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The Hype: Fans bring energy to Greencastle and stadium

Saturday, November 16, 2013

DePauw pulls out all the stops to prepare for the Monon Bell Classic, the biggest NCAA Division III football game of the year, and senior wide receiver will lay it on the line to help quarterback Matt Hunt and his team get a win.
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Being part of the biggest rivalry in Division III football comes with a certain responsibility. It takes a lot of energy to cheer that hard and feud that intensely.

There's a year-round commitment to sustaining the traditions, planning the chants and organizing the national TV schedule.

There are two DIII games broadcast to a national audience each year. One is the NCAA championship; the other is the Monon Bell Classic.

"There's not many Division III kids that get to play in a game like this," DePauw coach Bill Lynch said. "Everybody on this campus knows it's Bell week. Everybody on Wabash's campus knows it's Bell week. The alums all around the country know it's Bell week."

The energy and focus of the crowd -- nearly five times larger than Blackstock Stadium's regular capacity -- is unlike anything the players will experience all year.

Lynch, 1-0 in his Monon career, compared the crowd to one of a playoff game. Early in the season, fans go to be there. For Monon, fans go to watch and to cheer.

"You can sense it on the sideline the intensity of the crowd," Lynch said. "That really excites the players. They can tell. I've coached at Ohio State, at Penn State, at Michigan; the atmosphere (here) is really big-time."

Those three Big Ten schools that Lynch coached against while at Indiana University all have stadiums with seating capacity at or near 100,000. Michigan Stadium sometimes has more than 115,000 people at games.

It takes a lot for the 8,500 or so fans at Monon to match that.

Game-day isn't the only DI-level comparison during bell week. The towns get involved. The media focus intensifies.

Greencastle doesn't string a banner across Washington Street for every home game. Major newspapers in Indianapolis and Fort Wayne don't interview Lynch every week.

"It's probably more like you do at the Division I level where you have a day set aside for media or outside obligations," Lynch said. "It's just a part of the routine. ... But it's fun. It's all part of it."

Other parts of the routine: hosting guests and alumni; fraternities up all night to guard the campus monuments; fraternities staying up all night to vandalize monuments on the opposing campus; waking up a 7 a.m. to start tailgating.

The parties go on all week, but the biggest and longest are the day of the game. Drinking starts early, takes a brief lull during the game, then continues late on Saturday night.

College kids binge drink on every weekend. On Bell weekend, they get weird.

A win in Monon used to earn the entire student body of DePauw the following Monday off of school. Two days later. That's how hard they partied in the '50s.

The coaches are challenged with getting their players to focus the energy on the game and not the buildup, and that process has to start weeks ahead.

Wabash lost its first game of the season last week. DePauw started slow before putting it together late. Both were defensible as Wabash played the North Coast Athletic Conference's first-place team in Wittenberg and DePauw played in some of the windiest conditions Lynch says he has ever experience.

Both the results were also predictable. With Monon looming, the games last week mattered just a little less.

"It's a game of great emotion and part of it is controlling your emotion," Lynch said. "Sometimes one side or the other gets so jacked up that they don't play (as well). Your hope is that you're going to play your A game in this one but there's more to it than just being excited about it.

"We try to do a good job of preparing so you can play fast, knowing exactly what you need to do, versus the excitement of playing the game."

The practice schedule is as close to normal as possible, Lynch said. It wouldn't make sense to do things differently. If it's the best way to prepare for Wabash, it's the best way to prepare for everyone else.

The anticipation stops at 1 p.m. Saturday when the final game of the season begins. The glory or pain will last a lifetime. Or at least until Nov. 15, 2014.

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Go Tigers......good luck!

-- Posted by foxtrotter on Sat, Nov 16, 2013, at 7:20 AM

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