For graduates of Baltimore City College and Baltimore Polytechnic Institute -- that's City Knights and Poly Engineers to their loyal football fans -- today marks the 108th occurrence of what alumni of both schools simply call The Game.
That would be the City-Poly game, of course, slated for a 1 p.m. kickoff at Memorial Stadium. That The Game has returned to Memorial Stadium after a four-year absence pleases Poly coach Augie Waibel.
"When we moved from Thanksgiving Day it took something out of the game," Waibel said yesterday from his home, just about an hour before he left for the pep rally at Poly. The "something" that was missing the most was playing in Memorial Stadium, which Waibel said players on both squads considered an honor.
"They were playing where the pros play," said Waibel, who will coach his 30th City-Poly game today. Waibel believed that playing in the stadium attracted quality players to both programs. Moving The Game to Morgan State University's Hughes Stadium -- where it had overflow crowds for the 1993 and 1994 contests -- and then last year to Poly's stadium damaged The Game's century-old prestige.
That's part of the cost city public schools paid for joining the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association. The idea came from school superintendent Dr. Walter Amprey, who had no clue as to how the move would diminish the City-Poly rivalry. How could he know? The guy's an Edmondson grad, for Pete's sake.
Starting today, there is a way Baltimoreans can correct this grotesque and gratuitous evisceration of one of our greatest traditions: Go out to Memorial Stadium and see these teams play. Yes, we love Dem O's and we loved our Colts and Lord knows we're trying to love the Ravens. But have any of these teams given us the memories that a truly excellent City-Poly game can leave with us? I think not.
Mayor Kurt Schmoke, arguably the best quarterback ever to play in The Game, shared his most vivid City-Poly memory via telephone yesterday:
"[It was]) the very first [City-Poly game] I ever played in. Walking into the stadium at 16 years old, seeing 30,000 fans sitting there, half of them wanting to cheer me, half of them wanting to boo me, was both inspiring and humbling."
The mayor was being a tad modest. What he neglected to mention is that he was the mastermind behind the 1965 game that ended in a smashing 52-6 victory for City. But it's the close games, not the blowouts, that have left fans of The Game atwitter. Waibel remembered the 1967 game, his first.
"We were losing 20-0. We came back and made it 20-16. We recovered an onside kick and had time for about two plays. A pass to Gary Jenkins went just off his fingertips."
The 1967 game is also my personal favorite. Number two on my list also made Waibel's, the 1993 classic that saw City come back from a 15-0 deficit to take a 20-15 lead with 25 seconds left in the game. Poly running back Greg Kyler caught a pass at the end zone line -- one-handed, mind you, -- to clinch a 21-20 Poly victory.
"I couldn't see a dang thing," Waibel recalled about Kyler's catch. "But our fans went crazy, so I figured he'd caught the ball. It took me awhile to sort things out." Football doesn't get any better than that 1993 City-Poly game. Two evenly matched teams played their hearts out for pride, not money, and ended up with a classic game the NFL hasn't given us in years.
Third on Waibel's favorite list is his first City-Poly victory in 1970, which started City's losing streak in The Game that ended in 1987 with another classic. With City up 26-22 and trying to keep the ball away from Poly's offense, Knight quarterback Chris Smith handed off to running back Paul Williams. Williams ran this way, then that -- all backward mind you -- and was about to be tackled by Poly players for a huge loss when he lofted the ball to Smith, who dashed the right way toward the Engineer goal line and dived across for the touchdown that sealed a City ictory. The final score was 34-22.
That Williams-to-Smith pass has become so legendary it is now summed up in two words: The Play. True City-Poly fans will tell you that The Play could only have occurred in The Game.
"That [game] was the most exciting," City coach George Petrides said yesterday after the school's pep rally. "It took a play like that to finally seal a victory." Petrides' teams have lost three straight games to Poly, and he hopes a return to Memorial Stadium may change City's luck.
"I'm happy about that," Petrides said of the return of The Game to Memorial Stadium. "That's where it should be played. We're happy about it because we haven't won since it came out of the stadium." Petrides said he hopes The Game will eventually be played again on Thanksgiving, but alumni of both schools had better not hold their collective breath waiting for that to happen.
Pub Date: 11/09/96