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BELL GAME: HOW A HISTORIC RIVALRY CAME TO BE
It is the city’s most storied football contest, one of its most popular communal events, and recognized as the oldest ongoing rivalry west of the Mississippi.
It also figured significantly in the recently released "Two Rivers" documentary by FanVu.
This cross-town rivalry pitting Coach Kris Cotterman's Blue against Coach Jeff Wilson's Red began rather inconspicuously on Thanksgiving Day 1892 at the long-gone Minnequa Ball Park near Lake Minnequa.
“The ball had not been in play more than a minute when Marvin made a touchdown for the South Siders (Central) amid tremendous cheers by the Mesa contingent,” reads a Pueblo Chieftain recap of that first game.
"Cohn’s try for goal was a failure. Neither team failed to produce any scoring threat after that and the game ended in Central’s favor 4-0.”
On Friday, October 7, the 122nd meeting will see the Bulldogs try to reclaim the Bell from the Wildcats at Dutch Clark Stadium.
Ticket sales are already brisk, ensuring that once again, The Dutch will be awash in bright blue and red.
Although the rivalry dates back to 1892 – the year Ellis Island first began receiving immigrants and the first official basketball game was played at the YMCA in Springfield, Massachusetts – it didn’t become the Bell Game until 1950.
That year, Lou Rhoades, a fan of Pueblo high school football, donated a bell from an old C&W Railway Engine, which he envisioned would serve as a trophy to be awarded to the winner of the ongoing rivalry.
Per Mr. Rhoades' vision, the winner of the rivalry would be afforded the luxury of painting the cart that holds the “Victory Bell” with school colors and hosting it until the next playing of the contest.
For the record, Central won that first official Bell Game 40-27.
The introduction of the Bell ended the tradition of the two teams playing twice a year, including a Thanksgiving Day matchup, and led to the once-a-season gala that’s become the cornerstone of Pueblo high school athletic competition.
Although the teams take the field on Friday, Bell Game hysteria is well underway.
"Spirit Week" is marked by visits by players and spirit teams to feeder schools, assemblies and bashes, shouts of “Bell Rings Blue!” and “Bell Rings Red!,” and similar declarations visible on cars, in front yards and on other canvasses.
In 2019, Chaz Miles, a Central graduate who is now a professional recording artist, recorded a hip-hop song entitled “Bell Rings Blue,” which each year serves as the rallying cry for the Wildcats.
An official video of the song, filmed on the Central campus, continues to attract YouTube viewers, especially when the pre-game hype begins to swell.
There also is a "Bell Rings Red" song, created by G-REL (Jeloni Reliford), a proud graduate of Centennial who is now a respected educator in Greeley.
Through the years, the Bell Game has featured such luminaries as Wildcat Earl “Dutch” Clark, one of the greats of the NFL: Bulldog David Packard, the celebrated computer magnate; and athletes who went on to play the highest levels of collegiate athletics and even the NFL.
The rich and colorful history of this contest is perhaps best encapsulated in “The Steel City Football Almanac,” a history of Pueblo football written by 1959 Central graduate David Mihalick.
“I’d go down to the library at the Chieftain and look at old newspapers,” Mr. Mihalick told Chieftain reporter Jeff Letofsky in 1992. “Everybody thought the rivalry started in 1921, but I traced it back to 1892 and as it turned out, I discovered it was one of the first rivalries in the state.
“I don’t know when I decided to make a book out of all my findings. It got more and more exciting when I found relatives and friends in the files.”
Having earned the Bell for three years running, Central also has the edge in the overall victory tally. The longest winning streak is 6, owned by Central, with the Wildcats also claiming victory in the 100th playing of the contest.
On 9 different occasions, the contest has ended in a tie. The first overtime contest came in 2008, which Central won by a score of 22-21.
So what's it going to be: Blue or Red?