Bob Carpenter and Jim Williams had no way of knowing it at the time, but their drawn-on-a-napkin idea would eventually become the best tradition to ever hit the Delaware sports scene.
For 56 years their brainchild, the Blue-Gold All-Star Football Game, has raised millions of dollars for charity and inspired thousands of people to be charitable, and that’s a heck of a legacy.
The latest edition of this annual event came on Saturday night, when the Gold team beat the Blue team 39-14 at Delaware Stadium. But hardly anybody cares who wins and in a year or two almost nobody will remember who won. As much as sports is about Ws and Ls, that is not what the Blue-Gold game is about and that, too, is a credit to the two men who decided to make a difference.
Eisenhower was president when Carpenter and Williams sat down in 1956 and came up with the idea to combine football and philanthropy. Both men had children with intellectual disabilities and they also had lots of money and influence, and they decided to use those assets to help other people with similar disabilities.
Carpenter, as you probably know, was part of the du Pont dynasty that ruled 20th century Delaware like the Romanov dynasty ruled 19th century Russia, although the du Ponts treated the peasants a lot better.
Williams was also a member of the Greenville gentry and they were men who knew how to get things done. They were generous with their time as well as their treasure and even though both went to their eternal rewards a long time ago, their memory will never die as long as the Blue-Gold game lives.
By the way, both of them had sons who played in the inaugural Blue-Gold game and today they are both members of the Delaware Sports Hall of Fame, but not because of their prowess as football players – Ruly Carpenter was owner of the Phillies when they won the World Series in 1980 and Pat Williams was general manager of the 76ers when they won the NBA Championship in 1983.
Anyhow, thousands of Delawareans have participated in the Blue-Gold game, as players, buddies, ambassadors, band members and cheerleaders. And almost all of them will tell you that it was one of the most profound experiences of their lives.
The defining moment of this noble experiment came in 1974, when the Hand-in-Hand program was started. Now, every player, band member, etc., is paired with a “buddy,’’ someone with intellectual disabilities. The kids who play the game became involved with the kids for whom the game is played, and suddenly all of those halfbacks and horn players knew the real reason they were there. And many of those participants have developed relationships with their buddies that have lasted long after the final gun of the Blue-Gold game itself.
Speaking of the game itself, it doesn’t draw as many fans or generate as much interest as it used to – Saturday night’s announced attendance was 6,731 – simply because there are so many other entertainment options out there now. Plus there was more of an edge to this game in the past, when schools from north and south of the canal almost never played against each other. Before there were state tournaments and Route 1 made it easy to get from one end of the state to the other, there was a real upstate-downstate rivalry to the Blue-Gold game and there were serious bragging rights at stake.
That has changed, but the reason for the game has remained the same. This is still a special event and the seed that Bob Carpenter and Jim Williams planted more than half a century ago continues to flower every summer.
Contact Kevin Noonan at firstname.lastname@example.org.