Courtesy of Anuta Research Center
Marinette’s Mike Messenger (23) totes the ball for sizable yardage in the 1980 M&M game on rain-soaked Higley Field. Menominee fullback and defensive standout Marty Hynnek (31) is in pursuit. Playing conditions were miserable for all participants, from players, band members, cheerleaders and stadium staff, but they gutted it out for the first M&M game at Higley. The paid attendance of 5,371 was the largest M&M crowd at Higley Field.
Courtesy of Anuta Research Center

Marinette’s Mike Messenger (23) totes the ball for sizable yardage in the 1980 M&M game on rain-soaked Higley Field. Menominee fullback and defensive standout Marty Hynnek (31) is in pursuit. Playing conditions were miserable for all participants, from players, band members, cheerleaders and stadium staff, but they gutted it out for the first M&M game at Higley. The paid attendance of 5,371 was the largest M&M crowd at Higley Field.

The air of excitement swirling through the twin communities these days is most likely due to the expectations for the 100th M&M football game to be played Saturday at Higley Stadium in Marinette.

Twin city faithful don’t need reminders of the intensity of the third oldest high school football rivalry in the United States. The passion unfolding in recent days is something locals haven’t experienced in a long time. 

Think about it. The first M&M game was played in 1894. The series was interrupted a few times for a variety of reasons, the 113-year string that spans three centuries has outlasted many interstate rivalries on the national stage. 

Between 1975 and 200, the National Federation of State High School Associations had ranked the M&M series as the oldest interstate run in the nation. The local schools lost the prestigious honor a year ago when the national federation advanced four schools, two each in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, ahead of the Marinette and Menominee classic, thus dropping it to the third spot on the historic list. 

Although Eastern schools had their series running (one since 1887, the other since 1893). They were not members of their respective state association during the 25-year period the M&M game held the No. 1 spot. Once they became members of their state organization, they became eligible for the national federations “book of records.” It’s the way the system works.

Football has always been a game of emotion in various forms. All forms involved a format where the ball is moved from one place to another with differing degrees of muscle as a means of propulsion. Football, as we know it today, is a far cry from the parent game — soccer — which originated in England about the 11th century.

The M&M game has changed beyond explanation since that afternoon on Thanksgiving Day 1894 when halfback John Mclain became the first gridiron hero in Menominee history leading the crimson to a 14-4 victory. Mclain advanced to stardom at the University of Michigan where he played football and ran track. His athletic ability earned him a silver medal in the 110-meter hurdles in the 1900 World Olympic Games in Paris. 

Gene Allen was the first Marinette player to ever score a touchdown for his school when crossing the opponent’s goal counted four points. 

Paid attendance at M&M games has been tabulated since 1938. Before then, school officials or police estimated the crowds. Between 1938 and 2005, the paid admissions have reached 301.237, an average of 5.193 per game for 58 contests played during the 60-plus years of head-to-head meetings. Considering the combined student enrollments of the two schools is about 1,400, the per-game average is pretty impressive.

It’s hard to believe that the 99 games played to date have mesmerized and animated thousands of people. Loyal fans have sat in cold, snow, rain and wind whether the games were played late in December, Thanksgiving Day, Armistice Day (Nov. 11) or crisp autumn Saturday afternoons in October.

The players, too, have experienced the brutal weather conditions of frozen, snow-covered or muddy gridirons. 

From the now forbidden flying wedge, leather helmets and the lost art of the dropkick, to the finest in equipment and training methods, the high school game has soared to phenomenal measures. 

Stories and memories of the interstate clash will abound this week. One does not have to be an alumnus or former participant in the game to appreciate the electricity that will be sweeping through the Marinette stadium on game day. 

The firey pep rallies, student skits, bonfires and weeklong activities inside the schools will be talked over images of old pranks — like the dangerous snake dances where students clasp hands and weave in and out of traffic on the interstate bridge, or twist through crowded theaters in the downtown districts — will come to life. 

The special music and snappy maneuvers arranged for the marching bands and the spirit of the peppy cheerleaders will long be remembered. 

These flashbacks of devoted fans camping outside the ticket windows for as long as 12 hours to purchase reserved seats for the game. Old-timers will be talking about how merchants decorated their storefronts in school colors, and the days when grocery stores and retail shops locked their doors at noon so employees could attend the game. Some factories did the same. Many other heretofore unmentioned tales of M&M lore will be revived this week. 

The ghosts of the past who left their shadows on the field of play will intervene with haunting spirits to symbolize what the game meant to them. The 100th milestone is a fitting tribute to them and their coaches for the imprints they made in the history of the series. 

Perhaps one of the most celebrated games to be talked about will be the 1949 outing at Walton Blesch field in Menominee when Life Magazine came to our towns to highlight the rivalry.

First published in 1936, Life Magazine was one of the most widely circulated national publications. Famous for its brilliant photography as well as its articulate style of journalism. Life was here only four years after its stunning coverage of World War II events.

Some of the war coverage included award-winning shots of Gen. Douglas MacArthur wading ashore at Leyte Island. Joe Rosenthal’s epic photo of the flag raising at Iwo Jima and the VJ-Day (Victory over Japan) masterpiece of a sailor embracing a woman in New York’s Times Square.

The 1949 game attracted a record crowd of 8,268. Life covered the affair with several pages of copy and photos. Marinette won 27 to 0.

The attendance record was broken two years later when 8,566 loyalists saw Menominee nip Marinette 13-12 at Walton Blesch Field.

We should never underestimate the spirit of the M&M game. The best way to appreciate high school football is to imagine us without it.