While some don't think it's the rivalry it once was, in Anne Arundel County there's still nothing like Annapolis and Severna Park high school football.
Despite not playing in the regular-season finale for the first time, intensity between won't be lacking as the series between these teams hits its 40th anniversary.
At 7: 15 p.m. tomorrow at George Roberts Field in Severna Park, the two teams will renew the county's oldest rivalry. As has been the case for most of the previous 39 seasons, there is much at stake. Both teams are unbeaten and vying for state playoff berths.
"This is a crucial game for both of us," said Annapolis coach Roy Brown, who was an assistant for 10 years to the late Al Laramore before assuming control in 1989.
"Whenever we were playing for something [championship or playoffs], it's always been special. We're definitely playing for something in this one."
Brown points to Laramore's death after the '88 season as a big reason for the rivalry losing some of its luster.
Laramore lived for the game as did his close friend and Falcons counterpart, Andy Borland. Laramore, the county's all-time winningest coach at 156-68-2, started at Annapolis in 1965 and was 12-10-2 in the series.
Borland became Falcons head coach in 1973, succeeding George Roberts (6-4-3 in series), and started with six straight losses to Annapolis before finishing his career (145-108), with five consecutive wins over the Panthers to go 13-13. J. P. Hines succeeded Borland as head coach after the '97 season.
"I still think it should be the last game," said Borland, who will miss the game for the first time since 1963 when he started as an assistant to Roberts. Borland will be in Richmond, Va., on business, but visited the players this week to wish them well.
"I knew that last game in '97 would be my last, and I won't ever forget it."
Neither will Brown and his then 9-0 Panthers, who were denied becoming the 11th team and the fifth from Annapolis to go undefeated in the regular season when they were upset, 21-14, by the Falcons (4-6) on a rainy Saturday night at Laramore Field.
The sight of a beaming Borland after that game hugging players as they boarded the team bus in the pouring rain was an unforgettable moment.
A precedent had been set in '66 when the Falcons tied the 9-0 Panthers, 12-12, in the last game.
Some other memorable moments:
A 0-0 tie in the '60 inaugural when Severna Park quarterback Johnny Venizelos nearly broke one late.
Gary Thall running for five touchdowns in '64 to key a Falcons rout, 44-7.
A 2-0 win by Annapolis under one-year coach Bruce Villwock in '77, when Daryl Parker tackled Dave Nealy in the end zone in the final period.
The nucleus from the '77 team getting by Severna Park, 19-13, in '78 on the way to a 12-0 season and a state title under Laramore.
Jeff Sanders, whose son Brian currently plays at Severna Park, ran for 225 yards and scored four touchdowns in the '80 as the Falcons overcame 279 yards and two touchdown by Turkey Brown for a 29-25 victory. Brown, who later played in the NFL, had a 65-yarder called back in the final minute.
Gerald Wenn's 48-yard run to beat Annapolis, 9-7, in '87 set up the Falcons' 16-7 playoff win over the Panthers.
Jimmy Graves' 18-yard field goal in OT to edge Annapolis, 10-7, in '88.
Roy Brown's first game in '89, a 23-14 win with Ahmed Middleton running for three touchdowns.
Tim Bowerman's fourth-down, 6-yard scoring pass to John Milisitz for a 16-14 Falcons win as time ran out in 1991.
All-Metro defensive tackle Ron Green, who went on to play for national champion Tennessee, leading the Falcons' 6-0 win in '93.
Tomorrow will mark the 41st game between these teams. They met twice in 1987, playing the last regular-season game and a few days later in the 4A quarterfinals.
Severna Park, which won both of those games in '87, holds the series edge at 19-18-3.
The final-game tradition, which began in 1960 with the teams playing on Thanksgiving Day at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, has gone by the wayside because of countywide schedule restructuring.
Annapolis is ranked No. 5by The Sun and No. 13 in the Associated Press state top 20 poll as the metro area's fourth-highest rated team. Severna Park is No. 14 in The Sun top 15.
With both teams at 5-0, the winner stands to gain a bundle of playoff points. Annapolis would take 13 points with a win while the host Falcons would garner 12. Severna Park is shooting for a 4A East Region playoff berth while Annapolis is hoping to make the postseason out of the 3A East.
Wins over Class 4A teams are worth eight playoff points and seven against 3A teams.
Until this year, Annapolis and Severna Park had been among the state's largest schools, classified either AA or 4A. Severna Park still is, but Annapolis is 20 students short of being 4A.
That changed everything, including three other final-game rivalries. As a result, most county teams are playing all or nearly all of their 10-game schedules against county foes.
"It's a new era," said Severna Park coach Hines, who would like to forget his indoctrination into the series last year.
The Panthers rolled 47-7 last fall at Severna Park, with Rayvon Johnson running for four touchdowns and 249 yards on the way to setting a county regular-season record for rushing yards (1,947).
With the rout, Annapolis snapped a five-game losing streak in the series and avenged the bitter '97 loss.