Webster’s dictionary defines the word rivalry as ‘a state or situation in which people or groups are competing with each other.’
With that said, let’s now define the Belleville-Nutley football situation on the high school level.
It’s become nothing more than a series of games. The rivalry aspect is over, at least for now and most likely, the forseeable future.
To not have seen this coming is to put our proverbial head in the sand, which is fine, because a local football rivalry, per se, brings about a lot of juice. It riles up the alumni, as well as providing a certain intensity in preparation for the coaches and current players.
But is there a football rivalry between the neighboring towns? Obviously not, based on Nutley’s 45-0 win over Belleville on Sept. 13, in a game that could easily have been 65-0. The 45 point margin of victory is the largest in the history of this series, eclipsing the previous mark set by the 1952 Bellboys in a 37-0 win over the Raiders. (Nutley’s biggest margin of victory had been 35 points, with those wins coming in 2002, 2005 and 2011).
You can say last Friday was just one game, right?
Okay, then consider this. Over the past 30 years now, Nutley has a 24-4-2 record versus its rival.
And it gets worse.
Since John Senesky left as head coach after the 1996 season, thanks to some nimwits who felt it was time for him to go, Belleville is 1-16 against Nutley. That’s right, 1-16. Since Senesky, who served as head coach for 20 years, left, Belleville has had five head coaches in 17 seasons. Do the math. That’s an average of barely three years, per guy, with Pat Dowling and Joe Fischer serving the longest tenures with four seasons each.
Senesky is the same man who has the most coaching wins (at either school) in the history of this one-time ‘rivalry’, with nine.
Belleville’s lone win against the Raiders since Senesky’s final game (a 20-0 victory over Nutley on Thanksgiving Day, 1996) came five years ago, when first-year head coach Chris Strumolo, ironically a Nutley High grad, led the Bucs to a 22-12 win on Thanksgiving at Doc Ellis Field. Strumolo also came close to a second win in three years two seasons later before Nutley, a state finalist that year, rallied to a 29-22 win on Thanksgiving after Belleville led, 22-21, late in the game. (That game would also prove to be Strumolo’s last at Belleville. And keep in mind, in a 59-36 loss to Nutley in Strumolo’s second year at BHS, the Bucs were leading in the second quarter).
It’s hard to call this a rivalry when Nutley just celebrated its 50th win in the series, which is almost mind-boggling considering the two schools have met just 73 times. Another words, Nutley is 50-19-4 against Belleville since the series started in the 1920s and has been played consistently since the end of World War II.
And finally, in the last three seasons, Nutley has outscored Belleville by a combined 111-26. And bear in mind, we’re not talking particularly dominant Raider teams, either.
In football terms, Army-Navy is a rivalry. Michigan-Ohio State is a rivalry. Verona-Cedar Grove is a rivalry. Montclair-Bloomfield is a rivalry, Easton-Phillipsburg is a rivalry. Wayne Hills-Wayne Valley is a rivalry.
Belleville-Nutley? it’s a high school game. It bears no resemblance to the classics of the past, when records didn’t matter and no kid, on either team, felt they would lose.
People love to say times have changed. And I guess they have. And with that, the rivalry is over.