Friday, January 29, 2010

When it comes to the HU-UD rivalry, the good ol’ days WERE always good and tomorrow IS as bad as it seems

When I go out to have a nice cold beer in the shade, I fondly recall the good ol' days of the Hofstra-Delaware rivalry.

If you’re tired of reading about me waxing nostalgic about the good ol’ days when Hofstra’s best rivalry was its one with Delaware—you know, just like I did here last February and here again last November—well, I hope you accept my advance apologies and choose to forgive me for going to the well once again.

But with Delaware coming to the Arena tomorrow afternoon, I can’t help but once again reflect back on the days when a game against the Blue Hens—in any sport—meant absolutely everything, and to wonder how soon until the final shovelful of dirt is tossed upon this once-great rivalry.

It can’t be said enough: Those of you too young to know about the passion of the Dutchmen-Blue Hens rivalry have no idea what you missed. You have no idea how great it was to have a true rival within driving distance, to be able to go to and fro within the same day, to spend the car ride down wondering what great things awaited and the ride back chewing over what could have been, or, occasionally, marveling at what actually happened.

And it wasn’t just in basketball and football (I won’t bore you again with tales of those great games of yesteryear). A quick perusal of Hofstra media guides reveals that there were plenty of memorable clashes in other sports as well.

Delaware prevented the Flying Dutchwomen basketball team from becoming the most unlikely NCAA participant of all-time in 1991. The Dutchwomen went 2-25 during the regular season but won two ECC tournament games to advance to the championship against Delaware, which held off the Dutchwomen in a 60-52 win.

The Flying Dutchwomen volleyball team lost to Delaware in the NAC championship match in 1994 but beat the Blue Hens in the title tilt each of the next two years. The Flying Dutchwomen softball team beat Delaware in the America East title game in 1998, outlasted the Blue Hens in 20 innings in a tournament game in 2000 and eked out a 2-1, 9-inning win in the CAA title game in 2004, the year the Dutchwomen came within one win of reaching the College World Series.

And in baseball, the Dutchmen’s last three trips to a conference tournament featured lopsided losses to Delaware—a 13-2 loss that ended the 2005 season, an 8-0 loss in the America East tournament in 1998 and a mind-boggling 27-2 loss that eliminated the Dutchmen from the 1996 NAC tournament. True story: Immediately thereafter, I wrote a blog blasting Delaware for being a bunch of big fat meanies.

Notice a familiar trend within the Hofstra-Delaware rivalry? Most of the memories took place before the two schools joined Drexel and Towson in bolting for the CAA in 2001. Turns out that the stars are as imperfectly aligned now as they were perfectly aligned back then.

Hofstra and Delaware are just two remote schools in a southern-based conference, not centrally located superpowers. David Henderson undid all of Mike Brey’s good work and Monte Ross has yet to clean up the mess: The Blue Hens, who lost star Brian Johnson to a season-ending knee injury in the preseason and are just 6-15 (including 2-8 in the CAA) and well on their way to a sixth straight losing season.

The Dutchmen haven’t returned to the NCAA Tournament since Jay Wright departed after the second of back-to-back America East titles, and most people are out of patience and in no mood to hear about the complexities of the issue and why Tom Pecora has a far steeper hill to climb than Wright ever did. And while Delaware remained a national power in football and won the I-AA championship in 2003—nobody knows that, of course, just ask Stuart Rabinowitz—football at Hofstra was allowed to wither under the new president until he finally mercy killed it in December.

You missed how good it was back then and I know you’re missing it now, because really, no one has taken Delaware’s place as Hofstra’s archrival. I heard a whole lot more from George Mason fans last week than Hofstra fans last week, which says even less for Dutch Nation (snort) than it does Mason Nation. And if equal parts apathy and geography have rendered Mason just another foe, then what hope is there that the Dutchmen can enjoy a rivalry with a school south of Maryland such as Old Dominion?

Drexel and Northeastern are the closest things Hofstra has to a rival now, but again, while there’s a good amount of history there—especially with Drexel—and geographical proximity, it’s just not the same. All we can do is hope for another magical sequence of events that pits the Dutchmen against Drexel or Northeastern for basketball supremacy in the CAA—or wherever the schools happen to end up.

And whether that’s the A-10 or a conference started entirely from scratch, the overwhelming odds are the future home for Hofstra, Drexel and Northeastern won’t include Delaware, which, unlike the first three schools, is still a good fit with a CAA that clearly wants to be known as much for football as for basketball.

Soon—whether it’s next year or when the Big East blows up in 2014 and sets off a chain of events that will alter Division I as we know it—we’ll no longer be subjected to annual reminders of how good things used to be between Hofstra and Delaware. Which, given the unfortunate yet wholly avoidable deterioration of the rivalry, might actually be for the best.

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