MARKING YOUR TERRITORY
Published: Wednesday, September 25, 2013
Updated: Thursday, September 26, 2013 13:09
When NDSU made the transition to Division I football in 2004, many questioned the decision to move up.
“I can remember when we were making the move, so many people just said this move is crazy, it’s not going to work, you’re losing everything, you’re losing all the traditional rivalries,” NDSU head coach Craig Bohl said at his weekly press conference.
Nobody thought much about South Dakota State. The Jackrabbits were also making the move to the Football Championship Subdivision. Both teams played in the Division II North Central Conference and would again be foes in the Great West Conference.
So officials from both schools met in the middle on April 21, 2004, in the small town of Hankinson, N.D. to introduce a new traveling trophy that they hoped would spice up the matchup: the Dakota Marker.
Thought of by the Adam Jones, then President of the NDSU Chapter of Blue Key National Honor Society, the Dakota Marker is an 80-pound model replica of the quartzite monuments that were used to mark the border of North and South Dakota in 1891. The trophy has both the state’s initials engraved along with 190 M that represents the number of miles between the two schools.
At first, Bohl wasn’t quite sure what kind of impact the Marker would have.
“We all hopped in our vehicles and we drove down to the border and we had a big ceremony, and I hopped back in my truck with a few of the other players and thought, ‘You know, really, is that going to work? I guess we’re trying to make something out of nothing,’” Bohl said.
What started out as a small ploy to help make the rivalry gain steam has turned into a heated battle in front of sellout crowds. With each program making the transition to the FCS smoothly, the level of competition has increased and the stakes have been raised.
Not only is the Dakota Marker and bragging rights on the line, but lately, so too have season implications. Last year, NDSU and SDSU faced each other two times, the second of which was in the FCS playoff quarterfinals. This Saturday, the No. 1 ranked Bison head to Brookings to face the No. 6 Jackrabbits. The matchup of two top ten teams is something neither school envisioned nine years ago. The intensified stakes have made fans just as excited as the players and coaches.
“Last year at Scheels, we got to see families bring their kids and they would take pictures in front of the Marker,” Emily Grenz, NDSU Blue Key’s representative for the Dakota Marker, said. “And they’re all dressed in their Bison gear and there was just a lot of pride in being a Bison, a lot of pride in being able to touch the trophy and say that this is something that has kind of been a legacy that has been passed along.”
Blue Key has brought the Marker around to 12 different organizations this week to promote the trophy. The Marker will be available at Scheels Thursday from 5-8 p.m. for photo opportunities and Blue Key will also be bringing the Marker to tailgating before the game Saturday. Grenz says she has noticed an increased interest in the Dakota Marker.
“I think it has a lot to do with Blue Key and NDSU Athletics working together to really try and promote the Dakota Marker,” Grenz said. “I would say it’s just taken awhile for people to know what it is and now that it has come into its own, it’s something that alums remember and they want their kids or siblings who are coming here to know about it.”
The Dakota Marker will celebrate its tenth annual game on Saturday. NDSU has held the trophy five times, having won the last four matchups. Each game, dating back to the inaugural matchup in 2004, which SDSU won 24-21, has been intense and full of drama. Seven of the games have been decided by two touchdowns or less. And with both teams now playing in the competitive Missouri Valley Football Conference, the matchups make the rivalry go deeper each year.
“I can tell you, to our players and our coaches, it’s a big, big deal,” Bohl said. “It has taken off. Two really good programs and the competition has been very keen. The battles have been close. And the team that wins it, it’s exciting to go out and grab it. And I tell you what, when you lose it, it sucks. It’s a neat deal.”
The series between NDSU and SDSU dates all the way back to 1903. Rich in tradition already, the Dakota Marker adds new implications to the rivalry. And unlike that April day in Hankinson years ago, both schools realize just how important it is to have the trophy in your possession.
Updated Sept. 26 12:38 p.m.