Smith: Will “Western Bowl” Rekindle a Defunct Rivalry?

Western Kentucky and Western Michigan. While at first glance, the 2019 version of the Servpro First Responder Bowl may just seem like any other bowl game between two directional schools, it is much more than that. It is the renewal of a series that was last played in the 1940’s, back when both teams shared the same nickname, and both had the name “Normal School” in their respective school names.

Let’s take a look at some fun facts regarding both teams leading up to the 2019 First Responder Bowl.

  • Western Michigan holds an 11-3-1 lead in the overall series, which started with the first game in 1923 and the last game taking place in 1947.
  • Offense has not been the friend of either team across this series. The average score between all 15 games played in the series is Western Michigan 15, Western Kentucky 7.
  • The first ever game between the schools in 1923, which were then known as Western State Normal School and Western Kentucky State Normal School and Teachers College, was a 26-0 Western Michigan victory, led by none other than Western Michigan team captain, halfback Harry Potter. And no, that’s not a typo. The team captain for WMU in 1923 was named Harry Potter.
  • The series was extremely competitive from 1930-1939, with the largest win coming in 1931 as WMU beat WKU 13-0. In the five other games, the winning team only won by one touchdown, and one game ended in a 0-0 tie.
  • Both teams were known as the Hilltoppers until 1939, when Western Michigan changed the name of their athletic teams to its current name “Broncos” under suggestion from teacher, John Gill, who would end up becoming the Broncos head coach in 1942.
  • The name change was made to reduce confusion between the Western Kentucky, Western Michigan, and Marquette University athletic teams, which were all called the “Hilltoppers” at the time.
  • Jack Harbaugh (father of University of Michigan Head Coach Jim Harbaugh) has been the head coach of both schools. Harbaugh coached Western Michigan from 1982-1986, his first stop as a head coach in college football, where he compiled a 26-26-3 record. After a brief stint as an assistant with Pitt in 1988, he then joined Western Kentucky from 1989-2002, where he compiled a 91-68 record and led the Hilltoppers to a I-AA National Championship in 2002.
  • Western Kentucky lies further west, at 86.4561° W latitude in Bowling Green, Ky., while Western Michigan lies at 85.6103° W in Kalamazoo, Mich.
  • ­If the game is played, it will be the first ever completed game with Servpro as the sponsor, as last year’s contest between Boise State and Boston College was called a no contest in the first quarter due to weather.

So will the “Western Bowl” prove to be the rekindling of a defunct rivalry? This year’s game should prove to be an entertaining one with Western Michigan’s high powered offense, and Western Kentucky’s stifling defense, in a matchup to prove who is the best of the West(ern).

Categories: Football