Monon Bell Classic: One of College Football's Best Rivalries
Photos by Marc Viquez, Stadium Journey
It might be among the best college football rivalries in the nation, even if you have never heard of it. The Monon Bell Classic dates back to 1890 between Division III schools Wabash College and DePauw University. The two campuses are separated by 27 miles of Indiana country roads, but on gameday, the atmosphere ranks up with the best D-I schools.
Wabash is home of the Little Giants and located in Crawfordsville, with an enrollment of 835 undergraduates. It is one of three remaining all-men liberal arts colleges in the country. DePauw is home to the Tigers and has an enrollment of 2,161 students. The attendance at the game is 73 percent more than the two schools' combined number of students.
The site alters teacher years between DePauw’s Blackstone Stadium and Wabash’s Little Giant Stadium, with weather conditions as unpredictable as the annual outcome. Last season, DePauw won convincingly at home in snowy conditions 49-14, fans were warned not to throw snowballs. This year’s contest was held under clear skies in the upper 50s in front of 8,100 people.
The festivities begin well before the opening kickoff at 1:00 p.m. with various tailgating spots set up by students and alumni. The school soccer pitch becomes the Monon Bell Village, and scores of tables decked out with food, from grilled burgers, sandwiches, salty chips, baked goods, and casserole. Perhaps the fanciest of all is the alumni tent, offering an assortment of fine bourbon and cigars.
The DePauw fans set their tailgating down the old railroad tracks that once transported the Tiger faithful. Their area is equally festive but much smaller. A Wabash student made his way into the grassy area, and hurls of insults rained on him like a visiting right fielder at old Yankee Stadium. The f-word is said before each school by the opposing side.
As kickoff approaches, a Wabash grad from 1976 was making his first visit since he was a spry 22-year-old, and this reporter was still in diapers and a crib. He had relocated to Florida and never made his way back to his alma mater. He admitted that a lot had changed, including Little Giant Stadium, rebuilt in 2021, but the atmosphere was still the same along with beating the Tigers.
There are separate entrances and bleacher seating for both schools. Temporary bleachers flank the field, but neither side mixes during the game. You can easily spot the Wabash red section from DePauw’s black and gold area but don’t accidentally wander into enemy territory.
A 300-pound bell trophy was donated from the Monon locomotive in 1932. The alumni felt that a symbol should be used to represent the annual contest between the two schools. At the time, the Monon would transport students back and forth between the two campuses, and since that day, the bell can be heard hours before and after the game ringing aloud.
The student sections stand for most of the game and flank the endzones of today’s contest. The weather was warm enough for a few of them to paint their bare chests while others donned the traditional coveralls in appropriate team colors. Walking underneath these two packed sections merits ducking in and out saliva from the yells and chants.
The main grandstand has swelled with alumni and locals who have become accustomed to the annual November pantry. There have only been six occasions where this game had not taken place, once during COVID and before that in 1910 when Wabash’s Ralph Wilson was killed in a game against St. Louis. The school canceled the rest of their season after four weeks in respect.
Finally, it’s kick-off, and almost every seat in the bleachers and grandstand is filled. Their voices can be heard after every defensive hit, first down, long run, or pass. The men of the Sphinx Club are noticeable in their red-and-white-striped overalls and pot as they rev up the Wabash side of the field. When the home team scores, they all do push-ups following the score.
The game is a back-and-forth effort that features five lead changes, a blocked PAT, a fumble, and a blocked field goal attempt in overtime that resulted in Nathan McCahill diving into the endzone for the game-winning touchdown and a 33-30 victory for the visiting Tigers.
The student section storms the field to honor their heroes of the day, with McCahill hoisted upon his teammate's shoulders. Hundreds of fans crowd around the center of the field. They rejoice in excitement; the bell will be secured for one more year on the DePauw campus.
For the Wabash faithful, it is a bitter taste left in their mouth as they leave the stadium, but there is always next year when these two rivals face off again 27 miles south in Greencastle for the 130th meeting of the Monon Bell Classic, one the best college football rivalries in the nation.