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100 Things: St. Joe's vs. Canisius

Up in heaven, two saints are looking down on us. And they are laughing.

They are St. Joseph and St. Peter Canisius.

The sports rivalry between St. Joseph Collegiate Institute and Canisius High School is the most famous in Western New York. St. Joe's was founded by the De La Salle Christian Brothers in 1861. The Jesuits founded Canisius in 1870. That means the Canisius Crusaders and the St. Joe's Marauders have been at each other's throats for well over a century.

On Oct. 15, as the two football teams were preparing for battle at St. Joe's,  you could feel the tension.

"It's tradition. It's the greatest rivalry," said St. Joe's alumnus Jay Ras, who was there with his wife, Tammy. "It's like the Yankees versus the Red Sox."

Enjoy it. Choose a side. Wear the colors. Canisius colors are gold and navy blue. St. Joe's are maroon, silver and white. Like many Western New Yorkers, I come from a mixed family -- my brother Tony went to Canisius, and my brother George went to St. Joe's. George accompanied me to the game, and so I wore the St. Joe's colors. His young son Georgie somehow sported Canisius colors. He eagerly  joined a group of maroon-clad kids by the field. That's confidence.

Or, maybe, savvy.

Canisius and St. Joe's football, I learned, goes in waves. For years Canisius dominated. Then, for another eon, it was the Marauders' turn. Now, the force was again with the Crusaders.

Not that you would immediately know it. The Rowdies, a huge group of St. Joe's boys who cheer from the bleachers, defended their turf at top volume, starting with the national anthem. What a day it was. The sky was bright blue. The sun shone on the suburban homes surrounding the field.

The game flew in the face of the peaceful surroundings. Even I, knowing zip about football, could soon tell the Crusaders were dominating. The play was always about them. The action was always on their side of the field. The Rowdies, like the Marauders, were put on the defensive: "You can't do that! You can't do that!"

The game inched forward in fits and starts. "Chippy," was how my brother George described it. Perhaps the Marauders, who kept making mistakes, were unhinged by the pressure. Fortunes ride on a game like this. Nervous parents hovered. Thurman Thomas was sighted, and Jim Kelly. Little Georgie, in his Canisius colors, was squished against the fence, glued to the game. I just stood fascinated, witnessing history.

Andrew Grine, a 1990 St. Joe's alum who had been on the football and basketball teams, boasted a vintage Marauders pin.

"Once a Marauder, always a Marauder," he said.

Grine recalled throwing daisies onto the field to bait Canisius. "We called them the Daisies on Delaware." But he, too, came from a mixed family.

"My dad went to Canisius," he said. "We went to games together for years. He would sit on the Canisius side. I would sit on the St. Joe's side. And after years and years, Canisius finally won again. My father actually cried on the way home, tears of joy."

His father, gone now, would have been happy today. As the Crusaders cruised to victory, their fans came to life, taunting St. Joe's with chants of "It's all over." The final score was Canisius 27, St. Joe's 6.

God love the two teams, they met in the middle of the field and went through the motions of shaking hands. The two massive quarterbacks hugged.

Then, just like that, it was over. The Crusaders went home in an orange school bus. Not even an old Jesuit at the wheel --  just an ordinary bus, an ordinary driver. Glory is temporary.

This noble rivalry, too, is part of a bigger picture.

"When you go to St. Joe's, you can't stand Canisius. You want to beat them," Grine, the former Marauder, reflected.

"But when you graduate, you go on to college --  and you all become friends."


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