Their annual battles on the off the football fields were just that...wars!
Located less than two miles from each other, pranks were not uncommon on the days and nights before the two squared off at either Heinemann Park (Pelican Stadium) or at Loyola’s stadium. Easton students would paint slogans on the side of Jesuit’s building, Jesuit students would parade in front of Easton with a dead bird (eagle if they could find one) hanging from the back of a hearse. And still today,
The folklore continues that a goat that served as Jesuit’s mascot in the 1930s is buried somewhere in back of the Easton school grounds.
That rivalry, whose attendance of 33,000 in 1936 outdrew the first Sugar Bowl game, has given way to another, less vicious and more traditional series.
Jesuit and Holy Cross, which first played in 1922, will meet again Friday at Tad Gormley Stadium for the 88th year. That Catholic school grid rivalry, which has continued every year in spite of a Great Depression, four international wars, several hurricanes and reclassification of Louisiana high schools, is Louisiana’s oldest and one of the longest-lasting prep football traditions in the U.S.
The game, scheduled for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff, will be televised live by WLAE (Cox channel 14) as part of its promotions of the Nov. 14 special, “Glory Days: the Catholic League of New Orleans.” And for the third straight year, it has been chosen as the U.S. Marine Corp’s Great American Rivalry Game of the Year.
Jesuit, which had established itself as a prep power several years before Holy Cross fielded its first team, holds a 51-37-2 records over the Tigers. But despite the disparity of the record, the rivalry has been interested indeed.
Let’s examine the history of Blue Jays vs. Tigers chronologically over the decades:
1922 – Holy Cross boosters raised $150 to hire a football coach. Well-respected referee Leo Ernst took the job. But the Blue Jays humbled the Tiger “cubs,” 32-0.
1925 – Jesuit’s three-year rout of Holy Cross ended when Tigers coach Jimmy Burns recruited several students to the school from the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Led by halfback Joe McGlinchey, Holy Cross crushed the Jays, 45-0, and claimed a share of the city prep title with Warren Easton. McGlinchey scored a record 22 touchdowns in a 9-1-1 season.
1927 – After languishing through a 7-7 tie with Holy Cross in 1926, new coach “Doc” Erskine put together one of Jesuit’s finest teams of that era. Led by backs Bernard “Shorty” Gannon and Warren Aitkins, the Jays handed Coach Johnny Lynch’s Tigers a 72-0 shellacking, which stands as the series’ widest margin of victory to date. Jesuit finished the season with an 8-0 record, but, because the LHSAA was a public school association until 1929, the Blue Jays were not allowed to compete in the playoffs.
1933 – The Blue Jays won every game of the series from 1927 through 1933. The ’33 team, legendary coach Gernon Brown’s first, not only defeated Holy Cross, 20-0, it also shut out 12 of 13 opponents, including Byrd High in winning the school’s first state championship. The only team to score on the Jays was Fortier, which Jesuit edged, 7-6.
1934 – Behind tailback Barrett Booth, Holy Cross finally snapped the Blue Jays streak, 6-0, before losing to Byrd in the Class A championship game, 14-0.
1937 – The first major controversy occurred when the two teams end their game in a 6-6 tie. Under the new LHSAA rule, tie games had to have a winner declared by which team (1) had more first downs, or (2) if first downs were also tied, which had more penetrations inside the other’s 20-yard line. The game officials awarded Jesuit the victory on penetrations, but Holy Cross coach Chuck Jaskwhich complained that his team had one more first down than Jesuit and should be declared the winner. He took his case to the LHSAA, and an investigation revealed that the officials did not keep an accurate count of first downs. As a result, the LHSAA opined that the game was a “no contest.”
(AUTHOR’S NOTE: The question is did that technicality end the series’ consecutive string? Jesuit entered the result in its records as a win, Holy Cross as a tie. Jesuit in later years relented and settled for a tie on paper).
1940 – The Blue Jays and Tigers set a City Park Stadium attendance mark of 34,345, which stands as a record today. More than 1,000 fans were turned away at the gate. Called Jesuit’s greatest team, this Blue Jay squad beat the Tigers, 25-7, and went 11-0, defeating Lake Charles, 26-6, for the school’s second state title. Only one team, St. Aloysius, played within two touchdowns of the Jays in a 20-6 loss.
1945 – Under Brown, Jesuit ruled the decade of the Forties, winning three more state titles in 1941, 1943 and 1946. But under former Blue Jay assistant, Lou Brownson, Holy Cross had its say in a big way in ’45 when it bounced Jesuit, 26-6, then went on to win the state championship via a 31-13 rout of Fair Park. In the semifinal round game, called by many writers at the time, “The greatest prep ever played in Louisiana,” Holy Cross won a battle of attrition over Istrouma, 33-32, when the Baton Rouge school missed a game-tying PAT on the last play of the game. Tennessee’s 1951 Heisman Trophy runner-up Hank Lauricella, was a sophomore on that Tiger team.
1948-50 – Jesuit fell upon hard times after sweeping all four Louisiana championship sports in 1946 while Brownson of Holy Cross put together three excellent teams led by All-State halfback Joe Heap. Heap scored at will against the Jays in 55-0 (the largest margin scored by Holy Cross), 33-13 and 18-14 victories. Heap ended his career with 55 touchdowns that stood as a city record for 26 years.
1951 – Holy Cross beat Jesuit twice, 20-6, and 18-14, in a playoff for the right to represent New Orleans in the state playoffs. Istrouma halted the Tigers’ try for a second state title, a week later, 38-20. Jesuit led the series at that point, 19-10-2.
1952 – Jesuit got back on the winning track in Brown’s last year as head coach, upsetting the favored Tigers, 14-7. But the Jays’ 7-0 loss to St. Aloysius gave Coach Eddie Toribio’s Crusaders their first city title.
1953 – Toribio, a former All-State back and Jesuit assistant, returned to his alma mater to coach the Blue Jays to their sixth state championship with a squad that included backs Mickey Lanasa and Richie Petitbon, All-American guard Al Ecuyer, center Will Billon and tackle Russ Carroll. Holy Cross lost to the Jays, 47-13.
1954 – Led by Earl Schneider’s then-record 1,280 rushing yards, Holy Cross won the final Prep League title with a 9-2 record. The Tigers edged a 4-7 Jesuit team, 21-19. Baton Rouge High produced the two Tiger losses, 33-12 and 27-21 in the South Louisiana playoff game. Catholic and public schools formed separate districts the following year and Jesuit ended its annual game against Warren Easton.
1958-60 – When the Catholic League formed in 1955, St. Aloysius and Redemptorist were the early powers. But when Jesuit’s Adrian Colon suffered an injury in the first game of the 1958 season a young sophomore, Pat Screen, took his place as the tailback. In Screen’s three years at that position, Jesuit did not lose another Catholic League game. The Jesuit coach, Ken Tarzetti, and Holy Cross mentor, John Kalbacher, were brothers-in-law and Tarzetti owned the family bragging rights by the scores of 28-7 in 1958, 33-20 in 1959 and 27-0 in 1960. Screen led the Jays to a 21-20 win over LaGrange in Lake Charles for the school’s seventh Louisiana title and led the state in scoring with 146 points.
1963 – Kalbacher got his revenge in a big way during this decade. His Holy Cross Tigers defeated their Catholic league nemesis seven times to close the series deficit to 28-20-2. The most notable year was 1963 when Holy Cross defeated the Blue Jays, 7-0, to win the league championship, then beat them again for the state title, 14-6. That game marked the first year the LHSAA allowed two teams from the same district to enter the playoffs.
1966 – One of the great duels of backs matched Holy Cross’ Butch Duhe against Jesuit’s Jack Laborde. Duhe led the Tigers to as 20-7 win over the Jays for the Catholic League title, but Jesuit and Laborde lasted a week longer in the state playoffs. Duhe and Laborde scored 85 and 84 points, respectively, for the city scoring lead.
1967 – With most of its key players returning Holy Cross defeated Jesuit, 22-13, then played for the Class 3A state title against Airline. On a frozen field in Shreveport, the Tigers, who entered the game with a 13-1 record, succumbed to the cold weather and Vikings, 20-7.
1975 – Kalbacher ends his 18-year career as the school’s most successful coach in the rivalry. His Tigers beat the Jays 13 times while losing just six games.
1978 – First year Tiger coach Henry Rando tried an innovative idea to motivate his winless team. Shortly before kickoff of the Tigers’ game with Jesuit, Rando broke out with “Notre Dame Green” jerseys to replace the Navy blue garb. The ploy did not work. Jesuit won the game, 36-0, and the district championship while Holy Cross failed to win any of its 10 games. The green shirts were never seen again.
1980-89 – Four different coaches (Rando, L.J. Giambelluca, Vic Eumont and Tom Gruber) led Holy Cross to seven wins over the Blue Jays during this decade to close the Jesuit series lead to 37-31-2
1990-99 – But under coaches Danny Abramowicz and Mark Songy, Jesuit bounces back to win five straight games and eight during the decade over the Tigers.
2000 – The game became a classic as the two schools scored almost at will. But young coach Scott Bairnsfather’s Tigers won the point parade, 48-45, after two overtimes. The game also unveiled two of the school’s finest players: Jesuit’s Chris Markey, who, as a senior in 2003, rushed for more than 2,000 yards and was named “Louisiana’s Mr. Football,” and Holy Cross’ receiver/return specialist, Gino Giambelluca, who went on to play at LSU and is now a Jesuit assistant coach.
2005 – Hurricane Katrina destroyed the Holy Cross Ninth Ward campus and all of the first floor at Jesuit, but former Holy Cross teammates Vic Eumont, then the Jesuit coach, and Barry Wilson, his Tiger counterpart, were determined to keep the series going. They found enough displaced players to put together teams and met in Metairie. The Tigers won the game, 20-10, before more than 1,000 spectators, many of whom were left homeless by the storm. Although Jesuit had to hold classes in Dallas and later at night on the St. Martin’s campus, and Holy Cross resumed school in Baton Rouge, the two coaches helped local prep fans return to some normality to their lives that fall.
2006 – A drop in Holy Cross’ attendance while its new school was being built, forced the Tigers to play in a lower classification, but they maintained their rivalry with Jesuit every year and plan to return to Class 5A status by 2013.
For more information on the rivalry, an excellent Website is www.bluejaystigers.com. To learn more about the WLAE special, “Glory Days,” log on to www.thecatholicleague.com.