It’s been years since Mark Albertini, Carbondale High School athletic director, and Len Novara, Murphysboro High School’s athletic director, strapped on the pads for the annual Carbondale vs. Murphysboro football game. But, memories of those contests are just below the surface.
Terriers vs. Red Devils has been that kind of rivalry.
When the two schools do battle at 7 p.m. Friday at Murphysboro, it will be the 100th meeting between the two schools. For the record, Carbondale leads the series, 54-43-2.
“I remember my first game was against Carbondale as a freshman,” said Albertini. “I was a punter then, and two snaps went over my head in that game and went for touchdowns. That was my introduction to the Carbondale-Murphysboro rivalry.
“It’s a playoff atmosphere. So many people are there and the stakes are high. The kids want to win that game. The coaches want to win that game. You’re going to recall that game at your 10-year reunion, you’re 20-year reunion. That’s the game that sticks out.”
For the record, Albertini played in two Murphysboro wins and a pair of losses.
“It’s just one of those special nights,” Novara said. “Every kid that plays in the rivalry knows it. You don’t have to be told. I’ve heard it many times, some of the past generations will say, ‘You can lose every game on the schedule, but if you beat Carbondale, it’s a successful year.”
As a player, Novara was 2-1 against Carbondale.
“I won my sophomore and junior year and (they) got me my senior year,” he said. “It still stinks.”
There will be plenty of pomp and ceremony surrounding the 100th meeting. Coaches from past years will be introduced at halftime. There will be receptions for coaches and players, and a concert by Jet Black and the Cadillacs will follow the game.
The mayor of each community will bring the game ball to the field. Rep. Mike Bost will do a ceremonial coin toss. And, a ceremonial coin has been designed for the game. In addition, Dick Dietz of McLeansboro will be honored during the game for 60 years as a football official.
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Former Carbondale coaches that will attend the game, or be represented by family members, include: Albertini, Nick Hill (family), Fred Heinz, Clay Brewer, John Helmick, Skip Heninger (family), Tom O’Boyle, Vern Pollock (family), Frank Bleyer and Frank Bridges (family).
Former Red Devils coaches are: Jim Hammers, Bob Stilley, Tommy Liggins, Fred Heinz, Jim Woodward, Charlie Cottle (family), Mark Bullock, Phil Keasler, Richard Pickering, John Wittenborn (family) and Bob Graeff (family).
Heinz is in the unique position of having coached at both schools.
“We actually have a special shirt for Fred, half black, half red, split down the middle,” Novara said.
Both Albertini and Novara said the rivalry isn’t as intense as it once was – at least off the field – it remains a huge game.
“The bitterness is gone, but the pride still rings high,” Albertini said. “Now, it’s more of a friendly rivalry between two schools. It needs to be that way. There is still a sense of pride each community carries with them through that game.”
Novara said he isn’t sure when it happened, although it was sometime before he played, that emotions surrounding the game became more manageable.
“There was never the animosity or hatred from losing the game (when I played),” he said. “You fought like hell to win it, but if you fell short, you fell short.”
One person who won’t be attending the game is former Carbondale coach Vern Pollock. Pollock led the Terriers to their only undefeated season. He passed away earlier this summer.
“He was the most thrilled about this game,” said Albertini. “When we reached out to him, he was so excited. He knew how special and big it was. Two weeks after we sent him the letter, he passed away. He was a great influence on so many coaches and affected so many lives. His passing was very sad for our school, Eldorado and Southern Illinois in general.”