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'Tradition is a wonderful thing' in annual Calvert Hall-Loyola game

Longtime Loyola football coach Joe Brune talks about the annual Turkey Bowl matchup with Calvert Hall.
Longtime Loyola football coach Joe Brune talks about the annual Turkey Bowl matchup with Calvert Hall. (Barbara Haddock Taylor, Baltimore Sun)

It has been 13 years since he last coached Loyola's football team, but Joe Brune can't get that traditional Thanksgiving Day game off his mind.

"The other night I dreamt that my quarterback broke his ankle in practice before the Calvert Hall game," said Brune, 80, the winningest football coach in Loyola's history. "My wife said I was talking in my sleep. I'm just glad it wasn't real."

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On Thursday, Brune is expected to don his blue-and-gold Loyola jacket — the one his players gave him 40 years ago — and root for his alma mater at M&T Bank Stadium at 10 a.m. in the 95th Calvert Hall-Loyola game.

Also planning to attend, wearing cardinal and gold, is his old nemesis, Augie Miceli, whose 101 career victories rank first in Calvert Hall annals. Miceli, 82, has attended every Turkey Bowl game since he stepped down as coach in 1987.

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"Tradition is a wonderful thing," said Miceli, who has taught math at Calvert Hall for 55 years. On Wednesday, he said, "the school will be flooded with alumni, some of whom will wait outside my classroom to say how the intense preparation for this game has helped them in their lives."

Loyola leads the series, 49-37, with 8 ties.

For 14 years (1974-87) Miceli and Brune squared off at Memorial Stadium, two old-school coaches each determined to outfox the other.

Calvert Hall won nine times, including a 28-0 victory in 1979 that climaxed the school's only undefeated season. Four years later, it upset previously-unbeaten Loyola, 15-14, scoring the game-winning touchdown following a reverse on an 81-yard kickoff return that flat-out stunned the Dons.

"The next year [1984] I thought, how can we top that?" Miceli said. "I was sitting in Mass one morning when an idea popped into my head: So many people kept asking if we'd use another reverse against Loyola that we'd run a fake reverse instead.

"Each day after school, we'd practice the reverse, for everyone to see. I told the players to sell the idea to friends and family by being noncommittal when first asked about the reverse, then conceding we'd run the play but begging folks to keep the secret. Meanwhile, every morning in the gym, with the doors locked, we'd practice the fake reverse."

The chicanery worked. On the opening kickoff, Calvert Hall faked the razzle-dazzle, scored a touchdown and won, 28-14 — its seventh straight win in the series.

Brune rolled his eyes, recalling that streak.

"Seven [losses] in a row to Calvert Hall? Terrible, just terrible," he said. "For a lot of alumni, that's the only game they know about. Fortunately, at the time, the president of the school was a very low-key guy. I'm sure he got a lot of requests to "get Brune out of there.' "

Funny thing, he said: "We could have a losing season, then beat Calvert Hall and alumni would say, "Great year, coach.' "

Brune lasted 35 years, retiring in 2001 with a record of 212-139-1. All told, his teams won 19 games against Calvert Hall, and his 200th victory came, fittingly, on Thanksgiving Day 1999. But no Calvert Hall teams gave him more fits than those coached by Miceli.

"One year, when we lost, 56-14, the turkey dinner at home was very quiet," Brune said. "My wife primed our seven kids beforehand to 'not talk football' at the table."

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But there were celebrations, too, as in 1977 when Loyola won 30-12 on three touchdown runs by John Woytowitz, who stood 5 feet 5.

"Afterward, when we got back to school, he [Woytowitz] led the charge in throwing me into the swimming pool," Brune said. "There we were, the players still in their uniforms and splashing around me to the consternation of our swimming coach, Murray Stephens, who kept yelling, 'My pool! My pool!' "

A 1952 Loyola graduate, Brune knew the depth of the Calvert Hall rivalry when he took the reins in 1967. As a senior tackle, he'd broken his left wrist in midseason but returned to help defeat the Cardinals.

From his first year as coach, Brune assigned an aide to scout every Calvert Hall game. Each Thanksgiving, he held a 7 a.m. Mass for the team. An English teacher, he'd sometimes quote from Shakespeare's Henry V in a pregame speech:

"We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;

For he today that sheds his blood with me

Shall be my brother . . ."

Brune recalled how Loyola's 14-7 victory in 1985, which ended the seven-year drought, "brought tears to my eyes." Prior to the game, a 1984 graduate, Troy Vance, told players that if they beat Calvert Hall, he'd buy them all T-shirts with the score plastered on the front.

"Focus for the game was so important," Brune said. To that end, for much of the 1970s, he bused his team the weekend before to a Jesuit retreat in Pennsylvania where they had to talk football.

Loyola won the final three games of the Brune-Miceli matchup, the last a 28-7 conquest in 1987.

"We had some trouble toward the end of that season," Miceli said. "Three senior starters missed both practices the weekend before the Loyola game and were dismissed from the team. I told them, 'I'd rather lose without you than win with you.'

"Other players said, 'You're hurting the team.' I told them, 'I am in one respect, but not in another.' "

The loss to Loyola ended Miceli's coaching career. A bitter ending, it was not.

"I'd do the same thing today," he said.

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