The Exeter-Andover rivalry: 141 years and counting

Three times annually, athletes from the two schools meet to reaffirm red is superior to blue. 

Patrick Garrity
February 21, 2019
Exeter and Andover sprinters from 1952 competing in an indoor track meet

Exeter and Andover sprinters stretch for the finish line during the 1952 E/A indoor track meet at Thompson Cage. 

Ahhh … 1878: When Rutherford B. Hayes was president, Thomas Edison invented the phonograph and Exeter first beat Andover on the playing field.

Big Red’s 12-1 baseball victory May 2, 1878 launched a sporting rivalry that actually predates some sports themselves (James Naismith wouldn’t invent basketball for another 13 years). It’s a rivalry that can play an outsized role in how generations of young men and women measure their high school experience. More than one Exonian would be content with a simple epitaph: “beat Andover.” 

Three times each year, in fall, winter and spring, Big Red and Big Blue renew acquaintances. This year’s winter edition of E/A (or A/E as it is erroneously called down south) convenes Saturday in Exeter.

Ahead of that meeting, here are a few things to know about how we got here:

Hut … hut … hike!

Baseball got the ball rolling, literally, between the two schools, but the football feud is the most celebrated. It is the oldest ongoing high school football rivalry in America, and it has undeniably tilted Andover’s way lately. Big Blue has won six consecutive games to extend its lead in the series to 73 wins, 54 losses and 10 ties.

Exeter still holds claim to the biggest romp in the series, a 78-7 win in 1914.

Emotional victory

Andover rode an eight-game winning streak against Exeter into the 1913 football game, and Exeter Principal Harlan Paige Amen beseeched the entire student body to pray for victory, claiming that Exonians needed a win to regain their faith and hope. Exeter responded with a stunning 59-0 victory — only to learn the next morning that Amen had suffered a stroke and passed away. "Rarely have the joy and sorrow of life more strangely confronted each other than in the events of the past two days at Phillips Exeter Academy," The Boston Transcript reported. "Few of the thousands who witnessed the phenomenal football victory of its students over the sister institution of Andover knew that the head of this famous school was dying at his home."

The rivalry on the ice …

Exeter started playing organized hockey in 1913, but warm weather forced the cancelation of what was to be the first E/A meeting on ice in that first season. A year later, on Feb. 14, 1914, Big Red beat Andover, 4-1, at Boston Arena in the first hockey game between the schools. “Although no signs of sensational hockey were afforded to the many spectators present, the two teams played a good, consistent game replete with many thrills,” the Exonian reported.

… and on the hardwood

Six years and one World War after that inaugural hockey game, the schools met for the first time on the basketball court. Andover won that initial contest on March 13, 1920, but Big Red evened the score a year later, mounting a frantic second-half rally for a 47-43 victory in front of a rabid crowd in three-year-old Thompson Gymnasium. That makes Saturday's contest the 100th E/A boys basketball clash — although the teams have played twice annually, home-and-away, for many years. 

The Abbot Rabbits

Exeter fielded its first girls teams in 1970. Andover didn’t go co-ed until three years later. In between, Exeter girls teams played Abbot Academy — the all-girls school affiliated with Andover that would later merge with Phillips Academy. The Big Red girls basketball team beat Abbot/Andover going and coming, winning the last-ever meeting with Abbot in February 1973, then winning the inaugural contest with Andover in 1974.

Matters on the mat

Nobody has a more prestigious wrestling tradition than Exeter. Big Red has won 15 New England titles, has been the class of Class A since it was a founding school of the league in 1962 and historically has beaten its rival. Buuuuuut ... the first six times Exeter squared off on the mat with Andover, Big Blue won. It wasn't until 1940 that Big Red finally broke its slump — then went 10 years without losing again to Andover. 

Two Bills

The 1970-71 school year concluded with an E/A lacrosse game dominated by Big Blue. An 11-2 Andover win was orchestrated in part by the midfield play of one William Stephen Belichick ‘71. A post-graduate that year, the Patriots maestro was the center on an undefeated Andover football team, but he was said to be better at lacrosse than football. His opposite in Big Red’s midfield that day: William K. Rawson ’71.

Racket man

Speaking of principals ... Andover's Head of School John Palfrey '90 was a solid No. 3 singles player for the Exeter boys squash team in his senior year. Big Red and the Blue split two matches that winter, and while Palfrey was not singled out for squash accolades, he was named "future president" in the PEAN senior superlatives.  

What’s happened lately?

Recent history has been good to Exeter:

  • Big Red has won 12 of the past 13 varsity boys basketball contests with Andover, including a one-point victory earlier this winter.
  • Girls basketball has played and beaten Andover three times this season, the last a 16-point win at the Eight Schools Tournament just last weekend.
  • Boys hockey, powered by a hat trick from Danny Colon, beat Andover, 6-0, last month.
  • Girls hockey has yet to face off with Andover this season, but this weekend’s matchup is sure to be tight. While Big Red is 5-3-2 in the last 10 games against the Blue, two of the last three games have finished tied.

So far, so pretty good

E/A Winter 2019 is already well underway, and there's good news and bad news:

  • Andover swept girls and boys squash and girls and boys swimming Wednesday. Moving on ...
  • Exeter wrestlers flattened Andover in their only dual meet, 66-10, and also outpointed them at Class A and New England tournaments the past two weeks.
  • Big Red scored record-setting wins in both girls and boys indoor track last week at the William Boyce Thompson Field House. Exeter won 21 of 26 events and set a batch of meet and facility records — and a school mark in the 55 meters by Cole Glennon ’19 — in the process.

When do they play?

Saturday’s a busy day on South Campus. Here’s the full schedule:

1 p.m., Varsity girls basketball, Love Gym

1 p.m., JV girls hockey, Rink B

1 p.m.,  JV girls and boys swimming and diving, Nekton Pool

2 p.m., Varsity girls hockey, Rink A

2:30 p.m., JV boys basketball, Love Gym

3 p.m., JV boys hockey, Rink B

4 p.m., Varsity boys hockey, Rink A

4:15 p.m., JV girls basketball, Love Gym

6:15 p.m., Varsity boys basketball, Love Gym