If there was any doubt that times have changed for the University of Delaware football program, all you have to do is look at their first game of the season and you should be convinced.
For many years, the Blue Hens opened their seasons at home against West Chester, a Division II team, which meant the Division I-AA Hens almost always opened their season with a victory – they won 47 of the 54 of the games they played against the Rams, including the last 19 straight.
That followed along the philosophy once voiced by Hall of Fame basketball coach Al McGuire of Marquette. When asked what he considered to be the key to starting off a season on the right foot, McGuire said “Always play your first game against East Cupcake State.’’
In this case, it was also a victory for East Cup…, uh, West Chester, even though the Rams almost always lost the game. But they got a piece of a big gate and, as we all know, money talks in college football. The annual games against the Blue Hens also got West Chester some much-needed exposure and that helped recruiting and fundraising.
Well, it’s a new ball game. This year, the Blue Hens open on the road and now they’re taking on a bigger and better team, not a smaller and weaker one. Delaware plays at Pittsburgh on Saturday in a game that will be televised on ESPN3 (providing you get it) and the Hens are big underdogs against the team from the Atlantic Coast Conference. Pittsburgh isn’t a national powerhouse anymore, but the ACC is considered to be one of the better conferences in Division I and Delaware was predicted to finish sixth in their Division I-AA conference, the CAA.
So, a mediocre team from a Division I conference should handle a mediocre team from a Division I-AA conference, right?
The key for Delaware on Saturday won’t be to win the game, but to take a page from that greatest of underdogs, Rocky Balboa. In his first championship fight against Apollo Creed, Rocky didn’t expect to win – he just wanted to go the distance.
And that’s what the Hens must do against Pittsburgh – go the distance. They need to stand facemask to facemask with the Panthers and they need to still be in the game going into the fourth quarter. Nobody expects the Blue Hens to win, but it’s important that they be competitive – important for the perception of this team in its second season under coach Dave Brock and important for his young players who are still finding their way in a new era of Delaware football.
Comments from Delaware players this week sound exactly like the comments the West Chester players used to make before they played the Blue Hens: They’re not afraid of the big, bad Panthers or the big, almost-bad ACC. In fact, they’re looking forward to the challenge and a chance to test themselves. After all, the Panthers put their pants on one leg at a time, just like the Blue Hens – of course, those pants are bigger and those legs run faster, but that’s beside the point.
So, it’s OK if the Hens lose, but they can’t lose 84-0 – which, by the way, was how badly they beat West Chester in 2000. Maybe on Saturday we’ll find out if what goes around truly does come around.
Contact Kevin Noonan at firstname.lastname@example.org.