A STADIUM LIKE NO OTHER
On the night of September 15, 1939, the Brickie Eleven took the field for the first time on Hobart High School’s newly constructed football stadium – a product of the Depression Era, government funded Work Progress Administration. Fans willing (and able) to pay 35 cents sat under the lights on concrete bleachers to watch the Lew Wallace Hornets and Hobart Brickies play a football game. For $1 a fan could own a ticket to all four home games on the 1939 schedule.
The one thousand or so fans that spent the 35 cents on that late summer evening saw future NFL Hall of Fame coach Hank Stram score two touchdowns as the Hornets whipped up on Coach Boyd Todd’s undermanned Brickies 44-0.
Over the ensuing 70 seasons along the Norfolk-Southern railroad tracks, high school football history was forged and legends were born on the celebrated gridiron that would become known as Brickie Bowl. This is where Brickie football reigned supreme.
Great teams, seasons and players would come and go for decades, building the Bowl’s legacy. In 1966 Don Howell took over for Russ Deal. Soon after came the advent of the state football tournament and with the Brickies first ever appearance in 1979, the Bowl’s legend would go to whole new level, starting with a 35-30 victory over No. 9 Munster in the sectional championship game.
Rather than being remembered for what it is – the school’s first ever playoff victory, the Munster game, like all others, takes a backseat to the following week’s Top 10 tilt – which people from Hobart refer to as the greatest game ever played – at Brickie Bowl or anywhere else for that matter.
THE GAME I: The date was Nov. 9, 1979. The mighty Penn Kingsmen, all of whom were sporting Mohawk haircuts, including six who would go on to play Division I football, came to Hobart intent on ending what was by this time a modest 11 game Brickie Bowl winning streak. In game to remember, played on a wet, frigid, blustery night, in front of more than 8,500 spectators, (in what was believed to be the Bowl’s biggest crowd to date) the Brickies upset the No. 1 Kingsmen 27-20 to advance to the state finals for the first time in school history.
Former Penn coach Chris Geesman remembers that night. “I can’t ever imagine a bigger crowd. There were fans everywhere, including on our bench,” said the state’s second all-time winningest coach with a laugh. “When we got there, some of the Brickies were walking around with just a (half) shirt on. Next thing I know, our guys are out walking around with no shirts,” he said. “So we had a battle of wills going on before the game even started.”
Retired defensive coordinator Tom Kerr, who spent much of his life coaching Hobart football called it, “the most electrifying, exciting game I’ve ever been associated with and the most satisfying victory I can recall. Both teams played their hearts out.”
THE GAME II: The story of Brickie Bowl’s mystique must include the classic, black and blue slugfest that occurred on Nov. 13, 1987 against the Mustangs. Trailing 3-0 with under four minutes to play, fate would be on the side of the No. 1 ranked Brickies in this rock-em-sock-em, smash mouth game for the ages.
After Mustang linebacker Jim Magrames hit Hobart ball carrier Mike Golarz, causing a fumble at the Munster 1, it began to look like the home winning streak might come to end. Then from out of nowhere, Brickie center Bill Fraze, the guy Munster says missed his block on Magrames, fell on loose ball in the end zone for what would be the game and regional championship winning touchdown. Final score: Hobart 7, Munster 3.
Years after the devastating loss, Magrames echoed the thoughts of many involved with this game. “We looked at it as the state championship. We knew the winner would go on to win state.”
As for it being a bone crunching game, Magrames called it, “the most physical game I ever played in…by far.”
He also talked about the special feeling of playing in Brickie Bowl as an opponent. “We knew of its history and the winning streak. We wanted to play them there, we wanted to be the ones to beat them there,” he said. “With the tracks and the way it sits in the ground, there’s no place like it in the Region.”
THE GAME III: Another game that will forever be remembered as the ” Mud Bowl” came in 1995.. In this unforgettable Region classic, the state’s No. 2 ranked Griffith Panthers, led by Bo Radtke, faced Larry Bigbie and the unranked Brickies.
Played in a quagmire, forever mired in controversy and still talked about to this day, the hard fought 14-13 skirmish won by the Brickies in ankle deep mud gave birth to a new rivalry. Legend has it the Panthers buried a bone at midfield after the game. If the Bowl’s historical standing was in question before this night, its legend was forever cemented after.
Kerr remembered that evening. “That’s the night I had two inches of mud in my shoes and two inches of water in my pockets” he said. “It was a battle of two good teams, we just hung on. At the end of the ballgame I was soaking wet but I had the warmest feeling inside. It was very rewarding (to win that game). Both teams gave it all they had.”
THE STREAK: All told, the Brickies would reach the state finals a total of 11 times; winning in ’87,’89, ‘91 and ’93. During this era, Brickie Bowl proved to be more than just a football field – it was the Brickies’ personal fortress of doom.
In 1977, the Boys of Howell began their improbable streak of 71 consecutive wins on the home turf. The Brickies were so dominant at the Bowl, they didn’t lose another game there for 11 years (1988). If no singular moments worth recalling ever happened at Brickie Bowl, this feat alone would propel it to mythical status beyond compare.
Jeff Karras, who followed brothers Ted and Tony at Hobart and played for Coach Howell during the famous streak said, “Wanted to defend the streak; we wanted to keep it going for the guys that started it,” he said. “Plus, we could tell right away which teams were scared and which came to play.”
One of the last contributions to the Hobart history books came on Sept. 24, 2004 in a game that pitted the area’s No.1 ranked team and eventual state champion Andrean 59ers, winners of 21 straight in the conference, against the resurgent hometown Brickies. On Homecoming night, with over 5,000 fans in attendance, second generation Brickie Marc Drobac rushed for180 yards and added seven tackles, leading Hobart to 20-7 victory at what was then known as Don Howell Field at Brickie Bowl.
After Coach Howell’s retirement the team fell on hard times and schools that for years had been sent home with a loss were able to enjoy a measure of revenge. A move from the Duneland Conference, which they had dominated for so long, to a more competitive situation in the Lake Athletic conference several years back, gave promise that future generations of Brickies might create a legacy all their own on the fabled real estate behind Hobart Middle School.
With the opening of the new school and stadium in 2009, memories are all that remain. So whether you were there when the gates first opened, or during the Russ Deal era of the ‘50s and ‘60s, or the Don Howell era when trips to the state finals were the norm, no matter if you’ve seen hundreds of games there or just one, this old stadium is sure to have left a lasting impression.
If you never had the good fortune to encounter the Brickie Bowl experience for yourself, trust the stories told about it by those who were there. They have no need to embellish, for the truth is better than fiction. Because of that, the legend of Brickie Bowl, will grow greater as times goes by.