HASBROUCK HEIGHTS, NJ - A new coach. A program that had previously become accustomed to championships, now struggling to score points. Difficulties getting into the end zone. A fan base that had grown tired of a lack of success against their “hated rival,” who was also in downturn, although not a steep.
Plus the frustrations and anger that come with playing football, hitting someone for play after play. Add in the fact that everyone played both ways, so offenses that were carried out by an opponent while on defense, where returned, with interest, on offense.
Through in tough economic times, and then end of Prohibition a few years earlier, and you have - “The Thanksgiving Game Riot of 1937”.
East Rutherford and Hasbrouck Heights, due to the fact that East Rutherford was dominating the series against the smaller Hasbrouck Heights teams, had decided that the 1937 game would be the last Thanksgiving matchup between the two for a while prior to game. The post-game events did not change anyone’s minds.
Looking back over reports in from "The Record" and "The Observer," let’s take a look at the game, and the circumstances, as well as the reporting of the incident in both papers.
Both papers agreed that the closeness of the game, played in East Rutherford, was somewhat of a surprise, as East Rutherford was a pronounced favorite coming into the game. East Rutherford led 7-0 on a Jack Eigenrauch’s eight-yard run early in the second quarter for a 6-0 lead. Eigenrauth’s extra point attempt was blocked, but Dave Jacobs swooped the ball up and ran it in for 7-0 East Rutherford lead.
East Rutherford would try to extend the lead late in the second quarter, but the Hasbrouck Heights defense would hold them at the two yard line as the first half ran out.
The second half was scoreless, with the Orange and Black unable to generate any offense.
The fight between the two teams started when Hasbrouck Heights punted out of their own end zone in the final seconds of the game. "The Record" downplayed the fight’s intensity in print, while "The Observer" was much more detailed in its description.
After the punt sailed over Jacobs head, the ball was recovered, and he attempted to run the ball back. After the tackle by a swarm of Hasbrock Heights defenders, the trouble began.
While both papers agree that the Jacobs was tackled, what happened next is up to interpretation. "The Record" reported that he resented a knee to head and came up swinging. "The Observer" noted that he “took a pass” at Hasbrouck Heights Bob Mengel, before Mengel was taken to the ground, and punched by another East Rutherford player in the face while pinned to the ground.
Both accounts agree that all the members of the teams were involved in the fight after the game. But the degree of involvement of the crowd is hard to determine.
While "The Record" stated that the crowd “watched the fighting for nearly a minute, and then began to swarm the field,” it also noted that most of the crowd stayed in the stands as both schools marching bands played “while the spectators and players raced around." (Quite the visual)
"The Observer" stated that the crowd never heard the officials final whistles, as “most the 2,500 partisan rooters surged on the field from both sides, all bent on seeing that fisticuff justice was done for their teams.”
"The Observer" also praised the work of two Hasbrouck Heights policemen, “aided by several fireman and spectators saved a general melee in the center of the mud-drenched gridiron.”
Both newspapers agreed that there were many fights, both on the field and in the stands, and that despite the flare-up at the end of the game, only two people were reported as being injured, neither seriously.
So ended the East Rutherford - Hasbrouck Heights Thanksgiving rivalry, with the Orange and Black gathering only one win and two ties during the span of the rivalry (1921-1937.)
Next: The 1940s and the rise of Hasbrouck Heights under Andy Kmetz.
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