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Rivals Are Trying to Snare an Old Prize

Occidental has dominated its football series against Pomona-Pitzer recently, with the winner taking home the Drum.

October 21, 2006|Ben Bolch | Times Staff Writer

The Drum had changed residences by the time Dick Cooper rejoined the Occidental football team for his junior and senior years, after a tour of duty with the Marines in World War II.

Occidental had toppled archrival Pomona in the inaugural "Drum Game" in 1941, only to have the Sagehens win back the coveted relic a year later before the schools halted play for two seasons because of the war.

Among Cooper's chief complaints about his military experience wasn't the conditions he faced in the Philippines or Northern China, but that he had to room with Hap Cowger, a Pomona halfback, for 15 weeks during an officer's training program.

"That was long enough," quipped Cooper, 83, a former all-conference lineman.

When Occidental and Pomona renewed their rivalry in 1945, the Drum tradition was still fledgling, but the series between the small liberal-arts colleges seemed as old as the buckskin drum itself.

The rivalry dates to 1895 and is the longest-running in Southern California. Today's renewal at Occidental will be game No. 109. On the West Coast, only Stanford-California (1892) and Oregon-Oregon State (1894) are older.

USC-UCLA? Not even close. The Trojans and Bruins started playing each other in 1929 and have met a paltry-by-comparison 75 times.

Only three games into the series, the Occidental-Pomona rivalry became so contentious that a forfeit was necessitated. According to an account of the 1901 game from the Pomona archives, Occidental players, already incensed over an injury to right halfback Dean Cromwell, refused to continue the game when officials disallowed a newfangled ploy called ... the lateral.

The Tigers were eventually placated and the game resumed, the account stated, with Pomona winning, 6-0. Both schools officially recognize the game as a forfeit victory for Pomona.

In 1941, the alumni associations of Occidental and Pomona decided their rivalry needed a symbol, so the Drum tradition was born.

"You want to find something to shoot for," said Allan Donohue, a junior defensive lineman for Pomona-Pitzer, the adjoining colleges that have combined to field a football team since the 1970s. "You see the big Division I programs like SC and Notre Dame. So it's nice to have your own rivalry and call something your own."

Occidental holds a 57-48-3 advantage in the series between the NCAA Division III teams, and in recent years has beaten Pomona-Pitzer like a Drum. The Tigers won 16 consecutive games from 1981 to 1994 and have prevailed in five of the last six.

"I've never had the Drum, which is a little irritating," said Pomona-Pitzer's interim coach, Bernard Walker, who is in his third season on the coaching staff.

The Sagehens, who have 37 players to Occidental's 77, will be huge underdogs against the two-time defending Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference champion Tigers. Winners of a school-record 22 consecutive regular-season games, Occidental is 5-0 overall, 3-0 in the conference, and is averaging 42.4 points, third-best in the nation.

Pomona-Pitzer (2-3, 1-2) harbors hopes of a repeat of 2003, when it upset an undefeated Occidental team. Several Sagehens seniors, who were freshmen that year, conceded this week that they didn't grasp the significance of the Drum until they had to surrender it to the Tigers the following year.

"It was tough because we had to give it to them on their field, their crowd going crazy," Pomona-Pitzer quarterback Cody Peterson recalled. "You really walk away from the game feeling like you have nothing after you came with the Drum."

The Drum, which lists scores of nearly every game since 1941, has resided at Occidental the last two years in a trophy case alongside other athletic memorabilia. Coach Dale Widolff typically places the Drum in the locker room the week of the rivalry game as a reminder of what's at stake.

Today, the Drum will remain in the locker room until halftime, when it will be brought to the Tigers' sideline.

"Before the game, you're sitting there looking at it and seeing scores from 1948 and you're like, 'Wow, this is actually a big deal,' " said Occidental senior defensive end Robert Theofanis.

The Tigers are hoping to retain the Drum so they can keep it next to the Shoes, a bronzed pair of shoes mounted on a wooden pedestal that is the symbol of their rivalry with Whittier, which also dates to 1895 but spans only 96 meetings. Pomona-Pitzer would like to put the Drum next to the Pipe, the emblem of its long-running rivalry with neighbor Claremont-Mudd.

Occidental senior quarterback Andy Collins grew up in Zillah, Wash., enthralled by the Apple Cup rivalry involving Washington and Washington State. He then got a brief taste of the Civil War rivalry involving Oregon and Oregon State as a redshirt freshman quarterback for the Ducks.

But, as famous football alums such as politician Jack Kemp and former NFL coach Jim Mora mill about the Occidental campus during the week of the Pomona-Pitzer game, all Collins hears about now is the Drum.

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