Game lives on

city vs. poly noon, m&t bank stadium

Knights, Engineers will be doing more than playing football - they'll be making memories that last a lifetime

November 08, 2008|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,sandra.mckee@baltsun.com

Sam "Muggsy" Feldman grew up in an era when folks didn't brag about their achievements. It was between World Wars and during the Depression era.

Adding to his restraint is the fact that he played for City College in three City-Poly football games in the 1930s, and the code for both teams was "Win without boasting and lose without excuse."

With some prodding, however, Feldman, 89, breaks out old scrapbooks in his Pikesville home and opens up about his experiences in the rivalry series that originated in 1889 and continues with the 120th meeting between the schools at noon today at M&T Bank Stadium.

Feldman is proof that when the schools' current players are told by coaches that they will have memories from these games that will last a lifetime, it isn't hyperbole.

A defensive back and fullback, Feldman played a key role in the 1937 game, when both teams entered the contest undefeated and the Maryland Scholastic Championship was on the line.

Feldman recovered a fumble by Poly at the 8-yard-line with less than a minute to play to set up the tying score. The game ended 6-6, and the Knights won the title based on a tiebreaker. For several decades, that game was called "the greatest game of the series," by then-City coach Harry Lawrence, who had played for Poly.

"It was a different time," said Feldman, a four-sport athlete who was The Evening Sun's 1937 Athlete of the Year. "A nickel bought an ice-cream sandwich. Kids from the same neighborhood went to City and Poly. We'd see each other on the street. From the first game, we were always looking forward to City-Poly.

"You wanted to win every time you played them. Guys hated guys but shook hands after and then asked, 'Where are you going to eat?' There were open-air drive-in restaurants, and we'd go for a hot dog and a Coke and holler at each other."

Feldman, who still works part-time these days for Sol Levinson & Bros. funeral home in Pikesville, recalls the parades and massive pep rallies that preceded the game and were attended by people from all over the city - at least 30,000 in 1937, according to the school's yearbook from back then.

City vs. Poly, believed to be the second-longest continuous public school football series in the country behind Boston Latin-English High (which is two years older), was the biggest game in town.

"The Colts didn't arrive until 1953," said Jack Scarbath, a 1949 Poly grad who went on to quarterback the University of Maryland and finish second in the 1952 Heisman Trophy voting. "The Poly-City game was always intense, and you remember them.

"I remember when we lost [13-12] one year," he added, referring to the 1948 game. "I don't remember the year, but we lost because I missed the extra point. Willard Leach, an end for City, kicked the winning point."

While the game, which for decades was a Thanksgiving Day staple before the city schools joined the state association in 1993, no longer captures the imagination of an entire city, the two men who will lead their teams onto the field today, City's George Petrides and Poly's Roger Wrenn, believe the game's history still matters.

Petrides, who has been coaching City for 34 years, tells his players: "This is probably the only game whose score you are going to remember." Petrides fondly rattles off the scores of the two games he played in for City: His team won 52-6 in 1965 and 42-6 in 1966.

Wrenn has only coached the Engineers for three seasons, but he has a deep appreciation for the game's history and longevity.

"It's older than Army-Navy and Michigan-Ohio State," he said. "When I write down our goals for the kids, our first goal is to beat City. Our second goal is to have a successful season and make the playoffs. And our third goal is to beat City."

It's still the kind of game current students get ready all week for - if not all season as they used to. They have mascot days and school color days and pep rallies.

And it still draws former players such as Scarbath. "I've missed very few," he said from his Rising Sun home.

In Pikesville, where Feldman has opened his scrapbook and shared his memories, a joyful smile lights up the old player's face. For him, revisiting the memories never grows old, and the bond that he has formed with his teammates will never be broken.

"Since I took on the job of going to the cemetery, I get a list of the deceased every day," Feldman said. "There was one guy, Chum Greenfield, a little squat guy over 200 pounds. No one got through his side of the line. Every time I go to the cemetery where he's buried, I go by and think about the times we had.

"My next birthday, I'll be 90 years old. There aren't many of us left. The first 15 years or so after we graduated, we went to reunions. Now, I have my own personal reunions."

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