Although it is one of college basketball’s most storied rivalries, certainly the most decorated, there isn’t an organized, concise and detailed history of the Arch-Baron Cup. Sure, there are bits and pieces here and there, but, for the most part, the ABC stills exists in the shadows. The national media has downplayed the significance of the rivalry principally due to the intensity of the series. Sports writers are afraid to take sides, commentators are careful not to seem biased, the stakes are immeasurably high and, unfortunately, violence and mayhem have often been the result.
As one scribe familiar with the Cup has remarked, “The fiercest European soccer rivalries were always beset with viciousness. Hooligans fighting inside and outside of the stadium, local businesses on fire, stabbings, lootings, it was sheer bedlam. The big difference between those intense soccer conflicts and the Arch-Baron Cup is that the Europeans eventually moved on to a period of civility. I can’t say the same for the Dayton/St. Louis series. It’s a war, a literal conflict, and it continues to this day.”
Let’s get the basic facts and history out of the way:
- Dayton leads the overall series, 32-25
- Thanks to Archie Miller, who took the Arch-Baron Cup as serious as any coach in the matchup’s history, Dayton is currently on a seven-game win streak. An unprecedented run that likely won’t be replicated.
- The “Palindrome Game” remains the most lop-sided win in ABC history. Dayton’s 73-37 victory over the Billikens in 2016 was seen by a record televised-audience of 32 million people.
- Dayton won seven of the first eight Arch-Baron Cups which led to heightened animosity from the Billiken fan base. The series had to be stopped after St. Louis won a close game at home in December of 1971. SLU fans rushed the court after the game and stripped both head coach Don Donoher and forward Mike Sylvester naked. Times were different back then, but needless to say the acts performed on them would be designated as sexual assault and sodomy today.
- The series was revived in 1981, a Dayton loss, played behind closed doors with no audience at Kiel Auditorium.
- The Cup went off without incident until the 1995 Great Midwest tournament at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee. UD super fan John Raponi was stabbed inside an O’Charley’s restroom by an incensed Billiken fan. Raponi still attended the game, a 78-62 Dayton loss, losing around three pints of blood in the process. Raponi’s blood-drenched t-shirt now hangs in the Donoher Center in the “Ware Red, Bleed Red” display.
- UD and SLU have only met once in the A10 Tournament, back in 2008. The Flyers outpaced the Billikens, 63-62, in front of 600 people at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. The game was delayed at halftime as a methadone giveaway took longer than anticipated.
- Scoochie Smith is the latest two-time winner of the Harewood Horse Trophy, given to the game’s most valuable player. The last time a Saint Louis player won the Harewood was Dwayne Evans back in 2014.
All these facts and stats are well-documented and easily accessible. What isn’t readily available is the history and “color” that truly defines the Arch-Baron Cup. To do so, I spent the past few weeks reaching out to players, coaches and human oddities to get a more detailed background on what is the most fervent rivalry in American sporting history.
It goes without saying that the Arch-Baron Cup has had a major impact on recruiting for both schools. It’s the type of game in which kids grow up dreaming about playing in.
I knew I wanted to come to Dayton when I was at Putnam Academy. We were all hanging out, playing Parcheesi, watching TV and I remember Duke/Carolina was on that night. The Arch-Baron Cup game was on and I asked if I could change it to the UNC game. You could have heard a pin drop. One of my teammates said that the ABC was basically bigger than the Super Bowl and that he would only change the channel if I fellated him in front of everyone. He used different language but you get the idea. Needless to say we watched the UD game that night. I remember someone threw some kind of animal fetus at Kwamain Mitchell and I swear I heard gunshots when Kevin Dillard was at the foul line. I was hooked. The Flyers won in overtime and I immediately went to my dorm room to film my commitment to UD with my cellphone. I posted it on YouTube the next morning and the rest is history. I never showered with my teammates after that night.
–Scoochie Smith, Dayton (2013-2017)
That’s not to say the heightened exposure that comes with the ABC is always a positive recruiting dynamic. The intensity of the rivalry can oftentimes rub potential recruits the wrong way. This was evident as Dayton attempted to recruit a local star, a kid with familiar connections to the program,at the tail-end of the 1990s. The Arch-Baron Cup, more specifically the hysteria that surrounds it, was the ultimate factor in his recruitment.
It was the primary reason my brother, Adam, chose not to come to Dayton. He obviously saw the emotional turmoil the Cup caused my family. I guess I never got too caught up in the fever of the rivalry because I was playing in it. Adam was ready to commit to Dayton during his junior year. However, we lost at home to SLU in ’99 and as a result my father was banned from the UD Pride message board. Adam never considered being a Flyer again. He fucked a lot of hot chicks at Florida State though. Jenn Sterger walked in on him taking a piss once, so she totally saw his dick. Pretty cool, and that’s something he’ll remember for a long time.
–Keith Waleskowski, Dayton (2000-2004)
My cursory research revealed that no one suffered more from the maniacal pressure that comes with the Arch-Baron Cup than the head coaches. On one hand, the ABC is a career-defining opportunity. Success in the series means you are on the road to riches and positive notoriety, your future is made. A failing record in the Cup is essentially career suicide, it’s hard to rise from the shadow that being on the wrong side of the rivalry casts. Unfortunately, the game itself tends to bring out the worst in the most unhinged factions of each fan base.
BG: I remember the last Arch-Baron Cup game I coached at UD. St. Louis beat us pretty bad that day, just an absolute drubbing. My wife called afterwards and informed me that someone had broken into our home and defecated in our living room. It was everywhere, it looked like the circus had come through. The cops said that whoever did it used a hammer to pound it into the carpets. That house smelled like beef stew until the day we left. We never found out who did it, and I wouldn’t have pressed charges anyway. When you lose an Arch-Baron game, you know tensions run high. It just comes with the territory.
–Brian Gregory, Dayton Coach (2003-2011)
No one suffered more physically, emotionally and mentally due to the strains related to the Arch-Baron Cup than Rick Majerus. Majerus coached in plenty of rivalry games during his illustrious coaching career, his record in the “Holy War” (Utah/BYU) is remarkable, but he wasn’t prepared for the excessive duress that the Cup causes at least twice a season.
People don’t realize the physical problems the ABC caused Rick Majerus when he was coaching here. Sleepless nights, he was chain smoking, popping pills. He just didn’t know how to deal with the pressure. Of course, this led to serious digestive issues. Rick could barely control where he shit as it was, you add in the stress from the Arch-Baron Cup and it takes it to another level. That’s when he started shitting into towels, hats, coolers, anything within his reach. He simply couldn’t deal with everything that came along with the ABC. I always thought it would kill him, and, in a way, it did. Supposedly he was buried with a tape of St. Louis’ double-OT win over UD in 2010.
–Chris May, St. Louis AD (2008-Present)
Jim Crews, one of the Flyer Faithful’s most hated villains, obviously had plenty to say about the Arch-Baron Cup. It’s clear that he was fired as the Billikens’ head coach due to his abysmal record against the Flyers. Crews got SLU to the NCAA Tournament during his first two seasons, but it obviously didn’t outweigh his performance in the nation’s premier rivalry series. Crews is understandably bitter about his ABC experiences.
I’ve always despised Dayton and I think I’ve made that pretty clear. Yeah, I told Chris Mack to throw a ball into Wes Coffee’s face twice and I would do it again if I could. Honestly, that’s how I handle any dispute in my life. Last week a waiter at Chili’s brought out cold cheese fries. The manager was not very receptive to my complaints. I told him wait here, went out to my car and took a basketball out of my trunk. Walked back into the restaurant — boom, basketball right off his fucking face. Another example, a guy cut me off in traffic the other day. I’m all “roll down your window!” Moron does it – whack, a Spalding kiss right on the nose, blood gushing everywhere.
–Jim Crews, St. Louis Coach (2012-2016)
The Arch-Baron Cup is a legacy game. For most of the participants it becomes the foundation of their future. Those who shine in the series end up enjoying the spoils, those who come up short face a life of shame and turmoil. It’s simply part and parcel of what playing in the ABC means. There’s an unwritten social contract among all who are involved, these games will dictate the rest of their lives. Out of anything I could think of, I was most interested in what former players had to say about the after effects of the Arch-Baron Cup. What does the Cup mean after these players had the ability to step away from the passion?
I won more than a few Arch-Baron Cups when I played, and let me tell you it goes a long way around the city. I never have to pay for a drink in this town or haggle for sex at the bus station. When my father came back from Vietnam, he had a necklace made out of severed ears and teeth. It earned him instant respect, and that’s kind of the same thing with winning the ABC.
–Brian Conklin, St. Louis (2008-2012)
A lot of the guys I played ball with growing up are working for Enterprise or Hertz. Some work with Avis, National or Budget. I even know a guy that works for Alamo, says he gets to sleep in the back of an Elantra all day. Things turned out different for me. I had an incredible run as far as the Arch-Baron Cup was concerned. I got a pretty sweet job selling life insurance to people who can barely keep their lights on. It’s not what I imagined I would be doing as a kid, but my future is set thanks to the ABC. People still ask me about playing SLU, and I won a fucking NIT Championship!
–Kurt Huelsman, Dayton (2006-2010)
Put aside what kind of impact it has on the players, what are the implications for each school, how does the Arch-Baron Cup affect the images of both universities?
I don’t want Saint Louis to be primarily known as the school to go to for sexual assault. Sure, that’s become our thing, but I’d like success in the Arch Baron Cup to define what it means to be a Billiken. Not the sex stuff.
–Kevin Lisch, St. Louis (2005-2009)
One overlooked positive aspect of Dayton’s recent success in the Arch-Baron Cup is that it’s good cover for our recent problems with sexual assault. All anyone ever wants to talk about is our current streak in ABC. Not the sex stuff.
–Devin Oliver, Dayton (2010-2014)
So there you have it, a quick look at the history of the Arch-Baron Cup. I want to thank all the participants and can assure you that we are just hitting the surface as far as this storied rivalry is concerned. We will have an even deeper look at the ABC before UD’s home tilt against the Billikens next month.