This Saturday, the Union College Dutchmen (6-2) travel across the river to face their bitter rivals the RPI Engineers (8-0) for the 116th time in the Dutchman Shoes Series.
There is a more well known football rivalry between Ithaca and Cortland who play each November for the Cortaca Jug, but the oldest football rivalry in the state of New York lives right here in the Capital Region. The Central NY rivals have only been playing each other for 60 years, that’s cute.
RPI is a good team, they have already clinched the Liberty League championship and a NCAA playoff berth, but that takes nothing away from the importance of this game. The Engineers are currently on their longest win streak in series history, winning the last 5. Prior to this run, they had never won more than 3 in a row against Union. They have the advantage of hosting the rivalry this year at their “way too nice for Division III” facilities.
I want this win for Union. Bad. I was an assistant coach at Union for the last 2 seasons so I’m not even going to try to act impartial here. The walls of Union’s staff room is covered with banners for every undefeated season in program history. The first was in 1914, the most recent was 2005. We were constantly reminded of the long, successful history and we worked to recapture that status. But unfortunately, RPI has had that success in recent years.
These Dutchmen seniors don’t want to be the third consecutive class to never win the shoes. They came in and didn’t win a game as freshmen, then they had to transition to a brand new coaching staff, and their hard work has brought results. They deserve to hoist the Dutchmen Shoes, but they need to prove it in Troy on Saturday.
My first year with Union was also Jeff Behrman’s first year as head coach. The struggling Dutchmen were 5-25 in the previous 3 seasons, and it was a process for our staff to re-instill a winning culture into the storied program. There was an immediate improvement on the field, going 3-7 in 2016 and 7-4 in 2017, but we failed to capture the most important win in those 2 seasons. I am proud to have been a part of the quick turnaround but I would do anything to have gotten a win over that damn school across the river.
Division III sports are special. The student-athletes have to commit and work just as hard as athletes at higher levels of college athletics but usually have no goals of going pro; they play for the love of the game. Football adds another level. Players finish their last football game ever, whether it be high school, college, or pro, and it is truly their last game. You can play a full court, 5 on 5 basketball game and you can find leagues to play baseball, soccer, or lacrosse. The coordination and effort a full game of football requires cannot be replicated once your career ends. On Saturday, Union’s seniors will be padding up for their last time. It’s an emotional event, and the rivalry only adds to it.
Union holds the series lead at 81-30-4, but all they’re trying to do is go 1-0 this week. I encourage anyone looking for something to do on Saturday do go out and watch these guys go at it.
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