By Ron Brocato, Clarion Herald Sports
Traditions die hard in a historic city like New Orleans and its metropolitan area.
Regardless of the changes brought about by time, the folks here cling to things that have significant meaning in their lives.
It’s especially true in sports, where rivalries seem to live forever, even if some are mere footnotes of past chapters. We hold our past dear.
One that lives on will take place on Friday (Sept. 20) when Holy Cross makes its annual trip to St. Bernard Parish to face Chalmette for a landmark 50th time.
The meeting is one of three milestone games on the Holy Cross football schedule. The Tigers will meet their oldest rival, Jesuit, for the 100th time on Oct. 4 and then take on Warren Easton for a 50th game on Oct. 11. Holy Cross will be the home team at Tad Gormley Stadium for both.
As far as confrontations go, the rivalry with Chalmette has historically been more contentious off the field than between the goal lines. The Tigers have dominated the series, which began in 1967. They hold a 34-12-3 lead through 12 coaching changes at the Catholic school over that span.
That mark notwithstanding, this is still a rivalry that dates back to the days the two schools were located just a few miles apart. It was a battle of the Lower 9th Ward vs. “Da Parish,” from which Holy Cross drew a large percentage of its students because it was the closest Catholic school to St. Bernard Parish.
The first game between the two happened by chance when they were matched against each other in the second week of the 1967 Class 3A state playoffs. Holy Cross was loaded with a strong senior class that carried the Tigers to the state championship game two weeks later.
Stars of the future
Chalmette also had a strong contingent of athletes, but the best of the bunch were juniors, including future Ole Miss and Denver Broncos quarterback Norris Weese.
Holy Cross won easily, 27-6, en route to a 13-2 record and a runner-up finish. Chalmette, coached by former St. Aloysius and Tulane guard Bobby Nuss, posted a respectable 8-3 record.
The two schools should have played the next season, when Chalmette had arguably its finest team ever. That 1968 squad, with senior Weese at the helm and hard-running Stan Moley at fullback, ran roughshod through the public-school district. The Owls’ defense held its seven league foes to 32 points.
That team outscored its district opposition by 329 points, then defeated Istrouma, 39-13, and LaGrange, 9-0, before taking on the state’s No. 1 team, Woodlawn of Shreveport, quarterbacked by record-setting passing whiz Joe Ferguson (Arkansas and the Buffalo Bills). The school records Ferguson broke were owned by Terry Bradshaw.
Among Woodlawn’s fallen was Holy Cross. Ferguson’s aerial wizardry produced a 35-13 win in the quarterfinal round game against the Tigers.
Chalmette met the Knights in the semifinal game the following Friday. A daylong deluge turned Chalmette’s on-campus battlefield into a quagmire. Neither future NFL quarterback was able to perform at his best. Woodlawn won the game, 14-0, but Ferguson had a season-low 157 passing yards on 10 completions and failed to throw a touchdown pass for the first time in his fabled career. At that time, Chalmette was an all-boys high school.
Entered Catholic League
The rivalry with Holy Cross began as an annual event in 1970 when Louisiana’s public high schools completely integrated, and Chalmette moved into the Catholic League for the first time.
The Owls’ success has been sporadic. The 1978 team, which routed Holy Cross 41-0, played eventual state champion St. Augustine for a share of the Catholic League title, and lost, 20-19, before a record Chalmette stadium crowd of 14,000, and missed a berth in the playoffs.
Even after Hurricane Katrina devastated both campuses, the two resumed their rivalry a year later.
That 2005 storm was the death knell for four other parish high schools, leaving Chalmette as St. Bernard Parish’s only coed school, and a member of the Jefferson Parish public district of 8-5A.
Holy Cross has relocated to Gentilly. But several Catholic school students who reside in Chalmette attend Holy Cross.
The Owls take a 2-0 record into the clash against the 1-1 Tigers. But those numbers mean little to the players and coaches.
Although Brother Martin is now the closest Catholic high school to St. Bernard, Chalmette vs. Holy Cross is still a neighborhood rivalry. It will always be because some traditions never die.
Ron Brocato can be reached at email@example.com.