admitted that emotions could overflow in what has become the biggest game of the year for both programs.
“It definitely will get a personal out there, and it might get a little chippy,” he said. “There is no doubt that we will play physical.”
Union’s senior leaders were equally adamant about the importance of this game.
“We want to keep the Shoes,” said offensive tackle Elias Damouni. “As soon as camp began this summer, we started thinking about this game. This is one of the biggest games in our season, and it lives up to the hype every year. We take it very personally, because, after all, they are called the Dutchman’s Shoes Trophy, and we are the Dutchmen.”
Damouni said the current Dutchmen are always reminded how important this game is through emails and texts from Union alumni.
“They all want us to keep the trophy,” he said. “Plus, this is it for us seniors. We want to go out with another win.”
Senior fullback Tim Hersey said it won’t be any problem revving up his emotions against RPI, even though the Dutchmen are playing in their fourth “special” game in a row. The Dutchmen had their homecoming game, a battle at Hobart to decide the Liberty League championship and last week’s senior day all in a row.
“We are definitely charged up for RPI. It’s the biggest game of the
season for us,” Hersey said.
“It won’t be any problem at all to get ready for this game. We’ve been trying to instill to our younger players just how special this game is. The RPI game gives us our best memories every year. We won’t remember games like the Rochester game, but we will remember every game we played against RPI.”
There are more similarities than differences between these longtime rivals. Not only are they located just a half-hour from each other, but they recruit the same group of players. Even their overall records are similar, with Union at 5-4 and RPI at 5-3. Both programs have 22 seniors this year.
All players, coaches and fans are encouraged to bring a non-perishable food item to the game. Fans that make contributions will be admitted free of charge. All donations will benefit the Salvation Army of Troy, which will distribute the food to needy victims of Hurricane Sandy.