It’s an old trail bell. But it’s not just any old train bell. It’s also the biggest prize in college football in Indiana. Literally. “It is a big bell. I think it weighs 350 pounds,” said Dr. Scott Feller, president of Wabash College in Crawfordsville, an hour northwest of Indianapolis. The bell is the Monon Bell, and Wabash doesn’t have it right now. The bell currently resides on the campus of Wabash’s rival, 30 miles south in Greencastle.
“The president always looks a whole lot better when she wins the bell game,” said Dr. Lori White, president of DePauw University. On Saturday, her Tigers will meet the Little Giants of Wabash on the football field for the 129th time. The first time they played was in 1890, one year before the state's other big football rivalry. Purdue and IU began. “Wabash has 63 wins to DePauw’s 56, and there have been nine ties,” Feller points out. “It’s hard to get a rivalry that close over all of these decades.”
Dr. Feller’s Little Giants lost the Monon Bell in a big way last year, with DePauw picking up a blowout 49-14 win in the snow at DePauw’s Blackstock Stadium. It also snowed the first time DePauw and Wabash played for the actual bell. That was 91 years ago, in 1932. The old Monon Railroad had donated one of its train bells to be the prize.
Naturally, this being a college rivalry, there have been a bunch of attempts to steal the bell before the big game. The last one was six years ago, when four Wabash students tried to pull it off. So, I asked Dr. White whether she had taken extra measures to protect the bell. “It is a huge secret the way in which we protect the bell, but absolutely yes, we take additional measures to protect that bell.”
DePauw is trying to complete an unbeaten regular season with this game, and both schools are trying to make the NCAA Division III playoffs. But the Monon Bell game is also a throwback rivalry. Almost none of these players will play professionally, so this is the last major football memory for them. And there is also no big money like the ever-shifting Division I football conferences. “I'm a Pac-12 girl, and my heart is broken at the demise of a 100-year-old conference, basically in a day,” Dr. White said. “The rivalry between DePauw and Wabash is played for the pure love of sport and school pride. There's no TV money, though I'd love to get an ESPN contract for the game. It is an opportunity for alums across the country to gather in watch parties at people's homes, at watering holes, and then whoever wins has bragging rights for the next year.”
Both school presidents also said it’s mostly a friendly rivalry. Mostly. “I think a big part of that is you have a lot of places with split loyalty to Wabash and DePauw. A lot of offices have Wabash and DePauw graduates in them. A lot of families have Wabash and DePauw graduates in them. But at the end of the day, it's a battle between two great schools that have a lot in common,” said Dr. Feller.
Speaking of split loyalties, I had one more question for Dr. White at DePauw. WFYI is simulcast on Wabash College’s station, WNDY. However, my kid is a DePauw student. So, who do I root for?
“May the best team win,” Dr. White said. Diplomatic, though she also added, "but I will be ringing that bell on Saturday.”
The Monon Bell Game between DePauw and Wabash is Saturday, November 11, at 1:00 p.m. at Little Giant Stadium on the Wabash College campus in Crawfordsville.