Although Friday night will be Ron Crawford’s first taste of the heated Bradley-Cleveland rivalry, the first-year Blue Raider coach is very familiar with the intense nature of this type of game.
“When I was at Brentwood (the last 10 years), Franklin was the rival, and when I was in Murfreesboro it was the Riverdale-Oakland rivalry,” he explained.
“The Brentwood-Franklin rivalry was more friendly, because the kids, parents and coaches all knew each other and got along. It was very competitive games, but outside of the game everybody likes each other,” Crawford related.
“In Murfreesboro there was a lot more animosity between the schools and tension between the kids,” he added. “I enjoyed the one in Brentwood a lot more.”
Although he hasn’t been a part of the near half-century old rivalry here, Crawford has several coaches on his staff who have both played and coached in it. He’s also heard from his current players and team fans about the past games.
“I’ve heard a lot of exciting things about the rivalry. I’m looking forward to being a part of it,” he declared Wednesday. “Coach (Damon) Floyd and I shouldn’t have to do anything this week to get our teams pumped up for the game, because the kids and community are doing it themselves.”
Floyd has coached in 10 of the “Crosstown Classics,” including the last seven as head coach, but he never got to play in one as during his days as a standout Bear running back and defensive back, the teams didn’t play each other.
Although the series dates back to the opening of Cleveland High in 1965, the teams have only met 37 times, taking a total of 10 years off — 1981-82, 1993-2000.
The Blue Raiders have won 70 percent (26) of the games, while the Bears have prevailed 11 times, including twice in the last four years. Last year’s game was even televised internationally on ESPN.
Last year’s 18-0 Bradley victory at Benny Monroe Stadium was just the ninth shutout in the series, while the highest-scoring game came in 2001 when the teams combined for 95 points in a 61-34 Raider win. Cleveland also prevailed in the lowest scoring, with a 7-0 victory in 1979.
The teams have combined for a half dozen state championships, with Cleveland winning one in 1968 in just its third year of existence.
Coach Benny Monroe’s Raiders claimed three straight from 1993-95 as part of a 54-game winning streak.
Bradley’s first state title came in 1961 as part of the only time in state history that a school won the football and both the boys’ and girls’ basketball crowns in the same school year.
The Bears also claimed the 1976 state championship in the 50-48 three-overtime “Game of the Century” victory over Jackson Central-Merry.
“Both schools have a strong history of success and even though we are both trying to make the playoffs again this year, I’ve tried to get our guys to understand Friday night’s game is between this year’s squads,” Crawford related.
“While I respect the rivalry, it doesn’t matter who did what back when,” he added. “This game is about the teams and players we have now.”
“It sounds like a tremendous rivalry to be a part of and I’m looking forward to it,” Crawford remarked.
Although both squads are in the thick of the TSSAA playoff and District 5-AAA chase, what matters most to players, coaches and fans is Friday night at Bear Stadium. It’s Bradley-Cleveland, and bragging rights for the next year are on the line.