We have arrived at what has become my favorite week of the year in the Twin Cities — T-NT Week. I have waxed nostalgic about this community tradition before. Permit me to do so again.
On Friday, for the 103rd time, two groups of young athletes will take a long stride into adulthood when they take to the field at Clint Small Stadium to play a game of football. It is a rite of passage for many in the Tonawandas and the kind of tradition that binds a community together.
Few traditions last as long as the T-NT game has. It is a testament to these two cities and the players and coaches in the schools that it still thrives today.
I found myself rereading the introductory column I wrote in the book chronicling the rivalry on the occasion of the 100th game three years ago, wherein a posited a question that still vexes me today: What must those two sides of 11 have thought when first they took the field so long ago? Could they ever have imagined they were laying the foundation of a tradition that more than any other would come to define their communities? Surely they couldn’t have had such illusions of grandeur. Yet, they must have known there was something happening.
Whoever sat in my chair missed the boat. The result of the first T-NT football game in 1896 was buried on page 3 of the Tonawanda Evening News. Now, it makes front page headlines for days and is the subject of an exhaustive 16-page special section (coming out Thursday) dedicated to featuring the athletes who play the game.
Perhaps what I enjoy most is watching this tradition evolve in a new American century. The T-NT legacy has grown up from an era of leather helmets and accusations of greased pants to one where the participants take to Twitter pledging victory and talking smack in 140-character bursts of language that would be entirely foreign to the game’s founders if they were alive to read it.
But for as much as our society has changed since then, the true meaning of a pure athletic accomplishment hasn’t changed. It is still a game. There will still be glory for the winner and a subtler life lesson for the loser about humility and dedication.
Not having been an athlete myself, I can’t draw on personal experience, but the commonality in what participants in these games have said over the years leads me to believe their participation is a seminal moment it their young lives. They speak in grandiose terms professional athletes are too cool to use. They stand in awe of the moment, then they get hit and remember it is, after all, a football game.
I’ve heard moans from some quarters that the terms of the rivalry are too one-sided, that maybe it’s time to stop playing the game after a string of blowouts by North Tonawanda.
To bow to such pressure would be a real injustice. Try telling a proud father watching his son play the same game he once did that T-NT isn’t worth it. Try telling any parent that the lessons their sons and daughters learn about dedication to and pride in their community isn’t worth learning.
And try telling this year’s Warriors squad, which has one more victory than NT headed into the 103rd T-NT Classic, that they don’t have a shot at winning.
I promise their answers will tell you everything you need to know about why this game matters now as much as it ever has.
Eric DuVall is the managing editor of the Tonawanda News. His column appears Wednesdays and Sundays. Contact him at email@example.com.