Coach Jack Hatem and his staff have worked tirelessly to move Denison’s football program forward while leaning significantly on its past. A historical exploration of DU football traditions is providing today’s players lessons about work ethic, courage, perseverance, and the concept of team.
One aspect of the program’s history became a bit more tangible earlier this fall as Denison traveled to northeast Ohio and defeated the College of Wooster by a 27-13 score, and in doing so, reclaimed the Old Red Lantern, the trophy that each year is awarded to the victor of the long-standing rivalry game. After winning the right to keep the trophy consistently from its inception in the 1980s through 1994, the Big Red relinquished the artifact to Wooster in 1995 and hadn’t brought it home again until this year (although that span included five seasons in which the two teams did not meet).
So what’s the history lesson here?
The annual Denison-Wooster matchup is a game steeped in tradition. The teams play for possession of the trophy, an actual early train conductor’s lantern representing the numerous trips these teams made by rail between Wooster and Granville to compete against each other in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The significance is that Wooster was Denison’s first-ever varsity football opponent back in 1889, and Denison was, likewise, Wooster’s. In addition, on opening day in the fall of 1984, Wooster and Denison were each other’s first opponent in the newly formed North Coast Athletic Conference. In that game, played in Wooster, both college presidents agreed to move the kickoff up five minutes and start before other scheduled conference games, therefore claiming rights to the first competition in the new league.
Other historic features of the current football season include the team’s return to wearing red helmets and the recovery of a “lucky” horseshoe that had been hung in the Big Red locker room by Coach Woody Hayes ’35 during his undefeated seasons in 1947 and 1948.
Following the Wooster triumph and an earlier win over Hiram College, the Big Red were sitting atop the NCAC standings with a perfect 2-0 league ledger. When speaking to a sportswriter for the Wooster Daily Record after Saturday’s game, Hatem stated, “I’m really happy for our program and these kids in particular, because it’s been so long since we’ve taken the Old Red Lantern trophy back to our campus. We have a lot of respect for Wooster and its program, but I have to give our kids a lot credit. We played well today and this is a huge win for us, no question.”