It’s time for local football writers to start showing off their historical knowledge by noting that the 123th meeting of the Wellesley-Needham football teams this Thanksgiving in Needham will mark another year in the country’s oldest public high school rivalry. Or the oldest such rivalry on Thanksgiving Day. Or the oldest rivalry between teams whose towns’ names start with the letter W or N, or…
Anyway, we’ll spare you the sentimental remembrances from assorted past players/coaches and just point out a few interesting tidbits from the rivalry and Wellesley football history in general:
* Here’s an article from the Needham Historical Society from 2002 in which the writer points out that this “high school” rivalry wasn’t always strictly about high school teams. In fact, she points to an article from a 1901 edition of the Needham Chronicle that describes the return of the game to being played by actual town residents, not “a lot of professionals hired for the occasion.” One theory is that pros were needed because there just weren’t many boys in high school (33 Needham boys in high school in 1902).
* Wellesley won the first game by a score of 4-0. Needham won the next one 1-0. Sounds like Brett Favre was quarterbacking.
* The game is commemorated at the New England Patriots’ Hall of Fame in Foxborough. Sadly, a football showing the final score of a Needham victory is in the display case.
* Wellesleyites who went on to play football professionally: Boston Patriot linebacker Ray Ilg in the 1960s before the AFL and NFL merged, and Greg Comella, who played as a running back for the New York Giants and a few other teams (and whose name might be familiar to fans of Comella’s restaurant in Wellesley). Comella played for Xaverian, by the way, not Wellesley High.
* The 1991 game was delayed when an “explosive” was discovered on the field before the game. Turned out to be a rocket that the Needham Rockets planned to set off as a prank in the spirit of MIT’s famous Harvard-Yale game balloon. But there’s a reason some people make it to MIT and some don’t…
* A bunch more facts and lore from a 2006/2007 WellesleyWeston Magazine article.
* Rutledge Properties at 572 Washington St. has a spirited window display devoted to the game, so they get a free plug.
* Wellesley’s team this year has a 7-3 record and Needham is 8-2. It will be hard to top last year’s come-from-behind 28-27 victory by Wellesley. If you plan on trekking to Needham for the game, save yourself $2 per ticket by buying them in advance at the WHS athletics office or at Ace Hardware or the Linden Store on Linden Street.