JEFF PEARLMAN

Coming October 2022: "The Last Folk Hero: The Life and Myth of Bo Jackson"

Vindication for a Blue Hen

Throughout the course of my writing career, dating back to college, I’ve taken on the uniquely First State issue of why the University of Delaware and Delaware State never play in football.

First, when I was a writer for the college newspaper, The Review, I wrote a lengthy piece condemning the university for ignoring a perfect rivalry (both I-AA schools, located 45 minutes apart, etc). It was my first-ever front-page story, and I was euphoric. A few months later, Delaware agreed to play Del. State … in everything but football. Hey, it was a start.

A couple of years ago, while working for ESPN.com, I wrote a piece questioning whether race was involved with Delaware’s decision not to play the Hornets in football. Anyone close to the situation knows—well, knew—Delaware’s old white board and old white mentality shuddered at the thought of losing to the small black school. That piece resulted in tons upon tons upon tons of hate mail. Vicious stuff.

Anyhow, a piece in today’s Delaware State News featured this:

[Delaware Coach K.C.] Keeler has long said he was in favor of the Hens playing Delaware State. But on Monday he talked about how, when he was hired at Delaware in 2002, he was told that it wasn’t his call about whether a game with DSU would be scheduled.

“When I got here, it was about, ‘Well listen, you’re not going to do the scheduling so don’t tell us we’re going to play Delaware State,’” said Keeler. “It’s like, ‘OK, it’s not a deal breaker. I’m not going to tell you to play Delaware State.’ But it just made no sense that we wouldn’t play Delaware State.

“It seems totally ridiculous. There’s two great institutions in this small state that play this level of football. Why wouldn’t we play each other? I’m not afraid to lose to Delaware State and they’re good enough to beat us.

“It seems very ’40s and ’30s and ’20s and whatever-ish. It’s just mind-boggling that people would make that big a deal about playing.” 

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I have a new love for Keeler, because he finally touched upon the truth—which is my school was cowardly and pathetic in action.

The two universities now play an annual game, and it’s—of course—wonderful.