As we embark on rivalry week in Hillsborough County, staff writers Eduardo A. Encina and Joey Knight debate as to which of the two most prominent matchups -- Plant-Robinson or Jesuit-Tampa Catholic -- is the best.
Eduardo A. Encina on Plant-Robinson
Instead of getting lost in rhetoric, Joey, I’ll simply prove my point by setting a scene.
Earlier this week, when two Plant players were named to the U.S. Army All-American team, strategically placed in the middle of the Panthers’ fieldhouse was the South Tampa Cup, the hardware given to the winner of the annual Plant-Robinson game.
Taped to the table where it sits, is a sign. On it, two Robinson players celebrating, and the words in all caps, “Imagine your neighborhood rival raising this cup in victory. Don’t let it happen. Do your part. Plant tradition. Honor it. Defend it.”
And that’s coming from the team that’s had a stranglehold on the cup for the last half-decade by an average margin of 32.6 points.
But that’s what makes Plant-Robinson truly regal. It’s a game lodged in two things that make the best rivalries what they are -- history and home turf.
It’s part-Border War, part-Backyard Brawl -- with the boundary (for the most part) being Gandy Boulevard. It’s Palma Ceia against Port Tampa.
It’s a third-generation Plant Panther like quarterback Phillip Ely, the latest in a family legacy. It’s the plays that Robinson’s dynamic duo Ruben Gonzalez and Frankie Williams drew up in the dirt during pickup games at Southwest Park several years ago.
But this game goes beyond names on rosters. It’s about the names on the front of the jerseys. It’s about the letters on the helmets.
“We’re playing a great team that I give so much respect to,” Ely said. “It’s a true test of where we are and where we need to get better.”
These are two programs more alike than different. They are led by great coaching, but fueled by greater pride.
And while Panthers and Knights alike share a mutual respect for each other, they certainly won’t be sharing lattes on Bay to Bay this week. Each team wants a win badly, especially this season, one in which an emotional triumph like this can spring board it to bigger things.
Because this is about far more than just a cup.
Joey Knight on Tampa Catholic-Jesuit
Begrudgingly, Encina, I recognize you hold most of the cards in this argument.
Initially, I was going to point out the one-sidedness of your rivalry, how Plant has owned Robinson the last half-decade. Then I remembered Jesuit has owned TC the last full decade. So I figured I’d counter by dropping the names of the NFL stars spawned from Jesuit-TC (Darrell Jackson and Jay Feely come immediately to mind) before it dawned on me Plant-Robinson may have even more (Javier Arenas, Larry Smith, John Reaves, Lee McGriff, etc.).
Finally, with my argument possessing all the buoyancy of a cinder-block raft, I was going to trump you with longevity and tradition, only to be reminded the Panthers-Knights rivalry is older.
Then I realized I need none of those factors, because I have the one that trumps them all: Intensity.
Let’s be honest, does it get more intense than Tigers-Crusaders? C’mon, two Catholic schools fewer than three miles apart? Only my fear of being blasphemous precludes me from calling this a holy war.
This isn’t the kind of game they write books about; it’s far bigger than that. It’s the kind of game they make T-shirts about! After his highly favored team’s 28-16 loss in 2008, TC coach Bob Henriquez uttered the immortal line, “Jesuit’s in my head.”
Guess which quote was soon emblazoned on the back of white shirts worn by Jesuit kids everywhere?
Now that’s bragging rights at their most undistilled. Indeed, this is Alabama-Auburn with a pregame prayer. Think about it, the loser of Plant-Robinson could go on to win a state title and consider its season a resounding success. But the TC-Jesuit loser, even if it were to snag a state title trophy next month, nonetheless would deem its season somewhat incomplete.
Yep, intensity’s the proverbial joker in this debate, Ed. Throw your history, your highfalutin NFL alumni, even your high-octane offenses at me.
Compared to Jesuit-TC, they represent nothing more than a desperation Hail Mary.