Jan. 13, 2005
A while back I listened as a former Santa Clara football player from the `60s reflected on the good old days, when the rivalry with Saint Mary's reached a fever pitch.
He recounted a tale when several Saint Mary's students were arrested near the SCU campus for a prank and found that a Santa Clara jail cell was the safest place for them. The Bronco (who later became team captain) and several of his friends took a trip downtown to bail out their "friends" from the East Bay. Despite desperate pleas of "we don't know those guys," the Saint Mary's students were released by the local law enforcement officers, only to be affectionately "pummeled." This was, of course, in the spirit of rivalry.
It's a tension that's not quite as old as the Hatfields and McCoys but has lasted longer than Howard Stern versus the FCC. For a few years, the rivalry seemed to be in hibernation. But now, Santa Clara versus Saint Mary's is wide awake. Saturday's game at McKeon Pavilion is a sellout.
A rivalry can't be created artificially. It's either there or it isn't. It isn't a rivalry when one of the programs doesn't win. Until the recent resurgence of Saint Mary's over the last four years, attendance at those games was sparse as Santa Clara-Saint Mary's became slightly more passionate than a Tuesday night with UC Irvine.
The current intensity between the two teams brings to mind the games like those of the previous decade when former Bronco Drew Zurek lie in a heap in the key, placed there by a bad-boy Gael's attempt at manual sterilization. The guilty man's name is not being used because a crazy man WITH a Saint Mary's degree may be even more dangerous. But I may mention it during Saturday's broadcast.
"It was a big game and we won it to take the conference title in the tiebreaker," says Zurek. "He was a 6'-4" guy with a little man's complex and was known for doing stuff like that. So, I'm standing there ready to get into the offense with my arms by my side and he's standing next to me.
"Coach Seandel is calling out the offense and then I realize the guy reaches down and yanks my (groin). I'm in agony lying there and Cemby (trainer Mike Cembellin) comes out and asks what happened. I told him and he just started laughing. He told me to settle down and said he didn't know what he could do for me. After a couple minutes I got myself together and I'm standing next to (the culprit) and he starts giggling at me. I'm thinking this guy is out of control."
Zurek adds: "I also remember right after we dropped football and we were playing a game at Saint Mary's. Their student section was right across from us and a couple guys run over behind our bench and start playing catch with a football in front of our fans to rub it in. Things like that when it was such a sensitive subject in the Santa Clara community. Guess what guys? You dropped your program, too."
Zurek was a mentor to Todd Wuschnig, a role player who relished his job doing the dirty work for the Broncos. In the same game, Wuschnig nearly experienced having adoption as his only option for children to carry on the family name.
"Three plays later, he tried to grab me in my (groin) and got my thigh instead. I told him that I would take care of him after the game and he said meet me right here. God knows why we even walked through there after (the game) and gave those guys high fives."
Wuschnig would get his revenge a couple years later. At the WCC tournament in Toso Pavilion, Saint Mary's was bounced with two of the former Gaels, including "Mr. Clutch", sitting five rows from the floor as Wuschnig took the floor. "I strolled in, turned and looked at them with the biggest smile on my face. I could tell they were [mad] and I didn't have to say anything. Just turned and smiled. They know exactly why I was entertained. Right then I could have taken both of them and I know they wanted a piece of me."
Although Moraga is basking in the glow of a win over then #11 Gonzaga, Saint Mary's knows THE game is on Saturday. McKeon Pavilion is sold out with a chance for the Broncos to pull even with the Gaels in the WCC standings. "Every game in every sport with Santa Clara is the biggest game of the year for their teams," says an administrator at Santa Clara. "It's circled on their schedules in every sport."
In 1997, a group of SCU students broke in to McKeon Pavilion and removed the Gaels' WCC Championship banner. In its place was a banner that read, "$30,000 a year is a lot for a junior college....Go Broncos!" SMC coach Dave Bollwinkel left the replacement banner on the wall to show his players, resulting in an inspired 96-95 SMC win at Toso Pavilion. That night, leading by one, Brian Jones attacked the basket rather than running out the clock. Instead, B.J. picked up an offensive foul with two seconds left and Frank Allocco made 2 free throws to win it.
By the end of the first practice in October, Zurek and Wushcnig say the players know which games are grudge matches. This season, we've seen a little extra oomph in SMC games in volleyball and soccer. Expect more of the same on Saturday but it's nothing Dick Davey dwells on with his team.
"I don't spend a lot of time talking about rivalries," says Davey. "I'm just not into that. It's not my style. It's not wrong for others to look at it differently but I look at it as a game we're trying to win against a very good team. "
Fans take it a little more personally. Considered lost after seven years, Santa Clara students returned the Victory Bell to Moraga in 1999, owed to Saint Mary's after the final football game between the schools in 1992. Two mysterious men drove to the front gate of Saint Mary's and told the guard, "This belongs to you."
Nothing is sweeter than beating a rival on the road and it will not easy against a team with NCAA aspirations. However, students don't need to steal or vandalize to show their school spirit. Like Wuschnig, leave Moraga with a win and a big smile on your face.
Enjoy the game and the rivalry. This belongs to you.