Travel, History, and Holding Grudges in America's Dairyland

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Holding Grudges

 
                   
       

Fish Frys

  In 1893 Grover Cleveland became president, Thomas Edison patented the “incandescent electric lamp,” and two Wisconsin college football teams met to beat the living hell out of one another.

Ripon put a 24-6 whipping on Lawrence that fateful fall day, and the Ripon boys must have acquired a taste for the jugular; the next year they settled for an 80-0 victory.

Other footballers would come and go -- the Fond du Lac Athletic Club, the Marinette YMCA, the Actual Business College -- but Lawrence and Ripon kept it going through downturns and upturns, World Wars and Cold Wars, sweltering days and freezing nights. It’s the oldest college football rivalry in the state.

If not always a game FOR the ages, this remains a game FROM the ages.

Just three years into the series, in 1896, the Lawrence/Ripon rivalry was described as nothing less than “foul,” “rough” and wrought with “pugilism” -- and those were probably the kindest things that could be said.

“Such playing will kill football,” concluded the Lawrence student newspaper, which added, “If Ripon or football must die, we are sorry, but it ought to be Ripon.”

The 1901 game was disputed for 65 years. Ripon claimed a 22-11 victory. Lawrence said it won 32-6. The confusion is understandable. “Twice, Lawrence men who had got clear away for a run down the field were tackled by spectators,” reported the Appleton Evening Crescent. The hometown Ripon officials began assessing “double penalties” and other creative devices to assist the local boys. A yellowed newspaper clip discovered in 1966 said Lawrence won 23-6 and that’s the official score today (at least until an old Ripon newspaper account can be found).

By 1907, the Lawrence College president imposed a four-year moratorium on the game.

The games settled into a more conventional mode by the 1940s and 50s, but students kept the hijinks alive by making nocturnal visits to the other campus.

Anytime carloads of college students become equipped with paint and toilet paper, something other than refurbished bathrooms usually results. And if one of the interlopers was captured, he was jailed on campus until game day and released with a shaved head.

Burning the letter “L” or “R” into the opponent’s field was another oldie-but-goodie.

When the raids became too rambunctious in the 1950s, the schools’ administrations decided to create a traveling trophy called the Old Paint Bucket. Not long afterwards it disappeared. Nobody cared. Seems the Old Paint Bucket didn’t quite live up to the spirited rivalry.

Ripon currently holds a 51-46-7 series edge.

It’s a conventional small-college football game today, but the sheer tradition of it all remains for folks who visit Appleton’s Banta Bowl or Ripon’s Ingalls Field. In Appleton, the visiting team still takes its half-time break on the shaded hillside next to the playing field. Young men gird their loins as they have for more than a century to settle things on the gridiron. Parents, roommates, girlfriends and alumni make road trips to cheer the team and maybe offer a choice word to the folks across the field, and the backdrop will be a quintessential autumn day -- it might be cool and gray, it might be warm and golden -- but it will be the natural union of people and a season.

Minus knees to the groin, hopefully.

   

 
                 
                       
       

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