The Stuff of Legends:
The Blake & St. Paul Academy Football Rivalry
By Molly Dunning
In the beginning, there were barely enough players to field a team. Practices were held on an empty lot next door to the Blake School's 1803 Hennepin Avenue address. Still, the very first Blake football team, built around the leadership of Barney Clifford '14, developed the indomitable spirit that defines the cornerstone of Blake football to this day.
As Blake historians have written, it was the final game of that first season when English instructor and Head Coach Tracy Hale traveled with his young team to "that other boys' school across the river" St. Paul Academy. On "a field slick with ice and better suited to hockey than football," it was at this meeting that Blake and SPA would establish what has become the longest known high school football rivalry in the state of Minnesota. The date was Nov. 3, 1911.
Imagine the dilemma, however, when both teams took to the field wearing the same blue and gold! While there is no record of what kept the teams straight during their contest, according to current SPA Assistant Athletic Director Mike Brown, legend exists that a bet was made that whoever emerged victorious would keep the colors as their own. Of course, with SPA still sporting the blue and gold, it seems reasonable to conclude that they won that first competition in 1911. Only thing is, they didn't! According to Blake records, as well as a news report published the following day, "The Blake school [sic] team of Minneapolis defeated the St. Paul Academy eleven of St. Paul on the latter's gridiron yesterday by the score of 8-0."1
This is not to suggest, however, that the legend proffered is inaccurate. It could have been that in the thrill of winning the last game of what was an otherwise losing season, Blake allowed SPA to keep their colors as consolation. After all, it would have been the gentlemanly thing to do since SPA, established in 1900, was also seven years Blake's senior. One could also argue that Blake was beginning a metamorphous anyway. Plans for an expanded campus were well under discussion and, with the opening of the Hopkins campus in 1912, Blake Headmaster Charles Bertram Newton (1911-19) would establish many of Blake's traditions that year, including the selection of brown and white as the official school colors. (The blue and green of today are a result of the 1975 merger of Northrop, Blake and Highcroft.) And lastly, and where some real sleuthing might ultimately prove necessary, according to a SPA written history, this first game was not played in 1911 at all, but in 1907 – Blake's inaugural year as a school. "St. Paul Academy wrenched its first scalp at this first meeting of the two teams, not only winning the game but forcing Blake to settle for a different set of colors."
So, while some debate remains to be had between fallacy and fiction and actual proven fact, there also remains something undeniable about the very real and extraordinary history shared between Blake and SPA. In the end, it matters less how or why it all came to be; it only matters that it happened at all. And whether it is 100 or 104 years since this rivalry's inception, it is because of both schools' unfailing spirit of good sportsmanship that allows us to be here today able to say, "Let the game begin!"
1From 1917, through 1975 Blake and St. Paul Academy met for an annual varsity game resulting in an overall record of 38 wins, 15 losses and six ties in favor of the Bears.
Throughout the next two decades, the dissolution of the Minnesota Independent School League and conference realignment limited the schools to a total of 10 games. The rivalry was rekindled in 1997 with the formation of the Tri-Metro Conference and remains one of the longest standing football rivalries in the state of Minnesota.
Through the collaborative research efforts of both Blake and St. Paul Academy it has been determined to the best of our ability that the overall rivalry record is 56-23-6 (Bears).