BROOKINGS, S.D. – The 123-year-old hunt for South Dakota football dominance returns after a nine-year hiatus Saturday when the Coyotes from "The U" head up to Brookings to pursue the Jackrabbits from "State."
"I think it really brings it to fever pitch when State and the U get together," said South Dakota head coach Joe Glenn, a Coyote quarterback and wide receiver in the late '60s and early '70s. "It doesn't get any better as far as competition and spirit. It's really a sensational thing that we're getting back together and doing this."
After the last meeting between South Dakota State and the Coyotes in 2003, the Jackrabbits moved up to Division I. USD has since followed suit and joined the Jackrabbits in the Missouri Valley Football Conference this season.
The schools played to a 6-6 tie during their first matchup in 1889, which in that day would have involved each team scoring a four-point touchdown and a two-point conversion.
"You're just a small part of the big picture," SDSU head football coach John Stiegelmeir said. "It brings out unique things, unique memories, unique efforts, talks and fan experiences."
USD stoked the fiery competition last fall by erecting a billboard along Interstate 29 in Brookings showing a coyote running down a jackrabbit with the headline, "Have an old friend for dinner." Within a month, Brookings police had to remove a dead coyote found hanging by a rope from the top of billboard.
Stiegelmeir said it won't be long until fans resurrect the tradition of smuggling in dead jackrabbits or coyotes under their winter coats and tossing them onto the football field or basketball court, "which is not supposed to happen, but it will happen."
Former SDSU cheerleader Margie Fiedler can't wait for the rivalry to return, and nobody knows the consequences of a tossed coyote more than her.
In 1976, she was a 20-year-old student cheering on the Jackrabbits men's basketball team when a fellow SDSU fan threw a frozen, 55-pound coyote toward the court that struck her in the head.
Fiedler was hospitalized with a severe concussion, but she holds onto her fondness for the rivalry.
She laughs about the yearbook picture showing security guards helping her off the court with the caption: "We just thank God we weren't playing the Bison."
"All of the rivalry was just good fun stuff," said Fiedler, now a 57-year-old camp director in Montana. "There was never any anger, hatred or horrible things like that. It was just a fun way to get everyone revved up, and it did."
Former USD defensive lineman Brian Augustine recalled walking up to Coughlin-Alumni Stadium in the 1990s. The visiting team dressed in the basketball arena across North Campus Drive and had to enter the field past the SDSU student section.
"They loved throwing pennies to your helmet," Augustine said. "I mean, it didn't hurt anything."
Keith Jensen, an SDSU season-ticket holder for more than 40 years, said he remembers lots of bunnies being tossed out during games but only two coyotes.
"Too big an animal," he said. "Bunnies are easier to hide."
But the behavior degraded over the years, he said, and fans venturing into an opposing field or stadium faced a volatile atmosphere.
"We'd like to win; they'd like to win," said the 78-year-old Jensen. "When you win you've got boasting rights, but it doesn't need to go beyond that."
Chuck Cecil, a Brookings writer and historian who graduated from SDSU in 1959, said the rivalry evolved over the years from such pranks as fans burning a signature into the middle of the football field the night before a game to rowdiness and nastiness.
College students always try to outdo the previous year's activities, he said, so the nine years off provide a route to a healthier rivalry void of disrespect and hate.
"I think we've broken the cycle, which is good," Cecil said. "There's more of a respect for one another and I think we're treating each other better and more humanely."
School officials, too, are hoping for a kinder, gentler rivalry moving forward.
Last week, the universities and the South Dakota Corn Utilization Council unveiled a new South Dakota Showdown Series traveling trophy as part of an annual athletic and academic competition.
The two schools' ROTC cadets are teaming up Friday and Saturday to run the game ball from USD's campus in Vermillion up to Coughlin-Alumni Stadium in Brookings, stopping at some of South Dakota's smaller towns along the way.
Stiegelmeir said he hopes the new matchups are void of ugliness.
"What I hope is the rivalry is first class and is done right," he said.
USD leads the series 50-48-7. In the last meeting in 2003, the Jackrabbits beat the Coyotes 22-11 in the DakotaDome.