There was nothing quite like it.
For a Catholic schoolboy growing up in Delaware the 1960s, Friday nights meant one thing: Sallies football under the lights at Baynard Stadium. Nearly every Catholic grade school at the time had a football team, and we all dreamed of going on to play at Salesianum – the powerhouse that dominated Delaware high school football year after year.
Sallies was so good that the in-state teams wouldn’t put them on the schedule. They played big schools from the Philadelphia Catholic league and other top schools in the region.
After finishing practice at Holy Rosary, my teammates and I would head down to Baynard Stadium for the Sallies games on Friday nights. Throwing passes to each other behind the end zone at halftime, we’d pretend we were playing for Sallies. Legendary coaches Dim Montero and Wayne Allen routinely groomed Sallies players to play in college, and every Catholic eighth-grader dreamed of being the next Joe Freebery, Mike Webb or Kevin Reilly.
So the rivalry was inevitable when St. Mark’s opened in 1969. After much soul-searching, a group of us from the Catholic grade school teams opted to take a chance on the new school with the beautiful campus off Kirkwood Highway. We went to play for the Spartans, determined to start our own tradition.
My first year, we played the Sallies freshmen and lost 56-0. The first varsity up was my junior year in 1972. Sallies, led by Notre Dame-bound Mark McLane, beat us 20-13, surviving a last-minute challenge that ended with a St. Mark’s fumble inside the Sallies’ five. The Sals went on to win the state championship.
This was the legacy the Spartans were up against on Nov. 9, 1973, as St. Mark’s played our second varsity game against the mighty Sals. On our way to the game, it started snowing, so we arrived to find Baynard Stadium lit up, with a blanket of snow on the field. It was surreal and only added to the excitement that gripped the air in the stadium filled with more than 6,500 fans.
Nobody really gave us Spartans much of a chance. This was Sallies, and it was Friday night under the lights at Baynard Stadium. The legions of faithful Salesianum alumni would be there.
We were nervous but determined. And we took it to Sallies right from the start. After returning the opening kickoff to midfield, we drove the ball right down the field. Our first touchdown came on a scrambling 5-yard pass to future All-Pro Denver Bronco split end Steve Watson in the back of the end zone.
We scored again in the second quarter on a 45-yard run up the middle by three-time All-State fullback Chuck Hunter, who went on to play tight end for Ohio State. Sallies got on the board just before the half to make the score 13-7. The second half was a defensive slugfest. Co-captain and linebacker Paul Schweizer led the Spartans’ inspired defensive effort with lots of help from my brother, Mike Carney, Bill Glennon, John Choma, Dave Burhman, Doug DeHart and Dave Vones, who sealed the victory with a last-minute interception.
As Sallies and St. Mark’s have traded victories and defeats during the past four decades, the rivalry has been passed on from one generation to the next. St. Mark’s has built its own winning tradition, and the Sals keep marching on. Today’s grade-schoolers still flock to the game – throwing passes on the hill beside the stands.
The team that wins isn’t necessarily the most skilled. It’s always the team that shows up with the most heart and desire. I have no doubt that will be the case this year and for the next four decades of Sallies-St. Mark’s football.