The Redskins versus the Cowboys is kids' stuff. There's a rivalry that goes back to 1899 that will resume for the 47th time Saturday in Howard Stadium. The Bison versus the Bears. Howard versus Morgan State. Washington versus Baltimore.
"This game is so special to Morgan State, it's difficult to express," said Bear Coach Clarence Thomas, whose injury-decimated team is 4-6. "Winning the game would make our whole season. It's the only thing that really matters to us. I can't wait."
Bison Coach Floyd Keith tried to remain low-key, but the enthusiasm in his voice betrayed his words. "We don't want to be out of our minds when we take the field. We have a lot of seniors who will be playing their final home game. But we realize this is Howard-Morgan."
Howard-Morgan began 81 years ago with a 71-0 Bison victory. Howard won, 41-0, in 1900, 34-0 the next year, 23-0 the next, and 28-0 in 1903 before the mismathes were called to a halt for 19 years. In those days Howard was the undisputed king of black college football, going 18-2-1 with a limited schedule from 1893 to 1903.
When the series was resumed the Bears fared no better: Howard 52, Morgan 6 in 1922. Morgan stopped the series again. But after Howard's 26-6 win in 1927, the Bears began to fight back. That was the first year the Bears were guided by Eddie Hurt, the man given credit for inventing the four-man defensive front.
With Hurt's new alignment startling almost every opponent, the Bears played Howard to scoreless ties in 1928 and '29.
Morgan finally defeated the Bison 19-8, in 1931. And 13-6 in 1932 and 27-0 in 1933. After five more fierce whippings at the hands of the Bears it was Howard's turn to stop the embarrassment by temporarily interrupting the series.
After Howard won or tied the first 10 games, Morgan has taken an overwhelming, 31-12-3 lead in the series. From 1948-1964 Morgan won 15 of 17, including five straight shutouts. Before retiring after the 1960 season. Hurt won 19 of 25 Howard-Morgan games aganst 10 different Bison coaches in 34 seasons.
While Mordecai Johnson, then president of Howard, was de-emphasizing football, Hurt, a 155-pound all-America defensive end from 1917-1919 at Howard, was leading Morgan to 14 Central Intercolegiate Athletic Association championships.
"Howard University never could look Eddie Hurt in the eye all those years," said Eric (Ric) Roberts, black America's most influential sportswriter through the depression and World War II years, and Howard sports information director in the early 1970s.
"Howard's worst games seemed to always be against Morgan," Roberts said. "But there are real roots here. Baltimore and Washington have never liked each other anyway, and that makes it such a natural rivalry. The series should have never been interrupted."
After a seven-year hiatus, the series resumed in 1971. Morgan has won eight of those 10 games. The Bison staged major upsets with 30-7 and 22-16 wins under Coach Doug Porter in 1974 and 1975, the last time the Bison won.
"That 1974 win was the first time Howard had beaten Morgan in an entire generaton," Roberts said. "It was so overwhelming."
"It was like Penn State and Maryland," said former Howard athlete Glenn Harris. "After all those beatings, the Howard players felt that they were destined to lose to Morgan. They've always, in essence, kicked our butts."
The most stinging loss for Howard came in 1973, when the Bison were setting a school record with eight straight wins under Coach Edmund Wyche.
"The MEAC was already wrapped," remembered Roberts, "and Howard was a 10-point favorite. But Morgan took them down, 27-7, in front of one of the biggest crowds Howard ever had at RFK. It was crushing. The school never forgave Wyche for that and they ran him out of town as soon as the season was over."
This Howard team (5-2-2) is assured of its first winning season, under second-year-coach Keith, since the Bison last beat the Bears in '75. Howard had last week off and Keith says his team is about as healthy as can be expected for the final game of the season. Keith's offense, led by senior quarterback Ronald Wilson, is intimidating.
The Bears are "coming into Washington with so many injuries that whatever we can do will depend on the dexterity of our trainer. He's going to have to do wonders with a roll of tape and some gauze," said Coach Thomas.
The entire starting Bear offensive unit, including quarterback Darrell Coulter, who has passed for more than 1,400 yards, may miss the game.
To lessen the pain, Hurt came back to Morgan this week. He gave an emotonal appeal to the second string to keep the tradition in mind and the four-game Morgan winning streak intact.
"I've never got so many telegrams and phone calls pleading with us to win this one for Morgan, for Coach Hurt and for old times' sake," said Thomas, who played for the Bears from 1963/67. "Eddie is our link with the past. With him with us, we'll never forget the importance of this game."
The significance of the game is not lost on Howard's seniors. Said fullback Cornelius Quarles, "In my four years, this is the most important game. With a win, we have a chance to go to the Gold Bowl."
Said offensive tackle Ralph Grimes, "When I look back, this last game against Morgan will be the one I'll probably remember most."