Thunderstruck, Gilman roared back the following year to win, 45-0.
"The (winners) tore gaps in the opposing line big enough to drive a loaded hay wagon through," The Sun wrote in 1928. Gilman showed no mercy. When McDonogh marched to the one-foot line, late in the game, Gilman stopped the Little Farmers on four straight plunges.
The rivalry was heating up. In 1929, on the eve of the game, McDonogh students wearing night shirts did a serpentine "snake dance" around a huge bonfire, and burned "Old Man Gilman" in effigy before scattering his ashes derisively. Gilman won the game anyway.
By 1932, the contest between the private schools was drawing crowds of 5,000 or more.
"The stands, as well as the line surrounding the field, were thickly populated," The Sun wrote. "On the east side, the Cadets (McDonogh's new moniker), in their gray-blue uniforms, howled and their band rattled its drums, while the Blue and Gray answered from the West."
McDonogh won, 14-7 as quarterback Ernie De Moss "went up the field like a rabbit through a pack of beagles."
Each year, the game seemed to gain in stature.
"The McDonogh clash has grown from an insignificant contest to the most important game of the schedule," The Gilman News surmised in 1939. The student paper quoted team captain Jack Clemmitt:
"I wish McDonogh all the luck in the world, but they'll have to scrap mighty hard to take home the bacon."
Take it home, they did. McDonogh won, 20-0.
Each side sought to outdo the other in pre-game festivities. There were pep rallies, parades and even poetry readings
"Everybody thought the bonfire this year was pretty big," wrote The Week, McDonogh's newspaper, in 1942. "It was too big, in fact. Those who stayed to guard it had to use 80 gallons of water to put it out."
At Gilman, an English teacher, Reg Tickner, penned a poem immortalizing the rivalry. Many an alum remembers the verse, which was recited for years before the game:
"McDonogh, McDonogh, beware of the day when the greyhound shall meet thee in battle array ..."
You didn't have to be a star to get the jitters before playing Gilman, said Ray Faby, 80, who played for McDonogh in the 1940s.
A second-string fullback as a sophomore, Faby said he was so caught up in the moment that "I threw up all over my uniform, in the locker room, as we were filing out to the field. A teammate looked at me and said, 'Why are you worried? We're not starters.'
"That's how pumped up I was," said Faby, now a federal judge from Lutherville.
From the start, Gilman has needled its rivals, calling them farmers. (Until the mid-1950s, McDonogh's equipment bags were simply burlap sacks).
"We had a Latin teacher named Ed Russell who, before the game, would gather all the students in the auditorium and pretend to read from the Hagerstown Almanac," said Tom Beck, Gilman's captain in 1963. "He'd look up the day's date and say, 'The almanac says it's going to be a bad day for farmers."
"That (nickname) used to tick our kids off," said Dick Working, McDonogh's coach from 1954-74. "They didn't want to tackle the Gilman boys, they wanted to kill them. It was difficult to get them to play within themselves."
The hype spilled over to the rest of the students. Working remembers a time when "Every dormitory (at McDonogh) hung a bed sheet out the window with something about the game printed on it. One of the dorms hung a pillowcase that said, 'Gilman isn't worth a sheet.' The kids were pretty imaginative."
McDonogh's most dramatic victory came in 1963, when it won, 8-7 on a two-point conversion pass from Andy Beath to Jimmy Bunsa, who made a circus catch.
"There was not a lot of celebration," said Beath, who went on to play for Green Bay Packers. Unbeknownst to the players, President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated that afternoon. The coaches heard the news at halftime, said Finney, then Gilman's coach.
"Jointly, we decided it was best to go on," Finney said. "The feeling was that to have the game abruptly stopped would create even more turmoil."
A game you take with you
By that time, The Game had grown to almost mythic proportions.
"We could have gone winless all season, then beaten McDonogh — and the year would have been complete," Beck said.
In 1974, Bob Ehrlich, Gilman tackle and co-captain, wrote an open letter to The Gilman News, imploring female students from nearby Bryn Mawr to attend the game "to watch the mighty Greyhound machine meet the McDonogh Eagles (the school's current nickname). We promise to provide quite a show."
Gilman eked out a 26-20 victory, one of its eight straight wins in the 1970s. By 1979, McDonogh decided it had had enough.
"We got new uniforms for the game," McDonogh's Richard Bosley said. "And the night before, one of our students climbed our water tower on campus and hung a sign that read, 'The Streak Stops Here.'"
McDonogh won, 21-0.