Rhinelander and Antigo football teams have always had a strong rivalry. In 1930 though, the annual Bell Game between the two teams got particularly competitive.
Gary Entz has the story for this week's A Northwoods Moment in History.
The annual Bell Game between Rhinelander and Antigo is almost here. This is a tradition dating back to 1935, but the rivalry between the two schools goes back much further than the inauguration of the bell trophy, and the game of 1930 was particularly memorable for several reasons, not least of which were the fans.
When Antigo met Rhinelander on the football field in 1930, the Antigo seniors had never known defeat from the hands of Rhinelander, and the Rhinelander seniors had never tasted a victory over Antigo. The scores from the previous four years had been: Antigo, 18-0 over Rhinelander in 1926. Antigo, 33-0 over Rhinelander in 1927. Antigo, 52 to 0 over Rhinelander in 1928. And Antigo, 85 to 9 over Rhinelander in 1929. So, over the previous four years, Antigo had humiliated Rhinelander by a collective 188 points to 9. In fact, the streak of Antigo victories went back at least a decade. But going into the1930 game Rhinelander was 2-2 and having a decent year while Antigo was struggling with a record of 0-3-2, so when the two teams met anticipations were high for a significant grudge match. The Antigo Red Robins entered the week leading up to the game with the slogan “Beat Rhinelander again,” with the emphasis on the “again.” The Rhinelander Hodags entered the week determined to avenge the crushing defeats they suffered over the last few years.
This was the biggest game of the year for both teams, and fans turned out in large numbers. Antigo brought a 30-piece band and about 200 fans to Rhinelander for the game, while Rhinelander was playing in front of a home-town crowd and did not want to disappoint again. Tensions that afternoon were palpable.
Unlike the games of previous years, the 1930 contest was a low-scoring slugfest with neither side able to dominate the other. Victory for either side was still possible when the Antigo marching band took the field to play. The band was there only to perform and marched in formation and showed its respect for both sides by carrying banners bearing the letters “A” for Antigo and “R” for Rhinelander. But as the band played, a Rhinelander student ran out onto the field waving a large banner bearing the letter “R” colored in bright green. An Antigo fan in the stands took offense, left his seat, and forcibly knocked the sign from the student’s hand. The moment this happened, fans on the Rhinelander side poured out of the stands to assist the student. The Antigo side rushed out in response, and a fight between the fans ensued in the middle of the field. The Rhinelander police had to be called out in full force to break up the melee.
After getting the bruised fans back in the stands, the two teams finished the game in front of a surly crowd. The final score was Rhinelander 7 and Antigo 6. A low-scoring effort but a memorable game for the record books.
This story was written by Gary Entz and produced for radio by Mackenzie Martin. Some music for this commentary came Podington Bear. Other music came from Blue Dot Sessions: Coronea by Blue Dot Sessions (www.sessions.blue).