The football game this Saturday at Walston-Hoover Stadium between rivals Wartburg and Luther marks the 60th meeting between the two schools, which remains one of the biggest and most revered rivalries in the Iowa Conference. This edgy competitiveness comes to no surprise for the many Wartburg and Luther fans who have seen the rivalry grow since its infancy. The surprise for man, however, is Wartburg’s lopsided dominance on the football field since the 1990’s.
“For a true rivalry, one on the outside should be able to see both teams with a number of wins over a time period,” Luther head football coach Mike Durnin said. “While this is not the case within the last ten years, this game over the past four years has been very competitive on the field.”
Since 1990, Wartburg has controlled the annual series, beating Luther in 20 of their last 21 meetings, including a 24-21 win in Decorah last year. However, Wartburg head football coach Rick Willis feels this year’s Luther team shouldn’t be overlooked.
“I think the rivalry is great and I think it is still strong,” Willis said. “I think the two student bodies embrace it and get excited about it.”
The heated rivalry between the two schools runs deep amongst fans no doubt, but where that deep-hatred begins is another matter.
According to “The Rivalry,” a special edition newspaper created and published by Student Alumni Council in 2009 documenting the history between the two schools, the tradition of pranking one another takes root back in the late 1950’s, with the “mystery of the missing Knight armor.”
Soon after, Luther found its own statue of Martin Luther painted bright orange.
Over the next few years, the pranks continued to escalate until it was taking one step too far in the form of vandalism. Former Wartburg graduate and current social works professor, Susan Vallem recalls the infamous story of Wartburg students using the farm chemical Atrazine to burn a “W” into Luther’s field.
“For years, and while I was there, you could see a faint W in the field,” Vallem said.
The chemical seemed to leave a lasting impression, as Luther had to re-sod the field and eventually dig up three feet of dirt just to get the imprint out.
To make the rivalry more honorable, Wartburg student-body president William Hamm introduced the “battle of the britches,” tradition between the two schools. According to the agreement, each year the student body president of the losing football team had to remove his pants in front of the crowd and hand them over to the winning team’s president.
For former basketball standout and 1974 graduate of Wartburg College Fred Waldstein, the competitive rivalry was good for both schools.
“Generally, it was good natured, but there were people at both colleges who crossed the line,” said Waldstein. “As a student-athlete the rivalry was good because it created a great deal of fan enthusiasm when we played.”
One of Waldstein’s most favorite practical pranks involved the antics of Wartburg radio station KWAR called “Everyone Loves a Parade.” In 2001, the radio station entered Luther’s homecoming parade as an organization from Lanesboro, Minn. called the Organization of Nature Enthusiasts (ONE).
For the parade, the float was designed with Luther signs and participants donned Norse apparel. As the float reached the Luther radio station (KWLC) stand, thy van quickly shed its color of blue and was replaced by the orange and black of Wartburg College.
“That was really clever and in good fun,” said Waldstein.
However, one Wartburg prank would take the rivalry to a new height, both literally and figuratively speaking.
In the late 1990’s, Wartburg students David Max and Jeffery Huber took to the air 3,000 leaflets and one exceptional idea, “The Prank with an Airplane.” The two cross-country teammates flew over Luther College, dropping leaflets reading, “The time has come/ You need to fear/ A holy war is drawing near/ We will be avenged.” The prank was covered in every major Iowa newspaper, and was mentioned on ESPN and in Rolling Stone’s list of the most memorable pranks in 1997-98.
In the past decade, with Wartburg dominating the annual series on the gridiron, the rivalry is seemingly beginning to fade and some fans are taking notice.
“I don’t think there’s much a rivalry as there used to be,” said Vallem. “It’s certainly a lot quieter amongst students.”
Even Waldstein acknowledged the fact that pranks and acts of vandalism “fortunately, don’t happen anymore.”
So with “Beat Luther Week” once again in full swing, students and alumni are gearing up for what appears to be an intense showdown between two very evenly matched teams.
“I think the history of it means a lot to alums and people who have been a part of Wartburg in the past. It’s a game that they get excited about and care about,” Willis said. “When you add the Luther rivalry to what’s at stake for our team and our season, it makes it a really big game, and a fun week to be involved with.”
As for the Norse of Luther, they too are well aware of the long history between the schools and are ready for the challenges come Saturday.
“It’s a game alumni talk about for years to come,” Durnin said. “We expect to have two well-coached, highly motivated teams playing as hard as they are capable of on Saturday.
Wartburg would expect nothing less from such a great opponent and rival, regardless of what the weather brings for Saturday’s game.
“There are reasons why people say it’s a rivalry game, you can throw the record out the window,” Willis saud. “Whether the score is high scoring or low scoring, I expect for it to be an intense football game, and a tough football game.”
Come Saturday, when all of the weekly festivities are done and the final horn has blown, Knight fans only want one thing. That is to continue their recent dominance over their respected rival “Wartburg North,” and show “No Remorse for the Norse.”