WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 23, 2022
Vanquishing Dick Vermeil: Earlier today, we got to thinking about Thanksgiving Day football.
More precisely, we got to thinking about Thanksgiving Day high school football—and, inevitably, about defeating Coach Vermeil.
We'd been raised on a great Thanksgiving Day football tradition—the ancient Bay State rivalry between Winchester and Woburn High Schools. The annual game, which started at 11 A.M., dated back into the 1890s.
We saw Joe Bellino play in that game. You can read about the rivalry here.
Our family decamped for California in the summer of 1960. The Golden State was a different place then.
Its population stood at a minuscule 15.7 million—but a new high school was opening in the state roughly every ten minutes. Soon, there stood "our dear Aragon, stately and serene"—and also, prepared to do battle with our instant arch-rival, Hillsdale High, which had been open at that time for something like six years.
(Cali's population today: 39.2 million!)
The rivalry was instant—and delightfully fierce. In this 2013 report from a publication called the Aragon Outlook, a whimsical Aragon kid named Sasha Menshikova reported that the origin of the rivalry had been lost in the mist:
MENSHIKOVA (12/12/13): Rivals: A tale of two schools
Approximately two miles away from Aragon lies the illustrious Hillsdale High School, where Aragon students’ old middle school acquaintances roam the halls. But they lead different lives now. They live by different rules and revere a metal clad figure. One might not find the person they knew several years ago under the red and blue face paint.
Hillsdale, Aragon’s longtime rival, is always shown as the villain in the Homecoming rally skit, even dating back to the ’70s.
English teacher Sandra Skale, an Aragon alumna and former cheerleader, says, “The schools here in San Mateo were built pretty close in time and so because of the close proximity there was a rivalry. They actually stole something from us or we stole something, but I’m not really 100 percent sure [of] the factual beginning of [the rivalry]. We wanted to beat them, and they wanted to beat us. Just like San Mateo and Burlingame.”
Tired old San Mateo and Burlingame High Schools had been playing each other forever. We Dons soon had a comparable rivalry, one which had emerged full-blown out of some junior boys' heads.
Hillsdale's red-and-blue garbed mascot is a knight—hence Menshikova's condescending reference to the reverence its students feel for that "metal clad figure." Reading her piece, we were glad to see that at least one thing remains unchanged—Aragon's traditionally dismissive attitude toward its more dutiful middle-class rival.
That dismissive attitude—a product of that culture clash—was present from the start! That said, we do remember how the instant rivalry started:
In the winter of 1962, during our brand-new school's first (though also last) "Spirit Week," some highly excitable junior boys ventured down the Alameda and painted our new rival school in Aragon hues—red and an unwanted black!
The rivalry was instant and heated. It took only the light from that match.
Aragon played Hillsdale on Turkey Day in our last three years of high school. (1962-63 was the first school year in which Aragon had seniors.) Thumbing back through our dusty yearbooks, we learned that the scores were these:
1962: Hillsdale 20, Aragon 18
1963: Aragon 7, Hillsdale 3
1964: Hillsdale 7, Aragon 0
Don't worry! Aragon's flawless basketball team defeated the Knights in six out of seven meetings during those three school years. That said, Hillsdale sent its center, Steve Kelly, off to Oregon State where he became a 7-foot high jumper, teaming with sacred Fosbury as part of the greatest high jump team in NCAA history.
(In all honesty, those Hillsdale teams were full of good guys. Bobby Marcucci, a prince!)
Back to Turkey Day! Hillsdale's coach in that first meeting was a handsome young guy named Dick Vermeil. After struggling to victory against Aragon's first-ever team, Coach apparently knew that he'd have to go elsewhere to really win the big one.
He finally did, as head coach of the St. Louis Rams in the 2000 Super Bowl! Aragon may have chased him away, but he managed to land on his feet!
Many years later, we like the cut of Menshikova's jib as she explored the cultural chasm which still seemed to exist between those aging Cali high schools.
When we arrived in 1960, the Golden State was practically empty. Then, they built all those schools!