August 20, 2014 - Six miles. About a 15-minute bus ride via M-15.
That's what separates Goodrich and Brandon high schools; however, on Aug. 28 the neighboring districts may not be too neighborly when a football rivalry will be renewed after more than 20 years as the Martians host the Blackhawks at 7 p.m. at the Roy Stacey Athletic Complex.
According to the Michigan High School Historical Game-by-Game results, the Brandon-Goodrich rivalry dates back to 1952 and continued until 1992. Goodrich leads the overall series 30-12 and won the final meeting 42-14. The last time Brandon won was 1986 by a score of 34-8.
The meeting of the two schools is a result of Lapeer East and West combining this fall to form one school, exiting the Flint Metro League where Brandon plays. The eight school league was reduced to six teams, thus two open games are on the schedule for Brandon.
Brandon Athletic Director Don Watchowski and Goodrich Athletic Director Dave Davis discussed the rivalry about a year ago and set up the match.
"Next year Goodrich will play at Brandon," said Watchowski. "It's time we struck up this natural rivalry again—we share a border and it works. We both have the same bye-week so it's time to play."
Both teams play on artificial turf and are led by experienced coaches.
Martian Head Coach Tom Alward is in his 23rd season in Goodrich with a record of 124-86.
"Brandon is almost twice our size," he said. "It's a big challenge to play the Blackhawks—it's been more than 20 years since we played them and while we've dominated the series between 1952 and 1992, this is a new ball game. The players are excited since there is a closeness between the two communities. The quips are flying over social media between the players in Goodrich and Brandon—we try to keep that to a minimum, but a lot of talk is going on. We hope to keep this a real nice rivalry. We have not played in a long time— keep in mind that anyone that can beat you is a rival and add to that, Brandon's our neighbor. It's going to be a great game."
Alward is no stranger to rivalry games.
While a starting player for the Nebraska Cornhuskers, Alward recalls playing the Oklahoma Sooners—a battle that lasted from 1912-2010.
"I remember going to Norman, Oklahoma and coming out on their field," he said. "The crowd noise was deafening—it hurt your ears. Now that's a rivalry game. It's a healthy smash mouth game—that's why you play. Coach Pizzala and I are friends, but about a week before the game we're not going to talk a lot. After the game we'll shake hands and be friends."
Brandon Head Coach Tim Pizzala, in his eighth season, will bring his Blackhawks into Roy U. Stacey Athletic Complex with something to prove.
"I'm glad to see the rivalry game come back," said Pizzala. "It's going to be very competitive. We understand Goodrich is a powerhouse team and the records, on paper, give them an edge. But the last game was more than 20 years ago. A lot has changed since then. We are not anyone's little brother. The students have been chirping all summer about this game and when the clock stops we'll be on top. That will be a great way to start the season. It's going to be a big crowd in Goodrich—next year we'll have them in our house. We're planning on whipping them in their backyard. Let's do this."
Oakland County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Greg Glover, played football for the Brandon Blackhawks in 1984-85 against Goodrich.
"There was no love lost between Brandon and Goodrich," said Glover. "Goodrich was a love-hate relationship—we never hung out with those kids. It was always a heated game that you just did not want to lose. Our biggest rivals were Oxford and Avondale high schools. We never got into fights, but we'd bicker with Goodrich and played with intensity. It was a border town that we just would never back down from."
Gerald Hughes, 87, coached football at Goodrich High School for 33 years from 1955-1986. Over that time Hughes and his Martians rolled up a 21-11 record against Brandon.
"We were very fortunate to have some great teams at Goodrich," he said. "In 1954 Goodrich lost every game 0-8 except for a tie with Mt. Morris. The next year when I started we got beat by Brandon and the year after that, too. But that changed over the next few years. I ended up with a good record against Brandon. I knew the coaches for Brandon away from the game too, so we knew what was coming."
"We never wanted to lose, but some years they would have better players," he said. "We had players that would move from Goodrich to Brandon and the next year play against us. It was always a big game. It's good for both communities—the fans would get all revved up for the game. The players have a job to do and tried to not get caught up in the emotion—it's never easy. I've had some very good kids and some that were not so big, either. But it's all about having heart, not physical size so much. Even in the years when Goodrich was playing better, I'd remind the kids never ever look past a team regardless of their record. Those are the teams that come up and bite you."
Hughes, who was inducted into the Michigan High School Football Coaches Hall of Fame in 1984, plans on attending Thursday's game; however, he will not be on the sidelines.
"No way," he laughed. "There's plenty of second-guessers in the stands at football games. They don't need me."