NOVAK: The Niles-Dowagiac series not for the faint of heart

Published 11:30 am Thursday, October 22, 2020

Growing up in Decatur, I did not know a lot about the Niles-Dowagiac football series until I joined the staff of the Dowagiac Daily News.

It did not take long to figure out that this series was not for the weak or the timid. This was war, a battle that lasted well beyond the couple of hours that it took to play the contest.

No, this series was something special. The fans lived and breathed with every play. A cloud loomed over your community if you happened to be the loser that year. That cloud would not be lifted until you were finally able to pick up the next victory and shift the shame onto the other side of the field.

I was indoctrinated  into the series in 1981. It was at the height of the rivalry. It had become bitter by this time, and the build up to the game was something else. I could not believe that a game would mean this much to a pair of communities, and I came from Decatur, where if you did not beat Marcellus, your season was pretty much a failure.

It only took a few minutes to realize just how big this was going to be. Alumni Field, as it was called back then, was filled to the maximum. There were people everywhere and they all wanted a victory over their most-hated rival. I was assigned the Niles sideline to shoot pictures from.

Back then, Dowagiac and Niles had different newspaper staffs. So, as you can imagine, the hype between the two newsrooms was almost as intense as the one on the field.

It was no picnic being stuck on the opposing sidelines where people were spewing hatred at anything that looked like it was from Dowagiac.

In the end, it was worth every second I spent over there. Dowagiac came away with a 16-0 win over the Vikings, and my photo of Lyle Nichols racing down the Dowagiac sideline for a touchdown ran on the front page of the Daily News.

It was not the best photo of my career, but as a stringer, just starting out in the business, getting any photo in the paper, let alone on the front page, was a huge deal to me.

I do not know if that is what did it, or just the sheer magnitude of the game that drew me in, but from that point on, I was hooked on the Dowagiac-Niles series, which spanned 102 games until 2005.

Friday night, the series resumes after a 13-year hiatus. You can bet I will be there on the sidelines as this fabulous series restarts.

Scott Novak is sports editor for Leader Publications. He can be reached at