Rod Walker: Chalmette-Holy Cross continue rivalry

Chalmette and Holy Cross will meet for the 44th time on Friday in the state’s oldest rivalry between a Catholic and a public school. You’d probably have a hard time finding someone who has witnessed the Owls and Tigers play more than Jim Bickford.

Bickford, now 68, has watched 40 of the 43 previous meetings between the teams that first met in a playoff game back in 1967.

“There’s never been a trophy or anything, but it’s always been just an intense game,” Bickford said. “Each side just wanted to beat the other kids. It’s one of those games you like to win and you like to brag and say you got the upper hand. It’s really big, especially for the alumni.”

Two alums in particular.

Chalmette coach Jason Tucker is a 1993 graduate (and former standout linebacker) at the school he will lead Thursday night. Across the field from him will be Tigers’ coach Barry Wilson, a 1964 Holy Cross grad. They look to carry on the rich tradition of Bobby Nuss and John Kalbacker, the legendary coaches of the two schools when the series first began.

“Both of those guys were intense coaches,” Bickford said.

Holy Cross owns bragging rights, leading the series all-time series 29-11-3. Amazingly, the teams played to three straight ties from 1973-1975. (And they say a tie is like kissing your sister. Imagine having to do that three years in a row.)

The series began in 1967 when the two teams met at what is now known as Tad Gormley Stadium in the playoffs. The two teams became rivals three years later when they were both part of the Catholic League.

Although the two teams are no longer in the same district, the rivalry hasn’t lost any intensity.

There was a time when the game was even bigger than it is now.

That was before Hurricane Katrina, when the teams were located just five miles apart and played for bragging rights in St. Bernard Parish.

“We used to call it the Battle in the Backyard because Holy Cross used to have a lot of kids, not just athletes who were from St. Bernard Parish, who would’ve gone to Chalmette,” Bickford said.

After Katrina, Holy Cross moved from the Lower Ninth Ward to Gentily.

“It’ still a big deal though,” Bickford said. “There are still kids who know each other. Just because we don’t have as many kids in St. Bernard Parish going to Holy Cross doesn’t mean it’s any less intense, because it certainly is.”

Holy Cross, which won 31-6 last season, is off to a 2-0 start this season and appears to be the favorite this season. The Tigers are currently ranked No. 5 in The New Orleans Advocate large school rankings. Chalmette, meanwhile, is off to an 0-2 start. But the Owls don’t have to look back to far to find an upset in the series. They knocked off the Tigers 20-17 two years ago.

My prediction?

Quarterback James Tabary and the Tigers too much this time around. Holy Cross stays unbeaten and wins 30th game in the series. Another prediction?

It might be intense.