Saturday at McCarthy Field: The Big Game

Whoever said it was only a game had it wrong. Like so many of the great football rivalries across the decades — Harvard and Yale, Army and Navy, Ohio State and Michigan — the rivalry between the Vineyard and Nantucket is buried deep in the psyche of the people who live on the two Islands. The slumbering beast awakens once a year with an infectious burst of energy and rah-rah. In this case that means the Saturday before Thanksgiving, and this year the Big Game will be played at home.

The Island Cup is polished and up for grabs. Not to mention bragging rights.

The cup is thirty years old this year, but in fact the football rivalry is even older than that and began in 1961. “A legend hangs around for a long time, not lagging much behind history,” declared the Vineyard Gazette in an editorial in 1982. That was after the Vineyard had beaten Nantucket.

So what is the scouting report this year? The Vineyard has the better record on the season and enters tomorrow’s match as a heavy favorite, with the impenetrable defensive line that has held this young team together all season. Nantucket has had a spotty year and its ranks are thin; the junior varsity game traditionally held on Saturday morning was cancelled because Nantucket did not have enough players to field a team.

But rush to judgment is never wise when it comes to the Island Cup. Nantucket still has the better record — both in the history of the cup (17 and 12), and in the overall history of the football match (35, 22 and 3).

And of course this great rivalry has been bolstered by two of the greatest coaches in the history of Cape and Islands high school football. A perennial wizard with his Vineyard team, Donald Herman is gruff on the exterior, involved in the kids’ lives both on and off the field and engenders a John Wooden kind of respect among his players. Over on our sister island, the wily and resourceful Vito Capizzo is a legend in his own right, despite his problems with a smaller pool of players and a high school football dynasty that appears to be fading into the shadow of soccer. Every few years rumors circulate that Vito is going to retire, but these are undoubtedly the hopeful fantasies of his many gridiron opponents. As for Coach Herman, he too seems ageless, retirement somehow unthinkable.

But back to the Big Game. Kickoff time is one o’clock at McCarthy Field. The Island Cup will be there, surrounded by thousands of fans from both Islands.

Polished and up for grabs.