Since the first game on October 3, 1919, the "Battle of I-75," also known as the "Black Swamp Showdown," has become a significant event on many Northwest Ohio fall football calendars. Our house, like many in our area, is split. Two of us support BGSU, but the brashest family member shamelessly supports her UT Rockets. My good friend and I have bet lunch on the game for years, although I have to admit, I've stopped counting how many lunches I owe him, thanks to the Falcons' recent losing streak. I guess I'll have to buy an expensive lunch to catch up for the last few years.
I've often wondered how this local football rivalry stacks up to other big games. I know it's not Ohio State vs. Michigan or Alabama vs. Auburn. Still, not even the Army-Navy rivalry involves a rocket aimed at an opponent's stadium. You have to come to Northwest Ohio and the Battle of I-75 for that one. Ever wonder how that happened? Here's the back story. But first, how did UT become the "Rockets?"
In September of 1923, Pittsburgh sports writers were astonished to learn the Toledo University football team had no nickname when it arrived at Tech Field to open the football season against the then-powerful Carnegie Tech Tartans. Now, before we expand on this story, remember that the University of Toledo (UT) was known as Toledo University (TU) back in those days. Today, we know Carnegie Tech as Carnegie Mellon University. Anyway, once the game started, with no one else to tease, the sports writers began harassing and poking fun at James Neal, a TU student working as a spotter in the press box. They pressured Neal to provide a nickname for his university's football team. Neal probably knew better than to quote some of the TU nicknames used in the past. After all, who would want to defend nicknames like the "munies" (a moniker used to designate the school as a municipal college) or "Dwyer's Boys" (in honor of coach Joseph Dwyer)? How about the "Fighters" or "Bancroft Highwaymen?"
As the story goes, Neal was quick on his feet. He gave those old nicknames the slip and stunned the press box by announcing the flashy TU team should be called the "Skyrockets!" Just then, a TU player grabbed a fumble out of the air and ran 99 yards for a touchdown. The writers, impressed with the rapid fumble return and Neal's vivid imagination, decided to shorten the name to the "Rockets," and despite UT's 32-12 loss, the nickname has been used ever since.
So, that's how the "Rockets" nickname came about. What about this rocket targeting BG? In 1961, the University of Toledo secured a genuine Nike-Ajax supersonic rocket from the U.S. Army, which was placed behind the crossbar of the north-end goal post where the Larimer Athletic Complex resides today. The missile was donated partly because of the university's nickname, its affiliation with the Ordnance Corps of the U.S. Department of Army, and because Uncle Sam was looking for places to offload its surplus of decommissioned missiles. During the Glass Bowl renovation in 1989-90, the rocket was moved to its present-day position on the northeast corner of the Glass Bowl.
Even though this rocket goes back to the early days of space-age surface-to-air missiles, it still looks like it could pack a powerful punch with its two sets of fins and its booster capable of guiding it to supersonic velocity. But where is this blue and gold missile pointed? As it stands today next to the Glass Bowl, it has been carefully aimed so the rocket's trajectory is pointed 25 miles south towards Bowling Green State University. According to UT officials, if the missile were to be lit, it would blast off and land directly on the 50-yard line of the BGSU Falcons Doyt Perry football stadium.
So, the next time someone questions the seriousness of the UT-BGSU football rivalry, tell them it doesn’t take a rock scientist to figure out how consequential the game is.