With each passing year — and considering the game was first played in 1899, there have been plenty of years that have come and gone — the exploits get a little inflated, the plays a little more pivotal and the tales just a little taller.
And really, that’s all a part of the fun.
The entire Troy vs. Piqua football rivalry — which will be played this Friday at Piqua’s Alexander Stadium for the 134th time — is essentially based on legend and lore. Yes, there are codified accounts of nearly all of the games played between the two high school football teams (you’re welcome), but just as newspaper pages tend to crumble with time, so too do the memories of the participants involved.
Ask just about any player or coach who ever participated in the game and they’ll spin you yarns that seem, at best, dubious. It seems as though every defender who played in the game had 30 tackles, four sacks and a pair of interceptions. Every running back had 40 carries for 500 yards and seven touchdowns. The “fish tales” are all part of the fun — and if that’s how they want to remember that time in their life, who would deny them that?
There are, however, some legends that have been around for so long and become so deeply embedded in the culture of both communities that they’ve become apocryphal. Nobody knows if they are true or not, but they are just generally accepted in part because they sound believable — but also in part because they are too good not to tell.
I mean, who really wants the facts to get in the way of a good story?
Perhaps the most legendary tale of the battle between Troy and Piqua actually takes place before they two teams ever stepped foot on the gridiron.
The story of the “Courthouse War” begins in the early 1800s, when residents of Piqua — then known as “Washington” — began lobbying legislators for their town to become the Miami County seat.
Washington leaders argued that not only did they have the larger town, but that the swamps that surrounded Troy at the time were sure to make visitors ill. Troy residents countered that they should have the county seat because of Troy’s more centralized location within the county.
State leaders elected to build the first Miami County Courthouse in Troy — and would go on to build three more courthouses between 1803 and 1841. In 1887, county commissioners decided to build a new courthouse — and Piqua residents viewed that as one final chance to get the courthouse moved back to their city.
Piqua’s leaders petitioned the state legislature and eventually got a commission from Columbus to come to Miami County to settle the dispute once and for all. According to legend, the first day of the visit, legislators were given a tour of Piqua, where they were shown the town’s size and prosperity — both of which, at the time, exceeded those of Troy.
The next day, however, the Columbus visitors visited Troy, where they were treated to a banquet at the Lollis Hotel. The story goes that in addition to the banquet, the ones who would make the final decision were treated to a deep well of adult beverages and the party lasted well into the night.
As a result, the courthouse stayed in Troy.
That wasn’t the end of the rivalry, however. When the statue of Lady Justice was placed atop the courthouse dome, she was placed with her posterior facing Piqua — on purpose.
While this story sounds dubious at best, there is at least one newspaper account that would seemingly lend some veracity to the tale: “Madam Justice looks past Troy to the towns of Tippecanoe and West Milton, while she turns her bustle in the direction of Piqua,” the editor of the Tippecanoe Herald wrote in 1887.
When the two teams actually did start playing football in 1899, the legends only continued to grow. Troy won the first meeting between the two, 17-0. The two team would again meet later that same year; in the second meeting, Troy scored a safety with just seconds remaining to pull out a 7-5. Piqua fans attending the game — some of whom likely still were steaming at the way Troy had acquired the rights to the Miami County Courthouse more than a decade earlier — felt the game had been fixed by unscrupulous officials.
Following the game, which was played at Midway Park in Troy, a riot broke out among the 600-or-so spectators. By the time the dust settled, bones had been broken, blood had been shed and “The Rivalry” had the first legend in a battle that would stretch out more than a century had been born.
The exploits of former Troy start running back Gordon Bell — who went on to play at the University of Michigan — are largely indisputable. On the very first play of his varsity football career — in 1969, Troy and Piqua played in the first game of the season — Bell broke off a 68-yard touchdown run against the heavily favored Indians. He would finish the game with 173 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
Bell would simply torture the Indians all three years of his varsity career. As a junior, he rushed for 324 yards and four touchdowns. As a senior, he had 212 yards and three touchdowns.
What happened next is something people are still talking about nearly 50 years later. According to to legend, Piqua coach Chuck Asher was so happy to see Bell graduate and never play against Piqua again that he offered to personally present Bell with his diploma at Troy’s 1972 commencement ceremonies.
Some believe the story to be true, some have their doubts. Bell himself falls into the category of the former.
“Absolutely that happened,” he said. “He never actually showed up and did it, but the offer was on the table. Of all the things I get asked about during my high school career, that’s probably the one thing people talk about the most.”
The Trojans and Indians have played in some classic games over the years — but few drew as much attention as the game in 1992, when both teams entered the game undefeated and ranked in the top 10 in the Division I Associated Press poll. A record-crowd of 14,000 people shoehorned their way into Troy Memorial Stadium to watch the two teams play.
Or did they?
Officially, Troy Memorial Stadium seats 10,000 fans. That number, however, is calculated based on every fan receiving 18 inches of bleacher space. On that night, however, not many people were receiving their full 18 inches of space as the fannies were packed in like sardines. Thousands of more fans lined up behind the fences that ring the track. So 14,000 isn’t out of the question
More than a quarter-century later, will anyone ever truly know how many people were at that game. We do know this much, however — if you were to ask everyone in both communities if they were at that game, almost all would say yes, which would put the attendance closer to 40,000.
No one wants to admit missing that game.
Of course, we do know for sure Troy and Piqua have played 133 times and Troy leads the series 64-63-6, right?
There are some historians who would argue one of the meetings between the two teams in the early 1900s was actually a “city game,” as it was played by grown men and college-aged ringers from both communities, as opposed to players from the respective schools. Troy won that game, but for decades, some purists have argued the game should be stricken from the record, this week’s meeting is actually the 133rd and the series is actually tied, 63-63-6.
Both schools officially recognize this as the 134th meeting between the two teams, however, as that “city game” is largely lost to history.
Lost, but never forgotten, just like most good legends.
Contact David Fong at email@example.com; follow him on Twitter @thefong