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PC-URI rivalry still runs deep

Wednesday, December 05, 2012


Rivalry still runs deep, even if it seems these days that anyone – or any school – can be bought for a few bucks.

In the current sports day and age in which we live, breathe, eat, sleep and even die with our teams, it’s hard to remain completely loyal to your school. Many so-called “institutions of higher learning” are laying waste to decades of tradition in search of the almighty dollar. It’s unclear how the current market will affect future generations of students, alumni and fans.

But I’ll guess in some places, as decades of loyalty are being undone…and history books are re-written…rivalry will never be the same.

So when you have a rivalry still intact, it should not only be cherished…but nurtured, don’t you think? A traditional rival can be treated with respect before a game, and afterward. But during? Emotions can still run high. Hatred can still run deep. Loyalty to your school is the foremost thought – while hoping your rival goes down in flames.

All of these emotions are still in play when it comes to Providence College and the University of Rhode Island meeting on a basketball court. Traditionally, the two schools meet on the first Saturday in December each year, although this year it’s been pushed back a bit to this Thursday due to a scheduling conflict. Nevertheless, PC and URI will meet for the 123rd time – or is it the 125th time? The two schools can’t even agree on how many times they’ve met, with the first two games played in 1920 and 1921 considered exhibitions by PC.

But they were Rhody wins. The Rams count them as games played, thank you very much.

In 1957, URI had won 32 of the 45 games previously played. Providence became dominant in the 1960s and today Providence leads the series by either 68-to-54, or 68-to-56, depending on who you’re asking.

The rivalry began to change after the Providence Civic Center (now the Dunkin Donuts Center) opened in 1972. The downtown arena became the home of Providence College and URI also played a few of its bigger games there each year, until the Ryan Center came along. In 1979, when PC’s Dave Gavitt created the Big East Conference — and did not invite URI as a member – the tables turned further on the rivalry.

URI had always been measured against similar schools as PC had – like Boston College, UConn and even St. John’s. Because of the Big East, those games (rivalries, even) disappeared, as the Big East quickly became one of the top college basketball conferences in the country. PC and URI actually played each other twice every season (except for 1944-45) from 1935 through 1980.

With the new commitments, there wasn’t much room left on the schedule for the Rams. Some URI fans believe Rhody was purposely left out of the Big East by Gavitt because of Sly Williams’ recruitment. Williams, one of the top recruits in the country in 1976, appeared headed to PC…only to end up on the URI campus playing for the Rams.

Whatever the case, the Williams story simply threw gasoline on a smoldering fire between the schools.

Pushing and shoving, along with the requisite yelling and screaming, became prevalent during games. It got to the point where, in 1980, the two schools decided a home-and-home every year just wasn’t feasible.

Or even safe. Gavitt told the Providence Journal at the time, “What happened is we went through the whole Sly Williams thing and the fans really got out of hand. The atmosphere was unhealthy, a lot of verbal stuff in the stands we hadn’t had before. It wasn’t a lot of fun for the players at either school.”

But the rivalry – and the fun – for the fans has continued on for years. And the emotions can still run high. There was a fight among the players on the floor in 1991. More recently, some PC students were accused of accosting the Rhody Ram mascot after taunting had taken place. Games have gone into overtime, a favored team has lost to the underdog many times…referees have had to ask security to remove unruly fans, winners have had bragging rights and losers have stayed in the shadows.

Until the next year.

The rivalry has now ramped up to include a true home-and-home each year, as PC returned to Kingston in 2003 for the first time in 31 years. And until last year, in 2011, the Friars had not been able to beat URI on their Ryan Center floor. This year, Rhody will try to return the favor at the Dunk against a depleted PC roster, thanks to injuries and eligibility issues.

No matter, however. For the players, it might be just another game on the schedule…although once they’ve been through a PC-URI game, even out-of-staters will admit to a “playoff” type of atmosphere, at the least. PC’s Ed Cooley has had the unique distinction of going through this game as a coach on both sides of the floor, having been an assistant under former URI coach Al Skinner. New Rhody coach Dan Hurley will get his introduction to the rivalry Thursday night.

He’ll find that, at least among the fans, this rivalry seems to be one that can’t be bought out. And that’s good to know.


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