BOWLING GREEN — The game isn’t on television. Attendance will be in the neighborhood of 20,000, maybe, if they’re lucky. All we hear is that the Bowling Green-Toledo football game doesn’t pack the roundhouse punch it used to pack.
Well, stop by the Falcons’ locker room and ask how important Saturday’s game at Doyt Perry Stadium might be.
Not one current BG player has been in uniform for a victory over the Rockets. Or should we say the rival Rockets? Or the dreaded Rockets?
Tight end Alex Bayer is one of eight fifth-year seniors on the Falcons’ roster, all of whom red-shirted in 2009 when BG last beat Toledo, 38-24, mere observers, insiders yet outsiders.
“Everybody was so excited,” Bayer said, recalling the post-game celebration in the locker room. “We still played for the Peace Pipe [Trophy] back then and I remember seeing the older guys smiling, jumping around, and taking pictures with it.”
He hasn’t seen it since, he Peace Pipe or its more politically correct and less exotic successor, the Battle of I-75 Trophy.
“It’s something I wish we’d had the last three years,” Bayer said. “It makes this a huge game. This is our last chance. No one wants to be the class that loses to its rival every single year. And I know they’re up there thinking the opposite. Their seniors want to be the class that beats their rival every year.”
It happens. BG old-timers remember when the Falcons won a whopping 12 straight over Toledo from 1955-67, the first 10 of those under coach Doyt Perry. All they did was name The Doyt after The Doyt.
Bowling Green took four straight from 1975-78 and again from 1991-94. The Rockets took their turn from 1995-98.
It’s now or never for the current BG seniors. And, conversely, it’s a chance at making some memorable history for Toledo’s seniors.
“When you recruit a player here and you talk about the history and tradition, a big part of that is the game against Toledo,” said BG coach Dave Clawson, himself 1-3 against UT. “I don’t think the players truly understand [the rivalry] until they see the jubilation of the locker room after winning the game or the depression of the locker room and the pain of not winning the game.”
The red-shirt players were witnesses to the jubilation in ’09. Since…
“Since then, it hasn’t been much fun,” Bayer said. “After three years of playing them and three losses … you know, that team up there, we really don’t like them. Three straight losses; we’ve got to go out with a win.”
Not to make excuses for the Falcons, but not much was expected of them the last few tries. After a mass exodus of seniors following the ’09 season, Clawson embarked on a serious rebuilding project. He admits that in 2010 and ’11 his team would have had to overachieve to beat Toledo and that he was disappointed with the early-season effort and performance a year ago. Still, a BG win at the Glass Bowl would have been an upset even in a year both teams found life in the postseason.
This time, the folks in Las Vegas say BG is the favorite and Clawson would be disappointed if they were not correct.
Both teams are contenders, or as the Falcons’ coach put it, “in pennant races” in their respective MAC divisions. The game is critical in that regard, as well, as if the pot needed sweetening for the players involved.
“I think this is the best Toledo team we’ve faced in the five years I’ve been here,” Clawson said. “And this is our best team. This year is the best both teams have been for this game. They are two good teams with good football players. The team that performs the best on Saturday is likely to be the team that wins. I don’t have to be concerned if our guys are up for this one.”
The seniors on both sides will make sure of that for different reasons.
On the BG side, Bayer and his senior teammates sure want to sing Ay Ziggy Zoomba, just once, and have it rattle off the walls all the way down to the UT locker room.
Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6398.