Sports / The Prairie Fire / November 4, 2015

Rivalry, history behind the hate

Knox Football plays Monmouth this upcoming Saturday for their 127th rivalry match, the largest rivalry game in Knox-Monmouth athletics.

Weather permitting, the turnout of the Knox-Monmouth match-up is expected to double this Saturday, proving that campus interest is never higher than when Knox plays Monmouth. Why does the rivalry still hold such lasting power? Director of Athletics Chad Eisele and Sports Information Director James Clark both believe the main factor to be vicinity.

Former Knox Football coach Randy Oberembt (left) and former Monmouth Fooball coach Kelly Kane (right) pose a promotional photo with the Bronze Turkey trophy in the 1980s. The photo was taken in a local turkey farm, (courtesy of Office of Communications).

Former Knox Football coach Randy Oberembt (left) and former Monmouth Fooball coach Kelly Kane (right) pose a promotional photo with the Bronze Turkey trophy in the 1980s. The photo was taken in a local turkey farm, (courtesy of Office of Communications).

“I think just the proximity of Monmouth to us,” Clark said. “It’s easy to have a rivalry when you can have them show up on campus and both teams are able to bring fans and then be able to pull pranks. When you’re only 15 miles away it’s a lot easier to do.”

The first Knox-Monmouth football game, and first rival match, was unofficial, spontaneous and victorious, according to an 1888 issue of The Knox Student:

“It was a quiet, peaceful, sunny afternoon at Old Siwash when suddenly the quiet was broken by the disparaging shout of a bunch of Monmouth boys who had appeared without warning to challenge Knox to a football game. In less time than it took the bloody dust to run off the field following the suicidal attempts of Monmouth to score, Knox had captured an early lead, and by the time the last of the silent figures from Monmouth had limped or were carried away to be bandaged or buried, Knox had won a victory.”

The first score was recorded in 1891 with Knox winning 22-4.

The match then upped the ante 39 years later in 1928 when the first Bronze Turkey trophy was awarded to the winning team. The story of the Bronze Turkey itself is untraditional in conception, being the brainchild of Bill Collins, a Knox Football player who worked for The Register-Mail at the time.

“The trophy was bought by The Register-Mail and The Monmouth Review Atlas,” Clark said. “Knox and Monmouth didn’t have anything to do with buying the trophy.”

The Turkey has spent 126 games being passed between Knox and Monmouth, but not without pranks, theft and other subsequent strange traditions. In the beginning, pranks were creative and destructive, generally accompanied by the theft of the Bronze Turkey.

Knox students posed as reporters on Monmouth’s campus, stealing the trophy, only to have it stolen back two years later with the same rouse by Monmouth students. The original trophy went missing in the 40s, which was later found using instructions that hinted it was buried under the Monmouth indoor track. In the 80s, the Turkey went missing again, and in its absence a new Turkey was commissioned by The Register-Mail, now used for display while the original is kept in a secret location. The height of pranking came when the Monmouth scoreboard was stolen, and, speculating that it was the work of Knox students, Monmouth students burned an “M” into the lawn of the courthouse which they mistook for part of Knox’s campus, subsequently burning down the statue of Mother Bickerdyke.

Since then, the rivalry has faded due to lack of strong competition between the two teams, with Monmouth winning the past 17 Turkey Bowl matches and their total game count coming in at Monmouth’s 66 to Knox’s 50.

Not to say tensions do not still run high in certain aspects as well as in other sports.

Senior Brennan McGauchlen recalls common gameday behavior during the Turkey Bowl.

“I know going to Monmouth a bunch of their students will give us the finger and swear at us as we take the field,” he said.

Similar behavior could be seen at the Knox-Monmouth soccer match in recent weeks, where a fight broke out among fans after Knox’s loss at Monmouth.

Administrations from each college have attempted to defuse tension at Turkey Bowl games, specifically.

“We talk to each other before, especially the football game,” Eisele said. “We’re doing our chicken noodles for Blessings in a Backpack Day. Monmouth knows all about it and they’ve advertised on their campus as well. Because it is a bigger crowd, we try to make it positive in that way.”

Turning the rivalry into a positive is also what the presidents of Knox and Monmouth have done, but even they could not deny friendly competition, with the losing college agreeing to donate 10 frozen turkeys to the other town’s food bank. Changing this competition from 2011 on, both have agreed to donate the match’s point total in turkeys to the other’s food bank.

Not to say tensions do not still run high in other sports, as could be seen at the Knox- Monmouth soccer match in recent weeks, where a fight broke out among fans after Knox’s loss at Monmouth. With increased competition comes a more intense rivalry, which is the path Knox seems to be on, splitting total Knox-Monmouth athletic matches 7-8. As more Knox sports prove worthy or dominant competitors, the rivalry may gain more campus support.

As Knox Football hosts Monmouth, looking to take back the Bronze Turkey after 17 seasons, win or lose, the crowd may get spirited, or as Eisele likes to say:

“If Knox and Monmouth are playing tiddlywinks, there’s going to be a crowd and there’s going to be people that are yelling and screaming.”

Sam Watkins

Tags:  Brennan McGauchlen Bronze Turkey trophy chad eisele James Clark knox football Monmouth

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