Some Call It "The Hundred Years War"; Most Know It as "The Bell Game"
By Eli Schwartz
The phrase, “The Bell Rings RED” can be heard echoing throughout Centennial High School halls in the days and weeks leading up to the Bell Game. A similar but contrasting phrase, “The Bell Rings BLUE”, is likewise heard from the voices of Central High School students. The Bell Game is popular among many Puebloans and attracts around 15,000 fans every year, but many have forgotten the roots of the game.
The Centennial Bulldogs and the Central Wildcats stormed the field for the first time on Thanksgiving Day in 1892. But for the first 58 years, this game wasn’t the Bell Game, just an annual football faceoff between the Dogs and the Cats.
The “Bell” wasn’t introduced until much later in 1950, when a local named Lou Rhoads donated an old locomotive bell from the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company to be used as a trophy. And since then, thousands of students, parents, Puebloans, and people from afar gather at Earl Dutch Clark Stadium to watch Centennial and Central face-off in the largest high-school sports event in Colorado. And not only is it the largest, but the Bell Game is also the oldest ongoing football rivalry for any sports team west of the Mississippi.
This rivalry has continued annually for over a hundred years, but it has endured many challenges and a brief interruption along the way. This disturbance began in 1906, when Central and Centennial fans erupted into rioting and violence after the football game ended. Violence, paired with the high rate of injuries among football players who didn’t wear protective padding led the superintendent to ban all football games for 14 years.
The pre-Bell game didn’t resume until 1921. But, this didn’t stop eager fans from assembling to show their school pride. On the night that the 1907 game would’ve been played, Centennial and Central fans bordered opposite walls of the Arkansas River. And in their hands were rocks that they threw at the opposing fans.
When the Dogs and Cats finally met again to play ball in 1921, they were armed with new protective padding from Robert L. Collyer. And since then, the Bell has changed hands every 2-3 years, with the exception of a 9 year win streak at Central and a 5 year streak at Centennial. This almost even split between the two schools makes the Bell Game truly special. Fans are eager and excited every year to watch their team defend the Bell, or to watch as their players fight to take it back.
The Bulldogs celebrate a 2004 win. Photo Courtesy of Andy Cross