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Rivalry renewed: UND students are invited to take in the UND-NDSU football game on Saturday at a Watch Party

by David Dodds, University & Public Affairs writer

Posted on 9/14/2015

UND archive photo. UND archive photo

On Saturday afternoon, University of North Dakota students will witness something that none of their fellow alumni have been able to see for a dozen years.

That's when their UND football team will meet its longtime archrival North Dakota State Bison on the gridiron in a resumption of an NCAA Division II interstate grudge match that raged for nearly 110 years before it was put on hiatus in 2003. That's when NDSU announced it would be moving to Division I-AA, now known as the Football Championship Series (FCS). Both football teams compete at the FCS level now.

The renewed rivalry game will take place at 2:30 p.m., at NDSU's home football venue, the Fargodome, in Fargo.

For those not lucky enough to snatch up any of the limited number of tickets allotted to UND students, the University is hosting a UND-NDSU football Watch Party in the Memorial Union Loading Dock area. The event is sponsored by MU Programming.

Sara Kaiser, UND coordinator of student organization & activities, said that the Loading Dock will have all of its TVs tuned into the game, and there also will be pizza, hot wings and sodas available for attendees. The event, which starts at 2 p.m., is free and open to all UND students.

"We just wanted to provide a fun place for students to come and watch the game and hang out with friends," Kaiser said.

Many of those UND students were in grade school the last time UND and NDSU played each other head to head in football.

It's a series rife with history and periods of dominance by both schools. In the past, the game was the talk of the state each year, dividing families, households and communities as people and alumni across the nation proudly claimed their allegiances.

UND holds the lead in the all-time series record with 62 victories to 44 by NDSU. There have been 3 ties over the years.

UND raises the Nickel Trophy in the Alerus Center. UND raises the Nickel Trophy in the Alerus Center.

The tradition of the game revolved around the "Battle for the Nickel," a large replica of an old-time buffalo nickel, with a bison on one side and an Indian head on the obverse. Through the years, students from the opposing schools would sneak onto each other's campuses and purloin The Nickel in a fun-and-games prank that usually took place around rivalry week. By virtue of winning the last game played in 2003, UND retains The Nickel now resides in an undisclosed location and is only brought out on special occasions. The Nickel officially was retired as a relic of the old rivalry when UND announced that it would be changing its nickname and logo.   

Eras of dominance

UND was the dominant football team in the 1950s and early-to-mid 1960s, eventually relinquishing that claim to NDSU starting in the late 1960s. The schools split victories in the 1970s. Then, in 1981, NDSU took a stranglehold, rattling off 12 straight victories.

Those years, were tough for UND football, players and fans, made even more disheartening by five NCAA Division II national championships won by NDSU. Back then, UND's coaching staff slowly went to work recruiting the right players and designing schemes to thwart the juggernaut Bison 70 miles to the south.

Then, like with all great rivalries, a turning point sprung from out of nowhere when it was least expected. The incident, which has no doubt morphed in "facts" and detail over the years, is known in UND athletic history as the "The Mike Mooney game" or simply as the "The strip." In the fourth quarter in 1993, UND was bracing for its 13th straight loss to NDSU, when suddenly bedlam ensued. UND linebacker Mike Mooney, who, folklore holds was turned down by NDSU in the recruiting process years earlier, stripped the ball from a Bison player and scampered the other way for a UND touchdown and an eventual 22-21 victory over the vaunted Bison.

That game was the genesis of a UND turn-around that saw the green and white win eight of the next 11 games against the Bison.

The rivalry game was so important in North Dakota and became so intriguing to others outside the state's borders that NFL Films came calling in 1995 to document the storied series. The program, known as "Fire and Ice," featured interviews from opposing coaches and fans from across the state, as well as footage from UND's 21-7 victory over the Bison at chilly, snowy Memorial Stadium.

UND's Milson Jones leaps over a pile in this undated UND photo. UND's Milson Jones leaps over a pile in this undated UND photo.

Another recent UND highlight in the series took place on Oct. 17, 1998 at the Fargodome. It was a coming out party in the eyes of NFL scouts for UND senior tight end Jimmy Kleinsasser, then 6-3, 260 pounds. Kleinsasser, who would eventually play several years in the NFL for the Minnesota Vikings, caught 8 passes for 150 yards that day in a 39-25 UND win. But most remember one play in particular when UND quarterback Sean Greenwaldt hit Kleinsasser on a quick slant over the middle. Kleinsasser, a native of Carrington, N.D., then achieved a gear not usually seen in players of his size, distancing himself from the pursuing defensive backs and sprinting 77 yards for a touchdown.

It's those kinds of reflections that have been missed the most, at least, by UND fans who remember the glory years of the old, proud rivalry.

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