By Brian Deakyne
RED BANK – One of the most historic rivalries in New Jersey football is no more.
On the heels of its 11th consecutive Thanksgiving loss, Rumson-Fair Haven High School pulled the plug on its six-decade-old rivalry with Red Bank Catholic High School this week.
Red Bank Catholic and Rumson have faced each other 61 times and started the annual Thanksgiving weekend game in 1957. But Red Bank Catholic’s 45-0 trumping over Rumson on Nov. 29, the A-Central division-clinching win, will be the last.
“We have to do what’s best for our players and our program going forward,” Rumson coach Bryan Batchler said. “It just doesn’t make sense for us anymore.”
“I was pretty surprised when I found out, since it was so recent and it goes back such a long time,” said Red Bank Catholic coach Jim Portela.
Rumson hasn’t beaten Red Bank Catholic since 2002, the same year Portela joined the Caseys staff. According to Batchler, who formerly coached at Red Bank Catholic, the goals for Rumson are different from when he first arrived at the school.
“I don’t want to say that before coach (Jerry) Schulte and I came to Rumson that the goal wasn’t win a state title, but it really wasn’t,” Batchler said. “Back then, the RBC game was the Super Bowl for us, but it’s not anymore. Our goal every year is to win a state championship.”
Rightfully, Rumson won its second state championship in school history – both within the last four years – with a 14-6 win over Weequahic on Dec. 12. Its loss to Red Bank Catholic kept the Bulldogs from its first undefeated season in school history.
But, Red Bank Catholic still believed in the rivalry and what it had developed into over the last ten years, specifically.
“I think we did, it’s something that I thought both teams looked forward to and I really do think people from both sides are going to miss it,” Portela said. “It was a day for fans and alumni to come out and everybody was able to see each other. I thought it was an important game.
“I remember the last time Rumson won in 2002, which was my first year here and we played hard and lost to a very good football team. That’s what it’s all about.”
Portela said he had no inclination from Rumson that there was ever a problem with the series or that either program ever had thoughts of going another direction.
“I remember reading a lot of newspaper articles before the season, back in August, and (Rumson) had said they wanted to go 12-0, and they were excited to have a chance to end the streak against Red Bank Catholic,” Portela said. “It seemed important to them then.”
But, according to Batchler, the rivalry now is very different from what it was even 10 years prior.
“Back then, all the kids that played for Red Bank Catholic were actually from Red Bank and Rumson and Shrewsbury and Little Silver,” Batchler said. “It’s not like that anymore. You have kids from Freehold and Toms River and Howell. A lot of these kids don’t know each other.”
Even more than the rivalry, the annual game has been more about two of the best teams in the Shore Conference, Portela said.
“(Rumson) has been a very good football team the last few years, and I think any time you can get two of the best teams in the Shore to play each other, a lot of people like that,” Portela said. “It’s always good to play the top teams. Normally, top-rated teams in the Shore do like to play each other.
“I’m not saying we have 75 kids from Rumson, but it’s proximity; it’s a rivalry in every sport. They came very close to 12-0 and they had said they were practicing for us. I’m sure their kids are just as disappointed about this.”
Moreover, Batchler argued that the different styles that Rumson and Red Bank Catholic play provide no benefit for either program. Red Bank Catholic is notoriously famous for its physical, downhill running game as opposed to Rumson, which had been accustomed to spreading the ball around.
“It just doesn’t make sense for us anymore,” Batchler said. “If we’re playing a team like Weequahic in the final a week later, I’d rather play a team that is similarly athletic.”
But, Portela believed that Rumson, too, is getting away from that style.
“They have had a very good defense the last few years – and this year in particular – and I think they ran the ball a heck of a lot more than they used to and they got away from spreading the ball around a little bit. Whether styles of play are similar or different, it’s all about playing the top team and I thought it meant a lot to both teams. You want to play your hardest against superior teams.”
Rumson has already made tentative plans to sign on with Shore Regional High School as its new Thanksgiving Day game. Rumson and Shore have faced off in the first game of the season each of the last two years.
“Shore makes the most sense for us,” Batchler said. “We’re similar schools; we’re sort of in the same boat, public versus public, it’s the most natural rival for us. You could even argue that Shore having to play Point Beach on Thanksgiving cost them a state championship. As a program, playing RBC doesn’t help us in any way, shape, or form.”
“I was surprised to see that they had another school lined up, yeah,” Portela said. “I was under the impression that they didn’t want to play on Thanksgiving at all.”
Portela said it’s unlikely that Red Bank Catholic will have the time to set up a Thanksgiving game for next year as most schools already have their schedules set for the 2014 season.
“We had talked in the past about moving the Rumson game to the first game of the year like some schools are doing,” Portela said. “But we ultimately decided that the atmosphere of Thanksgiving with the students and alumni and old football players was the best way to go. I’m sure (Rumson) has its reasons.
“It’s a game everyone looks forward to and it’s always standing room only. I can think back to many Thanksgiving morning games and Wednesday night games with huge crowds, no matter the weather. It means something to the schools.”
“It’s just time. We’re going to be playing on a level playing field,” Batchler said. “Our goal now isn’t to win a playoff game, it’s to get to the final. We don’t want to be anyone’s super bowl either.”