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Published September 15, 2012, 11:30 PM

Schnepf: Documentary revisits glory days of NDSU-UND rivalry

Hard to believe. But next year at this time, it will already be a decade since the University of North Dakota and North Dakota State have played each other in football.

By: Kevin Schnepf, INFORUM


Hard to believe. But next year at this time, it will already be a decade since the University of North Dakota and North Dakota State have played each other in football.

Hard to believe. But it has already been eight years since the two schools played each other in a meaningful women’s basketball game.

My, oh my (to steal a phrase from Scott Miller, the current “Voice of the Bison” and once the “Voice of the Sioux”). How time flies.

It has flown by so quickly that it has become folklore – historic enough to prompt someone to produce a documentary of the school’s intense rivalry in the two sports.

“I just started thinking that this era will never happen again,” said Bob Dambach.

He’s probably right. Ever since the two schools went their separate ways into the world of Division I, it ended a century-long rivalry – one that pitted the football and women’s basketball teams in some memorable regular-season and postseason games.

That’s why Dambach, director of television of Prairie Public Broadcasting in Fargo, wanted to chronicle the intensity of the rivalry. After three years of countless interviews and endless editing of old videotapes, producer Matt Olien and PBS will air “When They Were Kings: The NDSU-UND Rivalry” at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

They were indeed kings.

From 1981 to 2001, the schools’ football teams combined for six NCAA Division II national championships and three runner-up finishes. And from 1991 to 1999, the schools’ women’s basketball teams won eight of the nine Division II national titles.

How’s that for a quick history lesson, especially for the many current NDSU and UND fans who have never experienced the rivalry? And they probably never will, at least not like the fans did in the 1980s and 1990s.

But for 90 minutes Tuesday night on PBS, you can get at least a taste of what one of the longest college rivalries was all about.

The documentary will take you through NDSU’s glory years of football when it beat UND 12 straight times, before UND reversed the trend by winning 10 of the last 13 games.

“It was the Super Bowl for North Dakota,” longtime Grand Forks sportscaster Pat Sweeney spouted in the documentary.

It will show you how two schools, only 90 miles apart, dominated Division II women’s basketball in the 1990s.

“North Dakota was kind of ahead of the times in supporting women athletics,” NDSU All-America basketball Kasey Morlock boasted in the documentary.

Narrated by longtime Fargo news anchor Mike Morken, the documentary is filled with intriguing footage and comments.

Former UND football coach Roger Thomas on his team’s losing streak to NDSU: “Not only were they your rival, they were the best team in the nation. … It was almost embarrassing at the beginning because we couldn’t compete.”

Former NDSU running back Chad Stark on the 47-5-1 record the Bison had during his four-year career: “I can hardly remember my wife’s birthday, but ask me what record we had and I can tell you right away.”

Sweeney on the intense rivalry between women’s basketball coaches Gene Roebuck of UND and Amy Ruley of NDSU: “To the public, they didn’t come across as best of friends. With the postgame handshakes, it was like, ‘See you later.’ ”

Former UND linebacker Mike Mooney recalling the time he stripped the ball from NDSU running back Jason Miller and ran in for a touchdown to help end a 12-game losing streak to NDSU: “Based on what everyone told me, it was a 50- or 60-yard run. But it was only 32 yards.”

Morlock on competing against UND centers Sheri Kleinsasser and Jennifer Crouse: “I remember thinking Sheri has graduated … yes, she’s gone. Then this Jennifer Crouse shows up … who is this?”

All in all, Olien interviewed 30 former players and coaches, much like he did for the documentary he produced a few years ago on North Dakota Class B boys basketball.

Olien tracked down NDSU football coach Rocky Hager in Boston. He hooked up with NDSU quarterback Jeff Bentrim in Calgary. Crouse even flew from Chicago to Minneapolis just to get interviewed for this documentary.

“The intensity these people have for that rivalry, it is still there,” Olien said. “And how they all miss it.”

As former UND football coach Dale Lennon conveyed on the documentary: “Not playing North Dakota State … boy … what a void. At the end of the year, you felt like you forgot something.”

Readers can reach Forum Sports Editor

Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549

or kschnepf@forumcomm.com