Poly, City usher out glorious era at Memorial Stadium in last Thanksgiving game

THE FINAL FEAST

November 26, 1992|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Staff Writer

Some might remember a kickoff. Or a touchdown. Or a tackle.

L Or even a post-game dinner of turkey with all the trimmings.

But for Antonio Travers, it's the walls of a runway that lead to a dugout and a field that remind him of Thanksgiving Day, of a high school football game between City and Poly at Memorial Stadium.

"It seems like those walls are closing in on you," said Travers, a senior fullback/linebacker at City. "You want to get on that field and play so badly. And, this year, you want it even more."

Today at 2 p.m., when Travers and his teammates leap up the dugout steps, they will be running straight into a Baltimore tradition, the City-Poly game.

For the 104th time, these schools that for decades produced many of Baltimore's best and brightest, will renew the nation's second-longest continuous public high school football rivalry.

But this game marks not so much the continuation of a tradition as it does the dividing point with the past.

Oh, they'll play another City-Poly game next year; it just won't be on Thanksgiving Day, and likely won't be held at Memorial Stadium.

"The greatest feeling ever is to play on Thanksgiving Day," said Khary Tucker, a senior defensive back at Poly. "To have this game be the last one, man, I'll probably cry when it's over."

The schedule switch is the final act of a merger between the city public schools and the state's athletic ruling body, the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association.

And the future of Memorial Stadium is clouded by the NFL's reluctance to announce expansion plans.

Still, the City-Poly rivalry has survived worse, including rowdy demonstrations, fights and traffic jams, not to mention two world wars.

"You went to church. You went to the game. You went home," said Robert Lumsden, the former Poly coach and athletic director who has missed two games against City since 1930.

The rivalry is more than just one football game a year followed by Thanksgiving dinner.

It's about memories.

The Fumble of 1937 that led to a 6-6 tie. Tom Duley's 85-yard kickoff return for City in 1960. Poly's 17 straight victories in the 1970s and '80s.

And the Thanksgiving Day game provides a touchstone for the alumni.

Soldiers on leave from wars in Europe, the Pacific, Korea and Vietnam rediscovering friends at the game, in the stadium. Former classmates shouting and laughing as if the homeroom bell had just rung and it's 1954 all over again. Ex-sweethearts spying one another -- and introducing their spouses.

"You see a lot of your former players, a lot of your former graduates," said City coach George Petrides. "It doesn't matter if you graduated in 1939 or 1989. For one day, everyone is together."

But the alumni and teams didn't always gather on Thanksgiving. Until 1944, City and Poly met the Saturday preceding the holiday. But that year, bowing to pressure from Navy, which wanted the Saturday football dates, City and Poly joined Calvert Hall and Loyola for Thanksgiving Day games.

In 1970 and 1971, fearing security problems, the City-Poly game was shifted from Thanksgiving back to the preceding Saturday. And, in 1979, when City played only a junior-varsity schedule, the game was moved to Poly.

"In a lot of ways, the rivalry has already changed," Lumsden said. "Different demographics. Smaller crowds. More competition from television. The game will always be important to the two schools. It just won't be the public event it used to be."

What concerns school officials now isn't the new date of the game, the first Saturday in November, but securing a site large enough to accommodate more than 10,000 fans.

Administrators at Loyola and Calvert Hall, who will continue their Thanksgiving Day game next year, are facing the same problem because of the uncertainty surrounding the future of Memorial Stadium.

"You have a lot of alumni who are concerned," said Poly coach Augie Waibel, preparing for his 26th game against City.

"Everyone realizes that change is inevitable," he said. "A lot of people want to know what will happen with the game. Where will we play the game? But no matter when the game is played or where it's played, it will still be Poly and City."

But for one last time, the schools will play a Thanksgiving Day game. And the setup is nearly perfect.

An undefeated season is at stake for City (9-0, 8-0 league). And Poly, with only one league loss and a 7-2 overall record, could tie City for the Maryland Scholastic Association A Conference title by winning today.

Want to know what it all means, to be reminded of what it's like to be a senior on the verge of one last game? Jason Jones, a senior defensive tackle from City, showed up to the last practice by showing off his new fashion statement.

His head was shaved.

"Unity," he said. "That's what this is all about. We'll all be shaved for the game. I just couldn't wait. My parents said I'd look stupid. But they still let me do it."

And at Poly, Tucker finished off a last practice by applying one fierce tackle after another.

Against his teammates, his friends.

"This rivalry will stay in history forever," he said. "We could play BTC a barnyard field. It would mean the same thing. Just give us refs and pads. We can go 9 yards and a cloud of dust."

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