First Posted: 10/15/2009
Fifty-years ago one of the most rabid football rivalries in northwest North Carolina took its first steps.
In 1959, Mount Airy beat North Surry 18-0 in its first football meeting, but, just as in the following half-century, the final score couldnt measure the fervor and spirit which the annual clash of the Greyhounds and the Granite Bears stir in northern Surry County.
Over the years the annual Sock Bowl, as it was called before socks no longer were synonymous with the Mount Airy economy, has offered some of the most heated and exciting football Surry County has seen in its history.
Atkins, Gibbs, Hollingsworth, Diamont, Holder, Greenwood, Cooke, Dobson, Hiatt are all names which have had a place in this matchup and are names which should inspire generations of Bears and Hounds to come.
Mount Airy head coach Kelly Holder is one of those names who has a decidedly unique perspective on the rivalry.
Before Holder roamed the sidelines of Wallace Shelton Stadium as head coach, he put it in fits as the starting quarterback for North Surry from 1985 to 1987, in which he led the Greyhounds to two wins over the Bears.
The spindly QB went on to play college ball at Elon College before coming back to the area to coach and raise his family.
Holder said he knows firsthand the emotions running through players when they see that different shade of blue across the line of scrimmage.
It was a big game, he said. All week long it was some kind of spirit week for both schools and all kinds of crazy stuff would happen. We had the Hee-Haw show that week and we dressed up and did crazy things all week and they did the same. Even for the longest time our (Mount Airys) spirit week was not during homecoming, it was during North Surry, up until lately. Its definitely been a big game.
During his senior season Holder had a strange and memorable experience. His Greyhounds won 22-21 in an exciting game which saw a transfer student boot a field goal at the buzzer to take the win. But while the Tor game is a lasting memory, it may have been what he discovered following the game which stuck out more his car was missing.
I got my car stolen, Holder said. While we were at Mount Airy playing, somebody stole my car and filled it up with water and dropped it off behind the hospital. They broke into a lot of vehicles at North Surry and took mine because my keys were in it. I didnt say somebody from Mount Airy did it, but somebody stole it.
Holder and the Greyhounds actually broke a nine-game Mount Airy winning streak in 1986 during his junior season, trouncing the Bears 38-6, the most lopsided North Surry victory in the series history.
Another well known signal caller from the rivalry is former Mount Airy and Virginia Tech quarterback Todd Greenwood.
Greenwood still works in Mount Airy as president of Blue Ridge Enterprises and is set to be a 2009 inductee into the Surry County Sports Hall of Fame. He reminisced about the Bears 25-14 win over North Surry during his senior season of 1980.
I think we played them about the third game of the year and we played at North Surry, Greenwood said. The very first drive, we ran a bootleg and I came around the Mount Airy side of the field and there was a linebacker named Mike Smith and I remember making the turn and thinking, preparing, for the hit. He came by me and I thought, Wow that didnt hurt. Hey, I dont have the ball! He had come and just stripped the ball and I dont know if he even touched me. That was our first series, but we ended up winning and we had about a 70-yard touchdown pass called back.
The other memory Greenwood took from the game was how much it boosted his Bears team onto finishing the season unblemished.
That was a big part of our run to being an undefeated season, he said. When you win a couple of games you start to build that confidence. When we beat North Surry we started to really think, OK, weve gotten over that hump. Its a landmark in the season. We just felt like that was our first real true test.
Sometimes its up, sometimes its down, Greenwood said of the game. I think its a rivalry every time. I think if both teams were losing it would still be as an exciting a game as you could have. Its just such a strong rivalry.
In 50 total contests of the Mount Airy-North Surry matchup, the Bears lead 31-18-1 over the Greyhounds.
Of those 18 North Surry victories, the majority came during a 15-year span.
From 1986 until 2000, North won 13 of 15 contests, including 10 straight, sweeping the Bears from 1991 until 2001.
That 15-year dominance was something North Surry fans were not used to seeing, as the Greyhounds had won just four times prior to 1986.
It took the Greyhounds four seasons before they finally were able to topple the Bears, when in 1963, the first Mount Airy-North Surry matchup the Greyhounds actually scored in, North came away with a 13-6 victory.
It won again in 1964 in another close game, a 14-12 showdown, before going on a seven year streak without a win.
The only tie of the series came during this time, a 7-7 stalemate in 1968. However, one year later Mount Airy reestablished its dominance and put the biggest hurting on the Greyhounds to date, a 56-6 thrashing.
Ten times the matchup has been decided by less than a field goal, with five of those contests decided by just one point, the most recent coming the last time North Surry defeated the Bears, a 27-26 thriller in 2006.
Certainly the most exciting era of the matchup came during the changing of the guard. From 1985 until 1993, five of the nine games were decided by less than a touchdown, including one-point finishes in 1987 (22-21 North Surry), 1988 (14-13 Mount Airy) and 1993 (20-19 North Surry).
Fires still hot
Even though the close games of the late 80s and early 90s put the rivalry on a pedestal, the fires were burning before then.
Mount Airy 1973 graduate Doug McDaniel, who had to quit playing sports when he caught Rheumatic fever during his sophomore year but was a big fan nonetheless, said the rivalry was something he remembers fondly from his high school days.
Mount Airy and North Surry were big rivalries when I was in school, he said. We would pack over 5,000 in the old Wallace Shelton stadium with standing room only crowds. You never knew who would win. Coach Atkins was the coach at North Surry then and he was an assistant to the great Wallace Shelton. Coach Jerry Hollingsworth was our coach and he had taken over from Alex Gibbs.
Coach James Holleman said when he returned to Mount Airy in the 1960s the annual Mount Airy-North Surry meeting was a spectacle to behold.
I came here back in the 60s and it was The game in this area, he said. As far as Mount Airy and North Surry were concerned it was actually brutal at times. For that whole week, with everybody hating everyone, saying this, saying that. But you dont solve it by talking, youve got to go and do it.
East Surry head coach David Diamont, who was at Mount Airy prior to his tenure with the Cardinals and served under legendary coach Jerry Hollingsworth, has his own memories of the mischief which took place during the week leading up to the game.
One year, I was the head coach at Mount Airy and as I was going to school that morning there were three pickup trucks full of Mount Airy students on the way to North Surry, he said. One of them, I noticed, had my players in it. So, I wheeled around and went and got that pickup truck and brought them back to campus to make sure no one got in trouble. There was another time when there seemed to be a…lets just say that something was put on the flag pole and pulled up at North Surry. It wasnt pleasant, Im sure, but there has been a lot of back and forth.
Diamont said he views the game as a seminal high school football rivalry and as a focal point of a community.
Its been one of the most intense rivalries in Northwest North Carolina, Diamont said. As a person that has participated in it, its always been exciting. Ive been involved from the viewpoint as a JV coach at Mount Airy and varsity head coach at Mount Airy. The crowd is always five or six deep around the end zone. Theres a lot of bragging rights involved and its county versus city. Its not only a football game, its almost a social event.
Darren Taylor, an assistant coach at Mount Airy and a former coach and player at North Surry, said he thinks while the rivalry has lost some of its punch in recent years, the new conference alignment will work to bring it back to where it once was.
Taylor played in the early 80s and was an assistant at North until the early 90s.
Its still a cross-town rival, but because we werent in the same conference some of its luster has diminished, Taylor said. The kids still get up for it, its still a big deal for them, but the game itself, the importance of it being a conference game, was lost over the years. Now that the game is back to a conference game I think the rivalry part, the intensity of it, is going to come back. I know from being here at Mount Airy for the last few years our biggest rival in the conference has been East Surry. But that intensity between East Surry and Mount Airy used to be the same way with North Surry and Mount Airy a few years ago.
It was always our biggest game of the year, Taylor continued. Your whole season pretty much back in those days was a lot of times built around, Could you beat Mount Airy or not? Because youre within two or three miles of each other and it was a big game and a big experience. These kids today, they hang out together, they run around together. Back in my day there wasnt as much of that that went on. North Surry people didnt hang out that much with Mount Airy people and vice versa. For the most part today these kids know each other, they text each other, they talk to each other. Its just a lot different than it was.
While the rivalry has shifted and changed over the years, with each side enjoying extended success against the other, the fact remains, when Mount Airy and North Surry meet, expect a crowd and expect it to be loud. It is the epitome of the grit and wonder of high school athletics neighbor pitted against neighbor, cousin against cousin and brother against brother. No matter the final outcome or who owns the record books, the kids continue to line up with their hearts ready to burst, just wanting to lay that first hit on, what is to them, an age-old rival.
Contact Thomas Smith at [email protected] or 719-1920.