The two schools are separated by 17.3 miles of road. One is located in the city, University City, to be exact, right outside of downtown Philadelphia. The other is located in what is affectionately tabbed by those in the know as the Main Line. At the dawn of the 20th Century the stretch between the schools could have as easily been known as the “Main Pipe Line” for college football in the state of Pennsylvania; possibly for the nation. A rivalry began on Nov. 18, 1905 and despite the minimal number of times the two institutions have faced each on the gridiron, it is a rivalry that lives today.
The question then must be asked - why? Is it just the close geographical proximity of both schools? Is it the fact that in a city that ranks in the top-five nationally in population that the collegiate sports community in the area is rather tight-knit? Or is it the respect and admiration that the coaches, administrators and student-athletes have for each other?
Penn Head Coach Al Bagnoli feels a little bit of all of these factors play a part in the rivalry. "If you look at it from a rivalry perspective, a location, a media interest perspective, it is a real positive to have Villanova on the schedule. The student-athletes intermingle within certain circles as Penn students have friends at Villanova and vice versa. I know Coach [Andy] Talley and have respect for what he and his staff have been able to do. For those reasons, more than overlap in recruiting, the rivalry is able to continue."
Penn versus Villanova is not something heard on a regular basis when speaking of college football but the schools do have a storied history together. The men's basketball team has tipped off against the Wildcats 41 times while the women's hoops squad has hit the hardwood against 'Nova on 31 occasions. But football started it all in 1905.
The Quakers had already begun building a name for their football program by the time the two teams stepped onto a football field together. Penn had won four national titles heading into the 1905 season and was, along with Michigan, looking to defend its most recent title.
Villanova had begun its football program just 11 years prior in 1894, the same season Penn captured its first national crown, going 12-0, outscoring the opposition, 443-14, and shutting out all but three opponents. The Wildcats found early success as well, amassing a 17-6 record over its first three seasons.
The first official meeting showed experience would give the Red and Blue the upper hand. Penn posted the largest win of the series, defeating Villanova, 42-0, en route to a 12-0-1 season. The Quakers and Wildcats had squared off against each twice before this meeting. Once in a meeting of Penn's 1896 team against the Wildcats' reserves, resulting in a 35-6 Penn win and again in 1900 when both teams' reserves battled to a scoreless tie.
The 1906 meeting proved to be the closest contest in the series as Penn pulled out a 22-12 victory and Penn went on to finish the season with a 7-2-3 record. In fact, the 12 points allowed by the Red and Blue defense on Nov. 24, 1906 were the only tallies allowed by Penn in five games between these two teams from 1905 to 1911.
Villanova ran into an eventual national championship team the following season as the Quakers handed the visitors a 16-0 loss on the strength of Wild Bill Hollenback. Hollenback ripped off a 45-yard run during the game to highlight the Penn victory, which ended up being one of 11 for the Quakers (11-1).
The following season, Penn handed its cross-town rival a defeat of the exact margin from the previous year. This 16-0 win marked the fourth for the Quakers in four contests with Villanova and was a catalyst for the remainder of the season as the Red and Blue finished the 1908 campaign with a 11-0-1 record and another national title.
Penn blanked the Wildcats again in 1911, winning 22-0 behind a 30-yard punt return for a score by Norman Barr and a 45-yard interception for a touchdown by Stuart Harrington.
The series seemed to be one that would carry on for decades before everything stopped. The Red and Blue and the Blue and White did not face each other on the football field for another 70 years. Fortunately, the two schools never stopped moving in parallel paths of each other, ever building on the rivalry.
In fact, the success of both teams throughout the coming decades possibly allowed a different aspect of the rivalry to evolve. A rivalry where no matter how much success either had, neither could determine who was better among the two where it counts the most - on the field.
In 1937, Villanova finished undefeated and was ranked No. 6 in the nation. Penn entered an era of prosperity from 1938 to 1940, compiling 13 wins during this time span while battling national powerhouses like Michigan and Cornell. The Quakers garnered a No. 1 national ranking for a portion of the 1940 season.
After World War II, the Red and Blue experienced more success, averaging over 73,000 fans at home in 1946 and going undefeated (7-0-1) in 1947 due heavily to Skip Minisi, four-time All-American George Savitsky and a man synonymous with football in Philadelphia, Chuck Bednarik.
Meanwhile, Villanova was a participant in the 1947 Great Lakes Bowl where the Legendary Bear Bryant led his Kentucky Wildcats to a victory. In 1948 'Nova returned to a bowl game and defeated Nevada, 27-7, in the Harbor Bowl.
During this time period of success for both institutions' football programs, the biggest loss for both teams, and the fans of football in the Delaware Valley for that matter, was the fact that the two schools did not face each other once.
The on-the-field rivalry was revived on Nov. 8, 1980. Villanova handed Penn its first and worst loss of the series, defeating the Quakers 34-3 at Franklin Field on the strength of 318 rushing yards.
Villanova came back to the corner of 33rd and Spruce Street on Sept. 25, 1999 and again handed Penn and Gavin Hoffman, the Quakers' all-time leading passer with 7,542 career yards, a double-digit loss. This time the win came through the air as the Wildcats' Chris Boden threw for 424 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 33-of-43 passing.
Penn finally had to go on the road in the seventh game of this series, losing an uphill battle to the
No. 6 team in I-AA football (Penn was ranked No. 24), 17-3, en route to the first of back-to-back Ivy League titles in 2002 and 2003 for the Quakers.
Despite involving only eight previous meetings, Penn vs. Villanova enters its 100th season of existence and when you look around at the landscape of college football in the area, the great Quakers and Wildcats teams of the past set the precedent for what was to come. The Delaware Valley is now home to many successful collegiate programs and Coach Bagnoli realizes that only breathes more life into the excitement behind this Saturday's game.
"You have three programs, including defending I-AA national champion Delaware, in the same area that were ranked in the top-25 last year and have very high aspirations for this year and I think that bodes very well for football in the Delaware Valley," Bagnoli commented. "There is not only the Division I-A schools, the Temple’s of the world, but you also have three outstanding I-AA schools as well as quality Division II schools out of the Pennsylvania Conference and Division III schools. I think for the fans of this area, there are a large number of programs that can compete on a national level in their respective divisions."
The comparisons between the two schools also continue to fuel this rivalry. Returning for Penn this season is All-Ivy wide receiver Dan Castles. The senior from Toms River, N.J. became only the second Quaker to record over 1,000 yards receiving in a season (1,067) and tied the record for most receiving touchdowns in a year (13). Villanova has a highly touted receiver in J.J. Outlaw. The junior had a career-high 205 all-purpose yards against New Hampshire in 2003 and has registered 100 yards on 14 receptions three games into the 2004 season.
On the ground, Penn returns All-Ivy running back Sam Mathews. Mathews carried the ball 267 times for 1,266 yards (4.6 yards per carry) in 2003, scoring 10 rushing touchdowns. He proved to be a pass-catching threat out of the backfield as well, recording 40 receptions for 311 yards and three scores. The Wildcats answer with senior running back Terry Butler. Butler rushed for a career-high 126 yards on a career-high 25 carries against Bucknell on Sept. 2. He also has proven to be an option for the quarterback, having compiled 103 receiving yards in a game against Colgate on Sept. 7, 2002.
When asking why Penn vs. Villanova continues to be a rivalry, one needs to look no further where the series currently stands. Penn holds a slight 5-3 lead in the series but Villanova has won the last three meetings. The Quakers are riding a I-AA-leading current win streak of 17 games as well as a 19-game winning streak at Franklin Field. In fact the last team to defeat Penn was Villanova, 17-3, in 2002, one of only two blemishes on the Class of 2004's otherwise spotless record (26-2).
Any questions concerning why this match-up continues to be a rivalry have been answered as the next chapter to this century-old story will be written at 7 p.m. on Saturday evening.
Written by Mat Kanan, associate director of athletic communications
(Published in the Sept. 25, 2004 edition of Franklin Field Illustrated)