They say it can't be a rivalry if one team wins all the games. I think that's hogwash.
The Golden Grizzlies of Oakland University (Rochester, Michigan, not Oakland, California) joined the Mid-Continent Conference for the 1999-2000 season as they transitioned from Division II to Division I.
The one team in the conference they couldn't seem to beat was Valpo. All of the games, except two, were nail-biters. One way or another, Valpo would always emerge victorious when the final buzzer sounded. Every year, there was one game that would certainly be a sell-out at Oakland's O'Rena. They used to say this was the game that was circled in everybody's schedule. Year after year, the O'Rena would be packed for one game: the game against Valpo. And every year, Valpo would strut into the place and find some way to pull out a win. Many of the games at Valpo followed pretty much the same script.
And all throughout, people kept saying, "it's not a rivalry because the same team wins every game." But both teams played the games like it was a rivalry, and the fans of both schools attended/watched/listened to the games as if it was a rivalry. As a Valpo fan, I can assure you that as badly as Oakland fans wanted to beat Valpo every year, that's how badly we wanted Valpo to beat Oakland every year. They wanted to break the losing streak. We wanted to keep it going. Almost every game was down to the wire. I have a funny feeling the players on both teams, and even the coaches, looked at it the same way the fans did. Maybe the best way to put it is that these two teams brought out the best in each other. In my book, that's a rivalry. I don't care how one-sided the final results were.
Well, the point is moot now anyway. In 2006, after losing to Valpo at the Athletics Recreation Center (ARC), the Golden Grizzlies finally broke the spell and beat Valpo in the O'Rena. In 2007, they swept the Crusaders, building a home winning streak against them and finally scoring their first win at the ARC.
In 2008, Valpo joined the Horizon League and the Mid-Con became the Summit League. For whatever reason, it was not possible for Valpo to schedule games against its former rivals, but fans of the two teams did not completely lose their connection to each other.
Finally in December of 2010, the rivalry was renewed at the O'Rena in the championship game of the Lou Henson holiday tournament after Valpo struggled to defeat Eastern Michigan and the Grizzlies dispatched their neighbor Rochester College. The result: a 103-102 Valpo win in regulation that was one for the ages. Brandon Wood went off for 36 points and Cory Johnson added 33, but it took every last bullet to outlast the hosts who brought their A-game. Travis Bader drained some threes and Drew Valentine and Will Hudson were each a handful by themselves. Neither team was able to maintain any kind of separation for very long. In short, it was a memorable game, and the return match at the ARC was already scheduled.
Tonight was that game. Valpo built a 17-point lead in the second half, and just as quickly it evaporated. Reggie Hamilton, who torched Tennessee earlier this year at the O'Rena, went off again for Oakland. He was everywhere, making contested shot after contested shot. Voila! The normal mode of an OU-VU game was restored. It went right down to the wire again. Only this time, Reggie Hamilton had one more bullet left, sinking a bank shot from the charity stripe as the buzzer sounded.
As Valpo started pulling away in the second half, I noticed the normally vocal and active Greg Kampe sitting in his chair and simply watching for several minutes. A casual fan might have concluded that the game was over and that he had given up, no longer calling out adjustments or switching defenses, but simply resigned to whatever fate had in store. I entertained the thought myself, but only briefly. There wasn't time to savor that possibility. As quickly as Valpo built the 17-point lead, that's how quickly it evaporated. All knowledgeable Valpo commentators have pinpointed Erik Buggs fouling out (a frequent malady) as the biggest reason for the abrupt turnaround in the game. For my part, I decided that Kampe was really trusting his team to work its own way out of the hole it had dug for itself, confident in their ability to do it. He had given them all the motivation and instruction needed to do it and was simply watching to see if they could do it.
In other words, he was confident there was no longer any Valpo mystique associated with this matchup.
Oakland has now won two in a row at the ARC, and this is now officially a rivalry -- now between two teams from different conferences. But know this: in every kind of way, this was a rivalry from the word go.
But it is not a bitter rivalry worthy of Yankees-Red Sox or, of late, Cincinnati-Xavier, and all the proof I need is to watch these players who banged each other for 40 minutes, scratching and clawing at each other for every loose ball, pushing and shoving each other in the low post, jockeying for position, were now gathered in a circle at center court for what has become a Valpo home tradition: a prayer circle. And that included the charismatic Valpo coach Bryce Drew and the one-of-a-kind Oakland coach Greg Kampe, the latter of which it has been my privilege to count as an acquaintance for no other reason than he noticed me attending every Mid-Con conference tourney, year after year.
It will never be talked about on ESPN. There will be no replay of any of the games on ESPN Classic. It won't capture the nation's attention. The names Buddenborg, Helms, Marshall, Champagne, Rozycki, Grafs, Stovall, Barton, Berdiel, Gomes will never be legendary. Most casual fans of College Basketball have no reason to care about this rivalry (nor will they). So what? Long time fans of both teams will continue to care, and hopefully this rivalry will be allowed to continue, either through renewed conference affiliation, or simply by continuing to schedule each other. Something happens when they get together on the basketball court. It isn't always pretty, it may be riddled with bad passes, missed free throws, and the like. But it will always be a barn burner. The rivalry resists blowouts.
OAKLAND 82, at VALPARAISO 80 12/17/2011
OAKLAND 8-4 (2-0) -- D. Valentine 7-14 3-4 19; R. Hamilton 14-24 8-11 41; T. Bader 2-9 3-3 8; L. Lucas-Perry 4-8 1-2 12; C. Petros 0-3 0-0 0; K. Sikora 0-1 1-2 1; D. Williams 0-2 0-1 0; M. Poches 0-0 1-2 1. Totals 27-61 17-25 82. VALPARAISO 7-5 (1-0) -- M. Kenney 2-8 3-5 7; R. Broekhoff 6-11 2-2 18; W. Bogan 3-7 2-2 11; K. Van Wijk 8-9 6-10 22; B. Boggs 2-5 1-2 7; J. Harris 3-4 1-1 8; E. Buggs 0-2 0-0 0; R. Edwards 3-7 0-0 7; H. Vucic 0-0 0-0 0; T. Kurth 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 27-53 15-22 80.
Three-point goals: OAK 11-27 (R. Hamilton 5-10; L. Lucas-Perry 3-7; T. Bader 1-5; D. Valentine 2-3; D. Williams 0-2), VALP 11-25 (W. Bogan 3-6; E. Buggs 0-1; B. Boggs 2-4; M. Kenney 0-1; R. Broekhoff 4-9; J. Harris 1-2; R. Edwards 1-2); Rebounds: OAK 26 (D. Valentine 9), VALP 34 (R. Broekhoff 12); Assists: OAK 8 (R. Hamilton 3), VALP 19 (M. Kenney 7); Total Fouls -- OAK 20, VALP 19; Fouled Out: OAK-C. Petros; VALP-E. Buggs.