Lower Merion vs. Radnor, believed by many to be the oldest continuous public high school football rivalry in the United States, has featured some pretty impressive names during the past century.
Ted Dean, who scored the winning touchdown for the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1960 NFL championship game, competed for Radnor in the 1950s. The late Emlen Tunnell, who was the first African American selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, played for the Red Raiders in the 1940s.
The 117th meeting between these two teams will kick off Nov. 9 at 2 p.m. at Radnor High School.
Lower Merion holds a 56-49-11 advantage. One of the reasons is the coaching of the legendary Fritz Brennan, whose Aces beat the Red Raiders every year from 1945 to 1956.
In the last decade, Radnor has held the upper hand. The Red Raiders posted a record 10-game winning streak that came to an end in 2010, when the Aces’ prevailed, 20-7. Lower Merion also won the 2011 contest, 21-14.
Last year, Radnor broke a two-year, 20-game losing streak with a 35-7 victory at Arnold Field. Led by junior running back Jimmie Blake (167 yards in 24 carries), Radnor controlled the ball most of the day, grinding out long drives that ended in touchdowns. Blake, who was named the game’s Most Valuable Player, passed the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the season.
Lower Merion-Radnor is not the oldest public high school football rivalry in the United States. That honor goes to Needham and Wellesley High Schools in suburban Boston — this rivalry began in 1882, but has not been held every year since.
In fact, according to Wikipedia.org, the oldest public high school football rivalry in the United States is Boston Latin School vs. English High School of Boston, which have faced off annually since 1887.
When the inaugural Lower Merion-Radnor game was played (Oct. 26, 1897), neither team wore uniforms. Players cut the grass and lined the field before the game. Lower Merion (then known as Ardmore High School) won, 10-4.
One of the attendees at the 1897 contest was Barney Fischer, who came to every Lower Merion-Radnor game until the late 1970s. Every year, he performed a ritual in which he rubbed a silver horseshoe on the shoulders of players and coaches to bring them luck.
By 1912, the Lower Merion-Radnor game was taking hold – more than 1,000 Lower Merion fans paraded down Lancaster Avenue that year to watch the game in Radnor.
In 1915, admission was charged for the first time (25 cents). The game ended in moonlight — police had to clear the field.
During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the rivalry was stronger than ever, attracting 10,000 fans. The game was moved to Villanova University’s new football stadium (built in 1927).
Marquee names began to appear on both rosters. Tunnell, the first African-American player elected to the Pro Football of Fame, played for Radnor in the 1941 contest.Life magazine included a photo of the 1943 Lower Merion-Radnor contest, which showed Lower Merion players emoting after the Aces scored the game’s only touchdown.Dean starred for the Red Raiders in the 1955 contest (although Radnor lost, 27-6).
In 1996, the centennial contest attracted national attention. In front of 6,000 fans, Lower Merion’s Kevin Dixon intercepted a pass in the end zone with 15 seconds left to preserve a 27-20 Aces’ win.