Gainesville-North Hall doesn’t have many things typically associated with great rivalries.
It doesn’t have a storied tradition; the schools have only met 22 times in the 50-plus years since the Trojans began fielding football teams. As far as history goes, the Red Elephants have seen Hart County and Habersham Central more often than their neighbors to the north.
And historically speaking, it doesn’t have great competitive balance: Gainesville holds an 18-4 all-time advantage in the series, and of the last 10 meetings, only three have been decided by 10 points or fewer.
Yet, none of those cold figures matter much. Sure, they’re nice to talk about and they can add a humbling sense of perspective, but Gainesville-North Hall doesn’t need that.
Neither does it need two top-10 teams or playoff implications or a region championship at stake.
It didn’t need Gainesville quarterback Justin Fordham scrambling wildly to the pylon for the game-winning score as the clocked ticked toward zero in 2006, and it didn’t need a North Hall last-minute stand at the goal line to preserve a 6-point win in 1990.
All those things can help turn a great game into one that’s remembered detail-by-detail for years to come. But for a rivalry to matter, what you really need is passion.
That’s what this rivalry has, and it has it in spades. That’s why it’s a great one.
That’s why it’s the kind of high school game you bring friends from out of town to, as I plan to do tonight.
If you appreciate what’s good about high school football (or really, any sport, at any level) the sights that come with a Gainesville-North Hall game are something to behold.
I grew up watching high school football, passionate about it from the time I was 10-years-old. I’d watched too many games to count as a kid, played it as long as my limited talent would allow, and had been covering it for two years in Georgia before my maiden voyage to The Brickyard for the 2006 game.
By then, I thought I knew about rivalries, but I don’t think anything could have prepared me for the spectacle that began with cars parked what seemed like a mile from the stadium and continued with acreage of tents and tailgates.
It was like somebody had picked up Ole Miss’ famed Grove and plopped it down just off Mount Vernon Road.
In the strictest of terms, tonight’s game won’t mean anything. It won’t have any bearing on subregion standings, and it alone won’t make or break either team’s season.
But try convincing the players of that. Better yet, go watch how they live and die with every play and try to convince yourself that this game doesn’t mean anything.
It means plenty to them. And in 20 years it’ll still mean something to them, just as the players in the 1990 game probably still derive a little pleasure or pain from their win or loss.
Never is the phrase “48 minutes to play and a lifetime to remember” more true than when applied to this kind of game.
That’s the nature of a rivalry. That’s what make them truly compelling, and that’s why Gainesville-North Hall is a great one.
Brent Holloway is the sports editor for The Times. Follow him at twitter.com/bholloway.