Gilman vs. McDonogh

Gilman's Jim Cross almost gets his hands on a punt by McDonogh's Van Strakes. (Baltimore Sun photo / November 21, 1964)

On Saturday afternoon, Tom Booker plans to pull on his flannel Gilman cap, put his son (a Gilman student) in the family car with the Gilman bumper sticker, and head to Gilman to see his alma mater play arch-rival McDonogh in football for the 95th time. There, before yelling himself hoarse, Booker will share with his 10-year-old the facts of life.

"Tom," the former tight end will say, "You will do many great things in the years ahead, but what will stick with you is whether you beat McDonogh in your senior year. That will be the measure of your life."

Young Tom will nod in assent. The message is old hat. The fifth-grader has worn "Beat McDonogh" T-shirts since kindergarten.

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Booker graduated in 1979, having never lost to McDonogh in four years.

"It made me feel bullish about my prospects in life," he said. "When I walked across the stage, at graduation, I shook the headmaster's hand and said, 'Reddy, we did not lose to McDonogh.' "

Redmond Finney smiled.

"Tom," the headmaster said, "There will be bigger things in life."

Booker didn't buy it, then or now. Thirty-one years later, the successful business executive from Ellicott City said that defeating McDonogh was "one of the touchstones by which you mark your time. So many of the games are struggles like you read about in Greek tragedies.

"It's the friendliest rivalry I've ever known," Booker said, "but it's also the most heartfelt."

Already this week, in a longstanding tradition, both student bodies heard from the opposing team's captains. Gilman held "Empathy Day," when students dressed in McDonogh colors (orange and black). Following the game, after each side whales the tar out of the other, both teams will gather at midfield and do what they've done for years.

"We get into one big huddle, say a prayer and listen to both coaches speak," Gilman quarterback Darius Jennings said.

Then a three-foot metal trophy, given since 1948 in honor of graduates of both schools who served in World War II, is handed to the winner.

"There's nothing like it," Jennings said. "Former players say it all sticks with you."

Addressing Gilman students Wednesday, McDonogh captain E.J. Conway tried to put the game in perspective.

"It's not just about winning or losing," Conway told them. "Yes, we feel like we have the weight of the entire McDonogh community riding on our backs. But this game is really about relationships, bonds and the memories you take from it."

Ask those who have been there.

Having lost to Gilman in 1962, McDonogh's John (Tank) Urban, a rugged 220-pound guard, strode into the winners' locker room and spoke his mind.

"I congratulated them on a great game," Urban said. "Later in life, I have been told by several of the Gilman players, who have become good friends, that they appreciated my gesture.

"I was just doing what McDonogh had taught me all along. Honor your adversary ... give your best ... (and be) gracious in defeat."