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Weslaco-Donna goes beyond that of a mere football game

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Posted: Saturday, August 3, 2013 10:38 pm

George Cardenas didn’t even have time to put his shoulder pads on.

It was 1969 and Cardenas’ Weslaco Panther football team was on their way to face their biggest rival, the Donna Redskins.

It was Cardenas last chance to play against Donna. Excitement was easy to spot that day, with Redskin Stadium packed. Both teams were 5-0 in District 16-3A. There was just one problem – Weslaco wasn’t on the field.

“We were almost late to the game because of traffic,” Cardenas said from his Merecedes home with a laugh. “There was too much traffic. We had about 45 minutes to warm up. It was a quick thing.

“We put our shoulder pads on while on the bus.”

The quick warm up didn’t seem to phase Weslaco. Both teams were considered running teams but Weslaco surprised Donna with a passing attack. Panthers quarterback Roy Parker connected with receiver Randy Talbert twice for two passing touchdowns in the first quarter to take a 20-0 lead.

Donna never recovered and Weslaco won the game 26-0.

“It was the game of the year,” Cardenas said. “It was packed. In the end zone they had set up bleachers for more fans.”

Weslaco won the district title that year with an undefeated 7-0 record. Cardenas is proud of that, still to this day. But he re-members that Donna game. He remembers the plays the Panthers ran – using the Slot-T formation to execute sweeping run plays – and what the atmosphere was like. The win made it all sweeter. Cardenas will always have that win against Donna.

“I remember the last time I played on that field (Redskins Stadium), we beat them,” Cardenas said. “We beat them and no-body can take that away from us.”

BRAGGING RIGHTS

Only three miles separate the campuses of Donna and Weslaco. Former Donna player and coach Manny Moreno and others believe that’s the reason why this rivalry has become one of the biggest in Texas.

The towns of Donna and Weslaco are within a stone’s throw of each other. Highway 83 goes through the both of them. Families overlap and fans and players grow up with each other.

More often than not, fans and players interact with each other throughout the year. That’s just the nature of two small towns being so close. Moreno played in the early 1980s and remembers the friendly trash talking would start early.

“During the summer, there was always a meeting up with the guys from Weslaco,” Moreno said. “We just poke fun of each other, tell them that we’re going to get you this year.”

The talking didn’t just belong to the players. Moreno said it was just part of the culture between the two communities. It wasn’t a game that just mattered to the coaches and players. It mattered to cities, to the people.

“It was a big game for everyone,” Moreno said. “It was all about bragging rights for the people from Donna and Weslaco.

As a player you get all the pressure from your peers, the community and other students expecting us to win.”

Moreno had no problem winning – his Donna teams never lost to Weslaco when he played from 1982-1984. The teams used to battle for an old stop light of highway 83. The tension was always high.

For the people of Donna and Weslaco, the hype before and during the game is like second nature. Ramiro Leal, who’s about to start his first season as the head coach of Donna, went to McAllen High. When he started working for the Donna school district, his eyes were opened to how serious a rivalry this is.

“I can’t compare it to anything,” Leal said. “It’s a very unique situation. On Friday, the whole town of Donna is red and ma-roon.”

Leal said that in Donna, it doesn’t matter who you are or how old you are – you’re a Redskins fan. Moreno remembers his father taking him to Donna games when he was growing up in the 1970s.

Same goes for Weslaco fans. The people live and die with the football teams. Leal thinks it has to do with the size of the towns and how closely-knit the communities are.

“There’s nothing really big to do in Donna. There’s no movies or malls,” Leal said. “Everyone does one thing – they go to the games on Fridays. That’s their family outing.”

A good deal of that pride also stems from Donna’s state championship in 1961. Leal said there’s still a good amount of fa-thers, brothers and uncles that either played on that team or were there when it happened.

The pride from that team still shows up every Friday and especially against Weslaco.

“Donna always has a lot of pride,” Cardenas said. “It was a tough game. You didn’t want to give them an inch.”

Leal thinks the Donna, Weslaco rivalry really began to heat up once Donna captured that state title. It was just one more thing Donna fans had to hold against Weslaco.

“That’s what started the whole thing,” Leal said. “It’s never phased out after that.”

THE ONLY GAME THAT MATTERS

Andrew Gonzalez remembers what he was told growing up in the Weslaco football system. It was reinforced almost every day by his coaches and peers.

“You always had to beat Elsa, Mercedes and of course you had to beat Donna,” Gonzalez said. “You have to beat Donna, no matter what. That’s how you grew up in athletics. You have to beat those schools.”

Fans of Donna and Weslaco can find out if their season was a success with just one simple question. Did we beat Donna? Did we beat Weslaco? At times, it didn’t seem like any other game mattered.

Beat Donna. Beat Weslaco. All else will be forgiven.

“You hear that all the time,” Moreno said. “I heard it as a player, I heard it as a coach. The adults come and ask ‘when do we play Weslaco?’ They think that’s the only game we play.”

Before Moreno was hired in 2007, the previous Donna coach was Tom Chavez. He coached the 2005 and 2006 seasons. He wasn’t too successful, accumulating a 4-16 record with the Redskins.

In 2005, Chavez had two wins. One of them was against Weslaco. He came back to coach in 2006. In 2006 Donna had two wins. One of them was not Weslaco. Donna didn’t renew his contract after that season and Moreno was hired. The message couldn’t be clearer – beat Weslaco.

“If it’s Donna-Weslaco, fans go nuts,” Leal said with a laugh.

Leal hasn’t been a head coach for a Donna-Weslaco game yet, but he’s been apart of many in his years previously as a Donna assistant coach. He remembers what it felt like during the week of a Weslaco game.

“The whole week is nuts,” he said. “Everybody wants to know what you’re going to do. Everyone and their mother is looking for you and wants to know how you’re going to beat Weslaco.”

BIG GAME, BIG MOMENTS

Gonzalez played safety for Weslaco from 1990 to 1992. He was an all-state player during his senior season.

Yet the thing he remembers most about playing against Donna didn’t come during that senior season. It was his junior year in 1991.

They had to move the game to a Saturday and couldn’t play in either school’s stadium. The game was moved to McAllen Memorial Stadium, one of the bigger football venues in the Valley.

Each side was filled with either Donna maroon and gold or Weslaco purple.

“It felt like a playoff game,” Gonzalez said. “Both sides were packed to the rim. You could hear the chants on both sides. It was unbelievable.”

In that game, Gonzalez had an interception that he returned for a touchdown. The exact yardage of the return eludes him, but he’s assuring when he said it was more than 50 yards. To have a big play in that environment, it’s something Gonzalez will never forget.

“Having that impact on a game, it was just amazing,” he said.

Cardenas remembers turning the tables against Donna back in the late 60s. Weslaco ran a lot of sweeping run plays back then and Cardenas remembers doing a reverse and catching Donna off-guard for long touchdowns.

The series is full of these huge plays. Both Donna and Weslaco have long traditions of success, with each program having more than a few dozen playoff appearances.

“They were always good games, tight games,” Moreno said. “One of those games where records meant nothing. I was fortu-nate to play in several and coach in more.”

BAD BLOOD

Leal remembers the Weslaco game back in 1996 quite well. The Panthers were the favorites to win, but the Redskins pulled the upset.

Donna beat Weslaco on the last drive of the game to grab a 17-14 win. The game was hotly contested the whole night.

After the final whistle blew, chaos broke lose.

“We’re shaking hands and a melee breaks out,” Leal said. “It was a total fight. We couldn’t stop it. Fans were jumping over the railing.”

Everyone was fighting, including fans and players. Police officers had to storm onto the field to help break it up as the fight spilled all over the field.

It was a black eye for the rivalry that people involved with the programs can’t seem to escape. A YouTube video has helped insure the fight will still be a burning memory, with the video showing the entire fight from start to finish. The video has over 29,000 views.

The fight is something most coaches and players want to forget.

“That’s the last thing you want,” Leal said. “It gets to the point where you get so far involved you lose focus of that it’s just a game. It leaves a bad taste.”

Gonzalez graduated four years before the fight but he’s very aware of it. He loves how intense the rivalry is but that moment took it too far for him.

“I don’t agree with all the stuff like the fights after my time,” he said. “But you always knew it was going to be a hard fought game.”

The testiness didn’t end there. In 2007, Moreno and Weslaco coach Tony Villarreal couldn’t come to an agreement to play the game and it went on hiatus for five years.

Both sides are vague when discussing why the game was stopped. It just adds to the allure of the rivalry.

Back in Cardenas’ day, he said the game was intense on the field but it was easy to separate that after the game was over.

“It was a rivalry on the field and you gave it everything you had,” Cardenas said. “Once we left the field we shook hands. There was never any trouble unless you were looking for a fight.”

RIVALRY RENEWED

In 2012 the two sides agreed to start the rivalry again. Any doubt that the five-year stoppage might have cooled off the inten-sity of the series was put to rest shortly after tickets went on sale.

“Tickets went on sale at 6 a.m. and there were people camping out,” Leal said. “We sold out our side.”

Bobby Lackey Stadium was filled last September. Moreno said the stadium holds between 12,000 to 15,000 people and the Donna-Weslaco fans stretched that limit as far as it could go.

The game itself somehow lived up to the hype. Weslaco jumped out to a 14-0 lead behind two Donna turnovers but the Red-skins stormed back to win 28-14.

Police officers took special care to make sure there weren’t any extra curricular activities after the whistle, but much to the relief of both Moreno and Villarreal, nothing transpired.

In fact, Villarreal invited Donna coaches and players to pray with the Weslaco team in a circle on the field after the game was over. A peace offering, perhaps.

“We united everybody,” Moreno said. “That was first time that ever happened.”

Regardless, Leal is excited to see where the game goes in the future. He wants to keep playing but thinks there’s Donna will be 4A this season. He wants to play Weslaco in a non-district game.

For the players that have already lived the rivalry, nothing will replace that, Moreno said. The imagery will be with him for-ever. Some young Donna and Weslaco players might have a chance to create their own memories. Leal said rivalries usually simmer out over time.

But he admits, there appears to be now slowing down Donna and Weslaco. It’s something people like Cardenas and Moreno never forget.

“The atmosphere is what I remember,” Moreno said. “You see a lot of your fans and their fans at the game. Both sides filled with maroon and purple. Those are memories that’ll last a lifetime.”

-------------------

A look at old, past and newer Valley football rivalries

With population increases and ISD’s splitting in two, three, four (or more) schools, football rivalries tend to come and go throughout the Rio Grande Valley.

Some, like Harlingen/San Benito and Donna/Weslaco, manage to withstand the tests of time. No matter which team is in what district, no matter if one school district splits, these rivals generally play each other.

Every rivalry hasn’t been so lucky. Some still play, some don’t, some can’t. For some, the meaning, fire and passion are lost. It’s just not there anymore.

Replacing those games is a pack of newer rivalries that have popped up over the past few decades. The history isn’t there, but it will be there some day.

So, let’s take a look at three games on each side of the spectrum — new and old — that have made, and will make, Valley football what it is.

THE OLD

Edinburg vs. McAllen

What used to be the biggest rivalry among Upper Valley schools still continues to this day (the two face off Sept. 6), but it’s just not the same anymore.

McAllen Memorial started playing varsity ball in 1982, Edinburg North in 1991. Other ISD’s expanded, other towns got big-ger. That increased the amount of Valley teams in Class 5A, which caused some shakeups in how the district were aligned.

By 1998, the Bulldogs and Bobcats weren’t even in the same district. It was a far cry from what once was — the two sides had been playing pretty much every year for well over 50 years. Eventually, they stopped playing altogether until 2008 when the rivalry was renewed as a non-district affair.

However, it comes with less fanfare and hype than it once did. With McAllen ISD at three schools and Edinburg ISD at four, things just aren’t the same when McHi and Edinburg High square off.

Mission vs. La Joya

By 1988, La Joya had grown enough and the Coyotes were placed in District 31-5A with the Mission Eagles. That’s when things got real fun between these two.

From that point until Mission Veterans started playing varsity ball in 2002, the two sides had many memorable games. But more so, they had fights. They had off-the-field incidents. They created a decades worth of bad blood that still continues to fester today.

In the 2010 and 11, the Eagles made a brief appearance back in Class 5A and were again aligned with the Coyotes. The two split those meetings, but with Mission now having two schools and La Joya having three, even if these schools were to be consistently aligned again, the game just wouldn’t be the same.

Los Fresnos vs. Port Isabel

From the early 1950’s until 1981, the Falcons and the Tarpons were generally in the same district. Even after that, until 2005, they continued to play.

A 52-6 Falcons demolition to open that 2005 season wound up being the last edition of the game. By that point, Los Fresnos had moved up to Class 5A while Port Isabel was still in Class 3A. Simply put, the enrollment gap between the two schools had become too much.

But between them, the Falcons and Tarpons won more than 10 district titles over the course of the 30 years the two were aligned together. They created a rivalry that, if not for Los Fresnos’ growth, would most likely still be going on today.

Other aged rivalries: Mercedes vs. Weslaco; Mercedes vs. Donna; Edcouch-Elsa vs. Donna; PSJA vs. Edinburg; PSJA vs. McAllen; Sharyland vs. Edcouch-Elsa.

NEWER

Roma vs. Rio Grande City

The Battle of Star County has been going on since 1990 when Roma added football, though it hasn’t taken place every year. For the most part, Rio Grande City was a Class 5A team while the Gladiators were in Class 4A.

Still, the two meet fairly often in non-district until 2006, when the game ceased. But, in 2010, when RGC moved back down to 4A, the rivalry resumed.

Roma, which has never made the playoffs, has won just three times. It’ll look for a fourth in Week 5 this season.

Harlingen vs. Harlingen South

The Bird Bowl, as it’s known, first took place in 1993 when Harlingen ISD split in two. Since then, the annual meeting be-tween Harlingen High and Harlingen South has divided the always passionate city Lower Valley city.

The Cardinals have a 16-4 advantage in the all-time series. As the Hawks were building their program, the Cardinals domi-nated the series in its early days. Since then, it’s been closer, but the advantage still goes to Harlingen.

The two schools will meet this season in Week 9.

La Villa vs. Santa Rosa

It’s known simply as The Sugar Bowl.

This year will mark the 26th time the Cardinals and Warriors battle for Highway107 supremacy. Santa Rosa leads the series 18-7.

Among small schools, this is the longest-standing and most intense rivalry. Santa Rosa is a Class 2A school, La Villa is in Class 1A, Division I. There were points when the two schools were aligned in the same district, but for the most part, it’s been a non-district contest.

Other newer rivalries: PSJA vs. PSJA North; Weslaco vs. Weslaco East; Edinburg vs. Edinburg North; Brownsville Pace vs. Brownsville Hanna; Brownsville Lopez vs. Brownsville Porter; Valley View vs. Hidalgo; Mission vs. Mission Veterans

Weslaco-Donna results

Here are the head-to-head scores between Donna and Weslaco. The overall record favors Donna at 46-29-4:

1930: Weslaco 28, Donna 0

1931: Donna 50, Weslaco 6

1932: Donna 7, Weslaco 0

1933: Weslaco 7, Donna 2

1934: Donna 26, Weslaco 13

1935: Donna 27, Weslaco 0

1936: Donna 14, Weslaco 12

1937: Donna 25, Weslaco 7

1938: Weslaco 7, Donna 0

1939: Weslaco 40, Donna 0

1940: Donna 12, Weslaco 0

1941: Donna 0, Weslaco 0, tie

1942: Donna 19, Weslaco 6

1943: Donna 13, Weslaco 6

1944: Weslaco 32, Donna 18

1945: Weslaco 35, Donna 0

1946: Weslaco 7, Donna 0

1947: Weslaco 26, Donna 6

1948: Weslaco 32, Donna 6

1949: Donna 20, Weslaco 13

1950: Donna 13, Weslaco 0

1951: Donna 34, Weslaco 14

1952: Weslaco 7, Donna 0

1953: Weslaco 34, Donna 0

1954: Weslaco 34, Donna 0

1955: Weslaco 27, Donna 0

1956: Donna 14, Weslaco 0

1957: Donna 20, Weslaco 20, tie

1958: Donna 14, Weslaco 6

1959: Donna 44, Weslaco 12

1950: Donna 13, Weslaco 0

1951: Donna 34, Weslaco 14

1952: Weslaco 7, Donna 0

1953: Weslaco 34, Donna 0

1954: Weslaco 34, Donna 0

1955: Weslaco 27, Donna 0

1956: Donna 14, Weslaco 0

1957: Donna 20, Weslaco 20, tie

1958: Donna 14, Weslaco 6

1959: Donna 44, Weslaco 12

1960: Weslaco 20, Donna 14

1961: Donna 30, Weslaco 14

1962: Donna 6, Weslaco 6, tie

1963: Donna 12, Weslaco 0

1964: Weslaco 6, Donna 6, tie

1965: Donna 15, Weslaco 14

1966: Donna 22, Weslaco 0

1967: Donna 14, Weslaco 6

1968: Weslaco 14, Donna 0

1969: Weslaco 26, Donna 0

1970: Donna 14, Weslaco 7

1971: Donna 14, Weslaco 13

1972: Donna 27, Weslaco 0

1973: Weslaco 14, Donna 0

1974: Donna 7, Weslaco 6

1975: Donna 19, Weslaco 14

1976: Weslaco 14, Donna 12

1977: Donna 10, Weslaco 3

1978: Donna 14, Weslaco 6

1979: Weslaco 10, Donna 8

1980: Donna 19, Weslaco 7

1981: Donna 20, Weslaco 14

1982: Donna 21, Weslaco 6

1983: Donna 22, Weslaco 7

1984: Weslaco 17, Donna 0

1985: Donna 31, Weslaco 22

1986: Weslaco 19, Donna 7

1987: Weslaco 35, Donna 0

1988: DNP

1989: DNP

1990: Donna 20, Weslaco 7

1991: Weslaco 28, Donna 3

1992: Weslaco 14, Donna 0

1993: Weslaco 27, Donna 10

1994: Weslaco 48, Donna 14

1995: Donna 28, Weslaco 17

1996: Donna 16, Weslaco 15

1997: Donna 28, Weslaco 21

1998: Weslaco 10, Donna 7

1999: Donna 22, Weslaco 0

2000: Donna 58, Weslaco 7

2001: Donna 40, Weslaco 7

2002: Donna 49, Weslaco 15

2003: Donna 59, Weslaco 8

2004: Donna 44, Weslaco 17

2005: Donna 38, Weslaco 14

2006: Weslaco 34, Donna 20

2007: Donna 27, Weslaco 20

2008: DNP

2009: DNP

2010: DNP

2011: DNP

2012: Donna 28, Weslaco 14

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