Story written by Dan Ludwig '11
Michigan-Ohio State. Duke-North Carolina. Nationwide, those are the types of match-ups people think of when discussing the best college rivalries. In Western New York, however, the spirited competition between the Canisius Golden Griffins and Niagara Purple Eagles is developing into a heated rivalry in its own right.
This week, Canisius celebrates that rivalry, the Battle of the Bridge, with its annual Griffin Spirit Week, running from Jan. 17-22. The week can be viewed as a type of homecoming celebration that marks the height of the year-long competition between Niagara and Canisius.
The Battle of the Bridge is an all-sports competition between Canisius and Niagara in which the winner of each sport throughout the year is awarded points; the school with the most points at the end of the athletic calendar is awarded The Canal Cup.
Started in the 2006-07 athletic year, the Battle of the Bridge has grown every year since its inception. Now in its sixth year, the Battle, along with the Griffin Spirit Week, provides for Canisius students a chance to get excited about athletics. Senior Jeff Bergmann explains the growth of Spirit Week and the rivalry in general.
"I wasn't all that interested in [the athletic] aspect of campus when I came to Canisius [in 2008]. Since then, I have seen the growth of the Canisius-Niagara rivalry. Now, it's more than just a points system with a winner; they have done a good job to get people interested in the athletics by fostering a healthy rivalry."
One of the most popular showdowns within the rivalry is women's and men's basketball. With the Jan. 19 doubleheader against the Purple Eagles looming large, Canisius is gearing up to celebrate the Battle of the Bridge rivalry with its annual Griffin Spirit Week.
For Canisius student-athletes, the Battle is the height of competition, as junior point guard Gaby Belardo explains, "I'm excited to see [the Koessler Athletic Center] packed for the Niagara game. Niagara is a really good team, so it's always good to have the support of the fans for such a big game."
Timed with the start of the spring semester, Spirit Week galvanizes the Canisius community in a way that few other events can. As students return to campus, the buzz surrounding the rivalry is visible. For instance, there are a number of activities around campus, including custom-made T-shirts and ticket giveaways.
Men's head coach Tom Parrotta believes there is an atmosphere around campus as Griffin Week kicks off. "Spirit Week drums up a lot of excitement around campus, which is vital to a rivalry like this," said the head coach. "The whole week, the campus is alive and electric. You can feel it."
Parrotta's thoughts reflect those of the larger Canisius community, which recognizes the importance of developing a sense of community through competition and rivalry. Griffin Spirit Week brings about this communal feeling by unifying Canisius students, faculty and alumni under one goal - Beat Niagara!
Dan Ludwig received his bachelor's degree in English and communications studies from Canisius in 2011. A former news writer for The Griffin, he recently completed an internship at Buffalo.com.