The Monon Bell Classic: What You Need To Know

Saturday, November 10, in Crawfordsville, Wabash College and DePauw University will meet for the 125th time on the football field for the annual Monon Bell Classic.
Wabash takes on DePauw in the annual Monon Bell Game

Photo courtesy of DePauw University

Monon Facts at a Glance

  • Since 1932, the winner of the Wabash-DePauw game has taken immediate possession of the Monon Bell and is responsible for bringing it to the following year’s game.
  • The Monon Bell is a 300-pound iron and brass bell—painted half gold and half red—that was once attached to one of the Monon Railroad’s locomotives.
  • The Monon Railroad, also known as the “Chicago, Indianapolis, and Louisville Railway,” was a rail line that ran mostly throughout Indiana towns.
  • In its heyday, the Monon line served six different Indiana college campuses: Saint Joseph’s, Purdue, Wabash, DePauw, Butler, and IU.
  • Throughout the Monon Bell game, the Bell’s current owners ring it as a taunt and to celebrate key plays and scores. At 300 pounds, its sound carries.

Our Rivalry Is Older Than Your Rivalry

Saturday, November 10, 2018, will be the 125th time that Wabash and DePauw have faced off on the gridiron. They first played each other on November 22, 1890. To put that into historical perspective, Wyoming had recently become the 44th state. President Benjamin Harrison was reeling from his party’s losses in the 1890 midterms only weeks before (due in part to the public’s anxiety over tariffs), but the following month, he would designate Ellis Island to become the nation’s first federal immigration facility.

In the first meeting of the two, the Tigers of DePauw clobbered the Wabash Little Giants 34–5. Since then, the series count has swung back and forth, with Wabash currently leading the series at 61–54–9.

Contrast the Monon Bell game with other, so-called “longstanding” rivalries:

  • Michigan and Ohio State will play their 115th game this year. Whatever.
  • Army and Navy will play their 119th. Ho-hum.
  • Purdue and IU will play their 121st. Wake us when it’s over.

All told, only a handful of teams can boast their (ahem) quasquicentennial match. The current leader is the Lafayette-Lehigh matchup in Pennsylvania. This year they’ll play their 154th game in a rivalry creatively known as … “The Rivalry.”

“On the Field” and “Off the Field” Are Blurred

In the Monon Bell Classic, sometimes all the activities going on off the field make it hard to focus on the game. Even if you’re in the game. In the fall of 1991, for example, Wabash quarterback Bill Padgett walked to the line of scrimmage to assess the opposition as he lugged a tired offense down the field. With a series of four consecutive Monon Bell losses yoking the College, Padgett looked deep into defensive territory to anticipate gaps and opportunities.

As he approached the center to receive the snap, he looked downfield in curious horror at a group of spectators: A close friend and fraternity brother had just thrown a right-cross into a group of DePauw fans—at the back of the very end zone he hoped to soon occupy.

Security swarmed the altercation, but play continued. Fortunately, the fracas took place right next to the play clock, and as Padgett realized he was four seconds away from a delay of game penalty, he lurched back into QB mode.

“I barely got the snap off,” he says now. “And we won.”

You WON the Bell, but can you KEEP the Bell?

If you want legend status for a half-century or more, steal the Bell from its current owners during the off-season. Throughout the years, many have attempted the fabled “Bell Heist.” Some succeed; some don’t.

In 1965, a Wabash student posed as a representative from the US Information Service in Mexico City. He asked DePauw’s president for a campus tour, including a photo op with the Monon Bell. Reluctantly, the president agreed (at that time, DePauw hid the Bell while in possession). During the tour, the student took careful notes about its precise location, which he later passed on to his fellow students, who snuck in later and took it.

The last successful heist was in 1998. Wabash students pulled off a daring raid on Halloween and brought the Bell back to Wabash. Today, when DePauw has possession, it places the Bell on a pressure sensor wired to the local police station. Wabash does not.