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DICK HELLER: Hoyas vs. Bison: D.C.’s natural rivalry

Howard and Georgetown are only two miles apart as MapQuest flies, but the schools might as well be located on different continents as far as football is concerned. Until now, because in nine days their teams will tangle for the first time in what is being billed as the first annual D.C. Cup game at Howard's Greene Stadium.

This might not send you jumping for joy, but it should occasion at least a hop or two. For much too long, some area schools have pretended others did not exist for scheduling purposes, which makes no sense at all. Any change in such lunkheaded policies is to be applauded.

"I don't want to take any credit for bringing us together," said Howard athletics director Dwight Datcher, who has ties to both universities. "The price of gas might have [more] to do with it."

Fair enough. But whatever the reason, the impending collision of Bison and Hoyas football programs gives D.C. fans a tasty subject to digest this season and in those to follow.

"It'll help the city come together," Georgetown linebacker Kenny Mitchell suggested.

"And it's for bragging rights," added teammate George Mosle, an offensive lineman.

What else do you need?

Both schools compete in the Football Championship Subdivision, Howard in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and Georgetown in the Patriot League. Neither is exactly a football powerhouse even at that level, but each has had its moments of autumnal chest-thumping.

The Hoyas once competed with the best schools in the East and even played in the 1941 Orange Bowl (losing to Mississippi State 14-7). However, rising costs and declining interest caused Georgetown to discontinue football for 13 years before resuming it as a club sport in 1964.

Howard seldom has sparkled in football, save for a couple of years in the 1990s when star quarterback Ted White was flinging touchdown passes hither, thither and yon. The school has been better known for strong soccer teams, and it might have been seen as a bad omen that the women's squad was practicing on the sideline Wednesday while drums were being thumped about the football opener.

Both programs have some improving to do. Howard went 4-7 in 2007, its third straight losing season, while Georgetown has suffered eight down years in a row.

So why were coaches Carey Bailey of the Bison and Kevin Kelly of the Hoyas smiling yesterday?

Maybe at the idea of opening their seasons against each other?

For the record, though, both men claimed that inaugurating the rivalry was the greatest thing to come along since, well, their last victories.

"It makes too much sense [not] to play," Kelly said. "OK, [men's] basketball is our flagship program at Georgetown, but we could make some noise, too."

For his part, Howard's Bailey promised that paying customers a week from Saturday will see "a great game, a great band, great dance teams. ... The energy level at our games is incredible."

Everybody on the premises expressed a desire for the schools to play regularly, possibly in an annual opener, though it may be a year or three before the respective schedules can be adjusted. And, Kelly noted, the NCAA has tacked an extra week onto its playoffs, reducing the number of open dates for all schools.

Neither the Bison nor Hoyas figure to be in playoff contention anytime soon, but stranger things have happened. Like two D.C. football teams finally getting together on the same field after a century or so.

"It's the beginning of a nice partnership," said Datcher, once an assistant to former Georgetown basketball coach John Thompson Jr. and later an associate AD on the Hilltop. "These are the only I-AA football schools in the District, and it's time for it."

Amen brother.

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