The game is back. Every fall on the Island the leaves turn red and fall to the ground, scallopers take to Island ponds, and the V’s and W’s line up across from each other on the gridiron the week before Thanksgiving to add a new chapter to The Rivalry. Then, all of a sudden last year, they didn’t. The dead leaves might as well have clung to their branches. After the ensuing round of finger-pointing and resentment subsided the Game is back on the schedule. Now, a year after the Island Cup that wasn’t, both sides are eager to renew the age-old football rivalry.
“It means everything to them,” Vineyard coach Don Herman said on Monday about this year’s installment of a series that has spanned a half-century. “We’re just ecstatic to know that it’s back on.”
A year ago, amidst a cratering economy, Nantucket failed to scrape together the more than $12,000 it would cost to charter a ferry across the Sound and pulled out of the game. For Mr. Herman’s squad the news was devastating.
“In the August before we have our first practice I meet with the seniors every year,” he said, “and when I had to tell them at that meeting that there wasn’t going to be an Island Cup game that year a few of the kids welled up tears in their eyes. I just felt terrible for them, especially for the seniors.”
Now with the series renewed, Mr. Herman expects a “super bowl atmosphere” on Saturday.
“We have a one-game championship and this is it,” he said. “This is going to be an extremely emotional game.”
Nantucket coach John Aloisi agrees.
“We’re going to give all we can on Saturday,” he told the Gazette over the phone on Monday. “That truly is our focus and nothing else really is.”
The rivalry tends to be one of streaks. After two decades of relative Nantucket dominance in the 1980s and 1990s, Martha’s Vineyard has won nine of the past ten meetings, holding onto the Cup uninterrupted since 2003. Some Vineyard faithful even grumbled that the annual drubbings of late contributed to Nantucket’s reluctance to schedule the game last year. But the Vineyard’s continued dominance is by no means assured, and during the year-long hiatus the rivalry may have hit the reset button.
The last Nantucket team that Martha’s Vineyard beat finished 0-10 on the season. It was the legendary Nantucket coach Vito Capizzo’s last year before handing the reins to former NHS quarterback standout John Aloisi and it appears that there is new life in a Nantucket program that is 7-3 on the year. Although they no longer play in the same conference, a Vineyard win would appropriately even the teams up in the win-loss column. Mr. Herman, who will face off against coach Aloisi for the first time, could be forgiven for having vivid flashbacks on Saturday to some of those unpleasant mid-90s Cup games.
“He beat me all three years he was a starting QB, ’93, ’94, ’95,” he said. “He was a good player. I liked him as an athlete, as a student, as an individual, and I still do. He’s a good guy and a good person to have for the program.”
Mr. Aloisi’s favorite memory of those hard-fought contests was the 1993 7-6 game at Martha’s Vineyard that sent the Vineyarders reeling and Nantucket on to a super bowl championship. The game earned the legendary coach Capizzo his 200th win, a milestone that Mr. Herman recently reached with an October victory over Cape Tech.
Nothing, it seems, is sweeter than winning the contest at the opposing Island.
“It was pretty special,” Mr. Aloisi said.
Unsurprisingly the highlight of Mr. Herman’s career came as the seconds ticked away in an improbable come-from-behind victory, led by current quarterbacks coach Jason Dyer, in the 1992 game at Nantucket.
Mr. Herman, who coached against Mr. Capizzo for 21 years, said that it will be “very strange” to look across the field and see someone new at the helm. For Mr. Aloisi, taking over for the iconic coach has proven to be a weighty task.
“It’s just been an honor and a major challenge,” he said. Coaching his first Island Cup, he expects the atmosphere on Saturday to be “chaotic.”
Although bad blood has occasionally marred the contest, particularly after a 1987 game that led the Gazette to call for an athletic embargo of the other island, Mr. Herman says that the game, if no less intense, will hopefully be more sportsmanlike than in years past.
“I think it’s more of a friendly rivalry,” he said. “The players are very intense during the game and immediately after that, but I think once the kids graduate they realize they have so much in common with each other and they can develop some very good friendships.”
This Saturday the tradition continues and it seems all is right again with the Island world.
“A lot of the kids that play football here grow up looking forward to playing in this game,” Mr. Herman said. “With the rivalry and tradition that it has, and then you throw in the fact that the game wasn’t played last year, it makes it that much more special.”
The game is Saturday at 1 p.m. at the regional high school field on the Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road.