ALBION -- They were called "school visitations," good will tours intended to have students from the Albion Purple Eagles and Medina Mustangs come into rival territory, and hopefully leave with an appreciation of each other's surroundings.
It didn't always work that way.
One year Medina students spray painted a bunch of chickens Albion's school color, purple, and let them loose in the schoolyard.
Once the Albion faithful drove an old Ford Mustang onto Medina's school grounds and beat it senseless with baseball bats.
In 1978, Medina students walked into Albion carrying a casket with an Albion jersey draped over the top. They got as far as the cafeteria before a near-riot ensued.
"Mad Dog, our defensive tackle, stood up and started yelling, and food was flying all over the place," recalled wide receiver Dan Monacelli, class of 1980.
That ended the tours, but hardly the enthusiasm for the annual game, which has been played continuously since 1920. The 93rd meeting is Friday at Medina at 7:30 p.m. Albion leads the series, 50-38-4. Albion-Medina is one of many rivalry games kicking off this weekend in Western New York.
The game marks the end of an era for Albion coach Dick Diminuco, Western New York's winningest active coach (204). Diminuco, 55, has announced he will retire in June following 30 years as football coach and 34 as Director of Athletics. He earned up his 200th win last season, and was just as thrilled this year when his JV coach of 30 years, Gary Mannella, also reached the milestone.
"It's been such a great rivalry," said Diminuco. "It's something the kids get excited for and the community gets excited. I still get excited. It's kind of almost sad that this is the last time I get a change to coach this game."
Diminuco is 23-7 against Medina but he probably doesn't know that, saying he hasn't kept records during his coaching tenure. He may not be a numbers man, but he is nostalgic. His office, tucked into a corner of the boy's locker room, is painted dark purple. But it's not overpowering as the walls are nearly covered by framed photos and awards that are a tribute to the tradition he's built.
On top of one file cabinet is the leather helmet worn by the only Albion alum to play professional football. Tommy Colella, nicknamed the "Albion Antelope," enjoyed a pro career with the Detroit Lions, Cleveland Rams, Cleveland Browns and Buffalo Bills from 1942-1949.
"You know what's most important to me, and this sounds corny, and you can talk to anybody who knows me, but it's the relationship I've had with the kids. When they come back at Christmas time they see you. Those are the things that I'm going to remember," said Diminuco.
It doesn't take a genius to see how important football is in Albion (pop. 7,438). The drive along Route 98 heading into the village is dotted with small lawn signs in front of people's homes that read: "Purple Eagle Pride." Diminuco said his 30-year booster club president, Rich Monacelli, had them made, and they can't keep them in stock.
Besides apples, cabbage and beans, Albion also produces some pretty good football players. Since 1920 those players have squared off with Medina, a community 11 miles to the west, that shares the same passion for its football team. The rivalry has always been a hard-hitting game, and old-timers will tell you, that's just among the fans.
Chuck Nesbitt was a two-way tackle on Albion's 1987 team, winners of the mythical state championship. He later married the homecoming queen from that year -- Medina's. Today, he's the Chief Administrative Officer for Orleans County government. In his senior year the Purple Eagles beat Medina, 14-0, despite the best efforts of Medina junior Jim Snyder.
"We were actually pretty heavily-favored, so 14-0 was a pretty big accomplishment on their part. In a rivalry game like that, it's kind of like all bets are off. They hung with us pretty tough," said Nesbitt. "Coach Diminuco had a tremendous way of relating to his players. He taught us the Purple Eagle Way. That meant leadership, honor, determination, guts and most of all, accountability. You wanted to walk over hot coals for him. Frankly, he was the coolest guy in the room."
The Purple Eagles also enjoy the unconditional support of local businesses.
Just beyond Albion's historical district on North Main Street is Fischer's Newsstand. Gary Withey has operated the small business for the past 14 years.
On the wall just above a magazine rack hangs a photo of original owner and hometown hero Carl Fischer, wearing a baseball uniform. Fischer returned to his native Orleans County following a major league career from 1930-1937. A relief pitcher, the story goes he struck out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in the same inning.
The Newsstand not only provides and outlet for buying newspapers, baseball cards and pork skins, there is also plenty of exchange about football.
"Usually Albion spanks Medina pretty hard," said Withey, who happens to live in Medina. "I'm pretty torn when the game comes around. It's still quite the rivalry. I have customers whose kids are on the team. You hope it's a good game."