With bragging rights that last a lifetime, the Calvert Hall and Loyola football players have all the motivation they need for a Turkey Bowl victory.
It doesn't really matter that both teams have struggled this fall. Calvert Hall is 3-8 and Loyola is 2-8, so a win in the 94th annual Thanksgiving Day showdown at Towson University's Johnny Unitas Stadium would salvage an otherwise nondescript season — not that it's neccessary to add heat to a rivalry this old and this storied.
"It's always a big game, because of the school tradition," Calvert Hall senior Cole Wernecke said. "I don't think losing or winning during the course of the season really matters leading up to the Turkey Bowl. The Turkey Bowl is like a season in itself."
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Loyola junior Jake Nordhausen said aiming to alleviate the sting of a losing record plays right into the intensity of the rivalry.
"This could make or break either team's season, but the game is more like a pride thing," Nordhausen said. "Because our season really hasn't gone that well, this would make it like a winning season. Even though we wouldn't come out with a better than .500 record, it would definitely be a winning season if we beat Calvert Hall."
That's something Nordhausen and his teammates have never done. Although Loyola leads the series 48-37 (the teams have tied eight times), Calvert Hall has won the past four Turkey Bowls. Last year, the Cardinals needed an 83-yard touchdown pass with a little more than a minute left to keep the streak alive with a 21-14 win.
"That was a heartbreaker at the end of the game," Nordhausen said, "so we're looking for redemption this year, and we're looking to break their streak. We want to get it starting to go our way. People think we're satisfied with being ahead in the series, but of course we want more."
Before Calvert Hall's current streak, the Dons won six in a row between 2003 and 2008. Loyola lost a combined nine games during those six seasons and, in 2008, finished 11-0 and won the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference championship after tying for the title two years in a row.
The Cardinals ended that run in 2009 with a 47-28 win, the highest-scoring game in the history of the series. The next fall, the Cardinals won the A Conference title and then finished second to Gilman two years in a row.
This fall, both teams finished in the bottom three of the A Conference standings. Only Calvert Hall had a conference win.
"This is kind of unique in that both teams are a little bit down this year," said John Stewart, the dean of students at Loyola who played for the Dons in the 1958 and 1959 Turkey Bowls. "I remember some games where there was some drama with an underdog winning the game, but I don't remember two teams being down as they are this year, not recently."
There were two notable games in which neither team had a winning record.
In 1986, Loyola went into the game 4-4-2 and Calvert Hall was 3-6. Loyola won 19-10.
In 1959, Loyola was 4-5 and Calvert Hall was 2-7. Loyola won that year too, 30-8.
Most of the time there has been a clear favorite and that team has won, but there have been memorable upsets, said Stewart, who missed his only Turkey Bowl in 1957 while serving in the Army.
"One year, Loyola was 9-0 or 10-0 and Calvert Hall ran a couple trick plays and beat us by one," Stewart said of the Cardinals' 15-14 win in 1983. "In the '72 game, they were heavy favorites and we were playing with a rookie quarterback and we beat them [12-6]."
There was also a tie one year when Calvert Hall was heavily favored, Stewart remembered. That was 7-7 in 1957.
Six of the eight ties in the series came in the first 15 years. Four of the first seven games ended in scoreless ties, but there hasn't been a tie since 1962.
Since then, the winners have gone home after playing in front of about 10,000 spectators to enjoy their second Thanksgiving Day feast and revel in victory. Then, they talk about it for the rest of their lives.
Loyola coach Brant Hall won't let Calvert Hall coach Donald Davis forget that when they played for the teams they now coach in 1993, the Dons won. Davis is quick to point out that last year when they faced off as head coaches for the first time, the Cardinals won.