When Dean Norberg attended the University of South Dakota in the 1970s, his friends would celebrate the rivalry between USD and South Dakota State University much differently than students do today.
“We could get by with more things,” Norberg said. “There’s a lot more restrictions now than there used to be.”
Norberg attended USD from 1972-76 and earned a degree in history. He is now a farmer in Burke, S.D., and has two children attending USD.
He said the rivalry between SDSU and USD has always been a friendly one, but he and his friends had what he called “provocative fun.”
“At the State-U basketball game, it wasn’t uncommon for a few (dead) rabbits to come flying out on court,” he said. “We had a good friend that played in the band, and we had a friend that came up with the idea that a rabbit fit nicely in his trombone case.”
Norberg said there was security for football and basketball games to help keep order, but nobody suspected a band member carrying a trombone in one hand and its case in the other.
SDSU head football coach John Stiegelmeier said he did not enjoy that form of rivalry between SDSU and USD. He has been on the SDSU coaching staff since 1988 and has served as head coach since 1997.
He said the schools not playing football against one another between 2003 and 2012 actually changed the rivalry.
“We took some years off that were beneficial to the rivalry,” Stiegelmeier said.
Stiegelmeier saw a number of antics performed for the rivalry before 2012 — ketchup and mustard on jerseys, goldfish in water, coaches profanity toward players. He said those didn’t contribute positively to the rivalry.
“The rivalry is in a good place right now,” Stiegelmeier said. “People haven’t done anything out of wack or stuff that I used to see years ago.”
Junior Cole Brende attended SDSU for one year before transferring to USD his sophomore year. He grew up in Sioux Falls, where many of his high school classmates parted ways after graduation by attending one of the two schools.
Brende said the rivalry is not taken as seriously for current students. Instead, it’s more about the fun after the game and bragging rights.
“SDSU fans are a little more into the game,” he said. “For people I went to school with, it’s not so much about the football game as much as it is about getting together with your friends again.”
It might have been “wack” during Norberg’s years, but he said nothing brought students closer than the rivalry games. He said those rivalry weekends were important for social reasons, too.
“Waiting for the State-U football games and the State-U basketball games, that’s what you really live for in the fall and the winter times,” Norberg said.
Division I transition
USD head football coach Joe Glenn has a plaque in his office stating he beat SDSU five times in a row as a football player for the Coyotes.
Now, SDSU has a six-game winning streak against USD, including a win in Vermillion last year. The all-time series is deadlocked 50-50-7.
The Jackrabbit wins over USD started just before SDSU jumped to Division I football in 2003. USD has been playing catch-up ever since, and finished its transition to a D-I school in 2012.
“They are ahead of where we are today,” Glenn said. “But we’ll keep coming.”
Glenn has experience in rebuilding programs and said it’s a process. For him, it’s hard to convince outsiders the university is not behind because of football scores.
Mike Lockrem, director of SDSU marketing and communications, said some people might perceive athletic success toward SDSU because the school made the first transition to D-I.
“People of South Dakota like that the two institutions are back on the athletic field competing against each other,” Lockrem said. “It’s healthy for the state. There’s a lot of respect between the two.”
Both schools have opportunities to showcase themselves at higher levels today because of the switch to D-I.
Steigelmeier said true fans of both schools were scared about losing the rivalry game when SDSU jumped up. Now, it has a new buzz that both schools are growing after USD’s move up a division.
“Excitement is that much greater because we didn’t have the game for awhile,” Steigelmeier said.
Rivalry as recruitment
The longtime rivalry does not end on the football field or basketball court.
Coaches, alumni and fans know wins extend pride into other areas of the universities.
“You talk about (winning) in recruiting, public relations and I’m guessing professors talk about it,” Stiegelmeier said.
For the SDSU marketing department, Lockrem said the university does not factor in the rivalry.
“From a marketing perspective, absolutely not,” Lockrem said.
However, USD has a billboard advertising for its campus on Interstate 29 that includes the phrase “Have an old friend for dinner,” and features a coyote holding a rabbit in its mouth.
Rachel Mihulka, Student Ambassadors president at USD, said rivalries are huge for students.
USD tour guides poke fun at SDSU and USD, highlighting the heights of rock climbing walls or cable television in dorm rooms, but Mihulka said all universities have their good and bad aspects.
“Obviously,all the ambassadors chose USD for a reason,” she said. “But we try to pride ourselves on never talking down other schools. Our goal is to promote USD, not put down other universities.”
For Glenn, winning creates a vibe around the state he always enjoyed.
“It’s State-U,” he said. “The biggest fans will brave the cold Saturday, and it’ll bring everyone together.”
(Photo illustration by Volante staff.)