A bunch of Indians and a group of Raiders first fought over a gun in 1966.
No, it wasnt the first skirmish between actual Indians and Raiders, but it was the first scrimmage between the two in a metaphorical sense.
Their team nicknames have long since changed to Grizzlies and Skyhawks, but Adams State and Fort Lewis College still play for the same Springfield .45-70 military-issue rifle they did back in 1966, the first year of whats now come to be called The Musket Game.
Todays game will be the 46th edition of The Musket Game, with Adams State holding a 31-13-1 advantage since the introduction of the weapon as a traveling trophy. As is custom, the seniors of the winning team fire the weapon after the game, along with the head coach and occassionally some assistants and school administrators.
The man responsible for providing the trophy in the first place was Mahlon White. In 1966, White and his mother, Helen Thatcher White, ran the First National Bank branches in both Alamosa and Durango, and White at the time had a reputation for being an antique gun collector, with several of his own pieces on display in the lobbies of both banks. In an attempt to stoke the school spirit of the rivalry, White decided to donate the rifle for its current purpose.
Its one of those things that has become tradition and healthy competition and whatever you want to say, Mahlon White said.
The rifle itself actually isnt a musket in the literal sense. Although the exact model year isnt known, Springfield .45-70 rifles were in use beginning in 1873 and were used up until 1892. At this point, the victors fire blanks from the gun, and its become customary for those who fire it to keep the shell casings as a memento.
The amount of firing has been tilted heavily toward the team in green over the history of the weapon. In fact, the carrying case for the rifle, which currently sits in FLC head coach Cesar Rivas office, is green. When Adams State does hold it, theres a display case in the coaching office for it, according to associate athletic director Chris Day.
When it did happen to be in FLCs possession, at least up until the early 2000s, three physical plant employees Everett Scoop Waddell, Oliver Mallett and George Hays typically were in charge of taking care of it, according to Chris Aaland, FLC assistant athletic director for external operations and communications. The three of them often ran clocks or performed other duties at Fort Lewis football games and were trusted to take care of the prized trophy.
The series, although tilted in Adams States favor, mostly has been competitive over the years with few blowouts. The 1984 game, won by FLC, gave the Skyhawks their only Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference football title.
Memorable for another reason was the 1994 game. The Grizzlies rallied in the fourth quarter to hang on to the rifle for the eighth consecutive year. FLCs head coach at the time, current Bayfield High School athletic director Dave Preszler, made the decision to make his team watch Adams State fire the musket on the field, much to his seniors and assistant coaches chagrin.
They shot the gun, and with each shot, we huddled tighter and tighter, and by the third shot, I dont think there was a dry eye in the whole huddle, including the coaches, Preszler said.
He got the message across winning the musket means something more. Fort Lewis won the musket the next three years.
I think it just made them realize there was some meaning to that musket and importance to winning that game, Preszler said.
Aaland said FLC has fired the musket at other athletic events over the years, including using it for extra points after firing the now-defunct cannon after touchdowns at football games. To the best of Days knowledge, ASC fires it only at the rivalry game.
Aaland, an FLC alumnus, got to fire it a couple of times in 1995 and 1997, noting how heavy the gun was both in his hands and on his blue-and-gold heart.
I felt a great sense of pride, he said. I still have the brass (casings) at home on the mantle.
Its still a point of pride for this incarnation of the Skyhawks. While head coach Cesar Rivas said, as a young team, not everyone understands the history or symbolism of the rifle, the Skyhawks at least know one thing:
Weve elected to fire it at our home field regardless of where were at, but we sure as heck dont want them to fire it on our field, Rivas said.
FLC also played for a cavalry sword against former RMAC member Fort Hays State, and, after winning the last meeting between the two, still hold on to the sword. It makes for a nice combination of old-school battle regalia in Rivas office.
Its pretty cool. College football has turned into such a media frenzy these days that its nice to see some of the throwback, old-school rivalry trophies out there, Rivas said.
Pride is always on the line when the Grizzlies and Skyhawks meet. But even a man who attended neither school and hasnt been to a game since the 1970s still feels the surge of pride upon hearing about The Musket Game.
Whenever I read about it or hear about it, its amazing that the tradition has lasted this long, White said.