Sports

Rex Tuttle recounts the years-long Linton-Sullivan football rivalry

The football rivalry between Linton and Sullivan dates back years, yet some may not be familiar with it, or simply not know how deep those roots truly go. So, The Lintonian asked fellow Lintonian Rex Tuttle to explain and recount this football tradition. We hope you enjoy Rex’s recollections of football past, and The Lintonian sincerely thanks him for his contribution in documenting our local heritage.

Friday Night will see the renewal of one of the oldest football series in the state of Indiana.  In fact, I thought it was the oldest, but, according to Google, Elkhart and Mishawaka began playing one another in 1902.  Nor is it the series with the most games played, as that distinction belongs to Peru and Logansport, although they didn’t start
their series as early as Linton and Sullivan.  At any rate, this series is one of the oldest in Indiana.  The meeting this week at Sullivan will be the 106th meeting in the series, which began in 1904. They didn’t play one another a few times in the early years, but, since 1926 they’ve played each year, and this year will be the 95th annual meeting.

After 105 contests the series is almost dead-even at 52 wins for Linton, 51 wins for Sullivan and two ties.  The two most one-sided games were the 125 – 0 Linton  win in 1909, led by the great Elmer “Catchy” Oliphant who, among other things, kicked 20 extra points in the game.  Touchdowns counted only 5 points at that time. Sullivan defeated Linton 60 – 0 in 1969 for their biggest win.

Since the Miners have somewhat dominated the series since 1994, winning 19 of the 26 games played, younger fans may have the impression that it was always that way.  Far from it.   In the early days, beginning in 1904, Linton also dominated the series winning 15 of the first 19 games.  In fact,  in those first 19 games Sullivan scored only 5
touchdowns, one score in each of 5 separate games.  However, in 1934, something happened.  It was about that time that the great coach, Spike Kelly became the coach at Sullivan.  He later became a state championship coach at South Bend Riley at about 1944 or 45.  Linton only managed a 7 – 7 tie in 1942 in the eleven years from 1934 up to 1945 when Linton won 22 – 0 at Sullivan.  That was my freshman year at LHS, and that game was the first of a rare three-in-a-row over the Arrows. Beginning with that 1934 season, the Miners won the rivalry game only 18 times in the next 60 year,s although they did get four wins in a row from 1978 to 1981.  Up until the mid-seventies when the playoff system began, the game was always the season-ending game for both teams.  Itw as played in the afternoon of November 11, which was Armistice Day, now named Veterans Day.

Wednesday morning, November 11, 1959 began cold and rainy and went downhill from there.  A great day for football though.  At 1:00 that afternoon the Miners were going to play at Sullivan. As usual, Linton wasn’t very
good during those years.  We were 2 – 6 – 1 going into the game, and Sullivan had a pretty good team.  I remember this game so well because it was one of the most unusual and exciting games in my memory.  As the day wore on, the weather got worse, getting colder and changing to a mix of rain sleet and snow.  The Sullivan  field was a muddy mess, which was a good thing for the Miners.  The late Jerry Lechien, a sophomore tailback, started the game in place of the injured regular starter. Sullivan won the toss and elected to kick off, expecting to get the ball back deep in Linton territory.  Bad decision.  Jerry took the opening kickoff and somehow slogged through the mud all the way for a touchdown.  The game settled down into a mudfest after that with Linton leading 6 – 0.  At some point the Miners were backed up near their own goal line and Lechien was tackled in the end zone for a safety,  Linton
6 – Sullivan 2.  Linton held on to the lead, and, as time was running down in the fourth quarter, Linton was again backed up near their own goal line.   Fearing a fumble and not wanting to try to punt, Coach Floyd Henson  elected to take another safety, and then, who else but, Lechien slid down in his own end zone.  Linton 6 – 4.  Linton kicked off and held on for the big win.  Jerry Lechien scored all the points for both teams in Linton’s big upset on a cold, wet Armistice Day in 1959.

So, on Friday night, the series resumes.  In all the hundred fifteen or so years, there has never been a situation like we have this time: limited admittance and no tickets sold at the field.  I’ve been in attendance at most of the games in the past eighty years.  I won’t be at this one, so I’ll be listening to the radio guys, whom I know will do their usual
great job.  Sullivan is coming off a big win; Linton is coming off a big loss. But keep in mind, and no offense to North Knox, but they are not Southridge.  I expect a close game, and whoever scores the most points will win. 

IT’S A GREAT DAY TO BE A MINER.

Featured photo is a file photo of Linton vs Sullivan, 2015

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