The Renaissance literary classic “Dante’s Inferno” chronicles the adventures of Dante as he is guided in a descent down to the bottom of hell. For football teams, a trip to the Inferno in Lowell can mean a descent down into a sort of football hell at the bottom of Lake County.
And just as Dante encountered and experienced the burning fires of hell in his trip, football teams visiting the Inferno encounter and experience the burning fires of RDP, better known as Red Devil Pride. But just what is Red Devil Pride and what does this intangible mean to Lowell football?
To Lowell players, Red Devil Pride is an expectation and an obligation at the same time. Every individual has an obligation to the team and the team has an obligation to each and every individual in return. The expectation is that if everyone is totally dedicated to the team and does their job correctly, then someone will be in position to make the big play at crunch time.
“The way the kids play is the personification of RDP,” said Lowell Head Coach Kirk Kennedy. “As coaches we might guide and direct, but they’re the ones who have to get it done ultimately. The expectation (that comes) from within the team is that each individual will do their job, and that the man next to them will do their job. One man is responsible to the group and the group is responsible to one man.”
But RDP is more than just a sense of one for all and all for one on the football field. RDP is an unwavering belief in a manifest destiny of success on the football field. But how did RDP come to be the all-consuming fire that burns within the Lowell football program?
“It’s a tradition that has been built over the past several years by a lot of different kids and a lot of different classes and nobody wants to be the one (kid) or the (one) class that lets it down,” said Kennedy. “It started with doing the right things, the kind of things that any winning program is going to do on and off the field and the kids bought into it and it took off from there.”
“In 1991, our first year, it was a big change (here),” said Kennedy. We were doing things differently, but not any different than what any other winning team does; just working hard, doing the right things and playing fundamentally sound. But (because) we were fortunate enough to win that sectional in our second year I think it (RDP) took off from there,” continued Kennedy.
“They saw that their hard work would pay off and that the success we would ultimately have was based on choices. They saw that if they dedicated themselves and made the right choices that their destiny could be in their own hands and they would be successful.”
Dedication and hard work are critical to the success of any football team, and it’s no different in Lowell. The dedication and hard work of the coaching staff and players at Lowell is a huge factor in their success. But there can be no doubt that the perpetuation of Red Devil Pride within the program has played a huge role as well.
But more importantly, the players believe it too. That’s RDP. But how can an intangible really be such a key in helping the Red Devils win?
“It’s a situation that perpetuates itself, where one class has a motto: ‘Leave it better than when you found it’; which we certainly didn’t invent but we’ve adopted,” said Kennedy. “So the expectation is set by previous classes through example.”
“So the kids have their heroes when they’re young players playing Pop Warner or playing junior high. They look forward to playing in the Inferno under the lights on Fridays and when they get into high school they see what it’s all about and see the kind of the work that goes into it. So leadership is developed and it carries down from class to class,” continued Kennedy.
“What you have to remember in all this is that the other team wants to win and the other team is making plays too. (But when) Plymouth got ahead we didn’t even flinch. We just got back to work, tied it up and then held on and won the game in overtime. That’s RDP.”
Much as it was in Hobart before, that’s the way it is in Lowell now. Kids who are as different from one another as they are anywhere else grow up wanting to inherit the legacy of Red Devil Pride. They see their heroes making it happen and they can’t wait for their turn to be a part of it themselves. Thus RDP becomes a way of life.
Rock musician Bob Seger scored a major hit in 1977 with the song “The Fire Down Below”. The lyrics to the song, “They have one thing in common, that’s the fire down below,” could very easily be related to Red Devil Pride.
But perhaps Kirk Kennedy best summed up the definition of RDP this way: “We just have football savvy that reflects our experience. We’re resilient, and we find ways to win.”
Chris Lannin can be e-mailed at Chris.firstname.lastname@example.org.