Story by Matt Lofgren
Photos by Larry Bennet
One of the oldest and perhaps strangest stories in American history is how railroads, once the cross thread of our nation, came to be standard at 4-feet, 8.5-inches across. As the story goes, when our forefathers started building the railroads some time ago, they used the same gauge the Romans used back two thousand years ago by the width of a warhorse.
It should only be appropriate then that the width of a warhorse is the only thing between newfound rivals Avon Lake and Avon.
Separated by the same 4-feet, 8.5-inches that have intersected Route 83 for years, these two heavyweight programs have developed one of the biggest rivalries in all of Northeast Ohio in recent years.
Finding great success in the past few years with a state championship run in 2011, the Avon Eagles tonight will host the Avon Lake Shoremen, a team that has been one of the most successful programs in the state over the past 20 years.
"It is my understanding that we're not their favorite team, and to be quite honest, they're not ours," Avon Lake head coach Larry Laird said. "And that's what rivalries are all about. You respect the other team, but it doesn't mean that there's not a little bit of animosity there."
Meeting for the first time in over 20 years in 2008 at Cleveland Browns Stadium as a part of a rivalry rebirth charity game, the Shoremen and Eagles got their first taste of one another. With the growth of Avon as a community, the Eagles' prominence as a football program quickly followed in stride to set up a yearly meeting between the two teams starting in 2010.
Since then, Avon has won two out of the three meetings. Avon Lake claimed a win in Week One last year, the Shoremen's first win in the rivalry since that 2008 game.
"I always tell our kids that when you're playing Lake, there's only one way to look at it and that is the game that matters," Avon head coach Mike Elder said. "If we played in a parking lot with nobody there, it's a big game. Our kids are going to be excited about that.”
Despite finding great success last season, Elder said losing to the Shoremen last year left a bitter taste in his team's mouth.
"We're separated a by a pair of railroad tracks, so let's face facts: We lost last year. As a result for 365 days, we shopped at the same places, we eat at the same places and we run into people from that community," Elder said.
"Bragging rights are a nice thing to have. It's a respectful, healthy rivalry. But at the same time, when you get on the field, there will be no love lost. Both teams want this game bad because it gives you a whole year of bragging."
This year, the rivalry game will have extra meaning to some as the game will be broadcast region-wide on Fox Sports Ohio. While neither team has been shy from the camera with both teams playing games on television over the past few years, Laird said he knows just how good Avon is and the success their program has had against his team.
The last outing the Shoremen had on Avon's turf, the Eagles ran all over the Shoremen with a decisive 38-7 victory.
"We didn't like the feeling of going over there two years ago and getting it handed to us, and they did," Laird said. "We'll see what happens."
Since the rebirth of this rivalry, each game has meant more than the last one with both sides owning a pair of wins. But for each day of the offseason, both teams have had their biggest game circled for Week One.
Things will be changing in the near future, with Avon migrating into the Southwestern Conference with Avon Lake in 2015. But for the past year Elder said his guys have been hungry for redemption.
"I like this game Week One because it points the whole offseason to it," Elder said. "Whereas next year and two years from now, that won't happen."
With the return of Friday night football games and the pros just around the corner, there is no better way to set the tone than on a humid Thursday night on the shore of Lake Erie with two bitter rivals separated by just 4-feet, 8.5-inches.
"You can't be this close: It's kind of like two brothers sleeping in the same room," Laird said. "You can't be in the same room without wanting to beat on each other, and that's really what's going to happen."
(You can follow Matt Lofgren on Twitter @MLofgrenDKS. Follow the website @BeAFanatic)