Sports

Holy War history

Written by Bruce Howard

A look inside the St. Joe’s and Villanova rivalry

In 1921, two schools just 6.1 miles away from one another played for the very first time. The St. Joe’s Hawks, then Saint Joseph’s College, lost to the Villanova Wildcats 31-22 that year. It was the beginning of a rivalry known as The Holy War, named this way because of the Roman Catholic affiliation that is associated with the two universities, specifically, Nova’s affiliation with the Augustinian order and St. Joe’s with the Jesuit order.

Don DiJulia, the athletic director at St. Joe’s, called this game the “Army-Navy of basketball.” Much like the Army-Navy rivalry, it was pretty one-sided early on.

Nova won 11 of 12 matchups during the 1920s. The rivalry from the 1930s to the mid-1950s was pretty much dormant. The only matchup between the two teams during that time occurred in 1939.

Philadelphia’s Big 5 was established in 1955, and that is when the rivalry was reborn. The Big 5 is an informal association of college athletic programs in the Philadelphia area consisting of La Salle University, University of Pennsylvania, Temple University, Villanova and St. Joe’s. Each year, these five schools compete for the city championship. St. Joe’s has 20 championships, while Villanova has 25. Temple has the most with 27 championships.

St. Joe’s last victory came during the 2011-12 season, where they shared the title with Temple. Their last lone championship came during the 2003-04 season, where the Hawks went 30-2 and made it to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.

The Big 5 has many historic rivalries amongst its teams, but St. Joe’s-Villanova stands out from the rest, hence the rivalry earning a name itself.

Villanova and St. Joe’s played for the 74th time on Dec 2. A packed Hagan Arena witnessed the Hawks lose by a score of 94-53 to the fourth-ranked Wildcats. It was the largest margin of defeat in the history of the rivalry.

Through the 74 meetings between the two schools, Villanova leads the all-time series 49-25. Although Villanova has dominated this matchup during the recent years, St. Joe’s had their run of dominance when the Big 5 started. The Hawks won 10 of the first 12 games played during the first 10 years of the Big 5, but ever since then, Villaova has been the most successful in this matchup.

Legendary head coaches have been part of this rivalry as well. For St. Joe’s, coaches Phil Martelli, Jim Lynam, Jack Ramsay and others have graced the rivalry with their leadership. For Villanova, it’s been current coach Jay Wright and former coaches Rollie Massimino and Mike Fratello.

This rivalry has history, tradition and proximity all working in its favor. But above all else, Hall of Fame-caliber coaches have contributed to what is already an historic rivalry in its own right.

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Bruce Howard

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