Recent editions of the William and Mary-Richmond football rivalry included conference championship and playoff implications. Is the game diminished when nothing else is at stake as both teams wrap up disappointing seasons?
That's where the principals and the observers often differ.
"It doesn't really feel any different," W&M defensive tackle Harold Robertson said, "because I look at it as another chance to go out and compete against somebody from another team in a different-colored jersey."
These particular different-colored jerseys meet for the 121st time Saturday at noon at UR's Robins Stadium in one of the nation's oldest rivalries.
"Any time you can go out and compete against someone else, I feel like it's a great opportunity," Robertson said. "That's what you should really be focusing on, not the sideshow stuff like conference championships and playoffs. Just going out and competing any way is a good feeling to me."
In the past four years, at least one of the teams has advanced to the playoffs. In three of the past four years, the winner earned a share of the CAA title. This season, however, the two teams have combined for just two CAA wins.
William and Mary (4-6, 2-5 CAA) works to avoid its first four-game losing streak since 2007, while Richmond (3-7, 0-7 CAA) aims not to get bageled in the league for the first time since 1989.
"If you're a competitor, you want to be playing for a championship," Tribe coach Jimmye Laycock said. "I wish we were. I wish we were playing for a championship, I wish we were playing for playoffs. We're not. We're who we are, we're where we are. We're going to compete against Richmond for this game and we're going to put everything into it that way."
Laycock, who has coached in 31 of these meetings, is steadfast in his approach to prepare consistently for all games, regardless of the magnitude. To do otherwise is to acknowledge that some games are more, or less, important than others.
It's a lesson that his players take to heart.
"As a player and an offensive lineman, we stay true to treating every game like it's going to be a championship game, treating every play like it's going to be your last," offensive guard Trevor Springman said. "You only get so many opportunities to beat Richmond. We're going to go into this game just like we would into a national championship because it's all about the rivalry, the tradition. It's going to be a big game. There's going to be a lot of excitement surrounding it. That's what you love as a player, being able to get after it in a game like that."
Springman, a redshirt sophomore, is a southern California native whose family transplanted to northern Virginia when he was in high school. Still, he has embraced the Tribe-UR rivalry, despite the fact that he didn't grow up with it.
"Sure, the press surrounding it, the crowd that's there might not be what it has been in past years," Springman said, "but to me and I know to most of the guys, it's William and Mary versus Richmond. That's all it is every year, and that's all it needs to be. That's all we need to get excited about. That's all it's going to take to get after it."
Springman and his offensive line mates have begun to jell in the past several weeks, paving the way for a remarkable stretch run by tailback Jonathan Grimes. The senior has consecutive 200-yard rushing performances and has amassed 737 yards in the last four games.
Springman is one of six returning starters on offense and one of 14 starters returning overall. Without postseason implications, might Saturday be a jump start for next season?
"I think it's too early to think about next season," Springman said. "This season's not done yet. We might not be going to the playoffs, but we still can make a splash and go out with a bang this season. The seniors that are leaving, there is no next season for them.
"It's very important for all of us to let people know that this team is worth something, this team didn't just lay down and give it away. People had to take it if they were going to beat us."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun