Murph's Turf: For players, Friday's game far from meaningless

Whenever talk of a long-standing football rivalry arises, it usually contains some variation of the following sentence: You can throw out the records when these teams meet.

Ahead of Friday night’s game, that option is appealing in literal form to both the Wilton and Ridgefield varsity football teams. They would love to transform their records into tangible items that they then could crush with bare hands and hurl into the nearest incinerator.

But nine games into the season there is no power-washing available to remove the stains left by what has transpired. Wilton enters the game with a 3-6 record and mired in a five-game losing streak; Ridgefield comes in with a 1-8 record after starting the season with seven consecutive losses.

Both teams have demonstrated their weaknesses. Wilton’s lack of depth has been exposed, particularly through injuries, while Ridgefield’s inability to control either line of scrimmage has led to failure moving the ball and stopping opponents. And neither squad resembles the 1985 Chicago Bears on defense: Wilton has allowed 35 or more points in four of its last five games, while Ridgefield has surrendered 30 or more points in six of its losses.

There is, however, another number to consider — one that adds intrigue and meaning and anticipation to a game that might otherwise lack all three of those aspects. That figure is 20, or precisely the number of consecutive seasons Ridgefield will have gone unbeaten against its arch-rival with a victory or tie against the Warriors on Friday night at Tiger Hollow.

Wilton’s last victory over Ridgefield came in 1993, when Bill Clinton was in office and the World Wide Web in diapers, accounting for just 1% of all Internet traffic. After a two-year absence the teams renewed their rivalry in 1996, and Ridgefield has not lost to the Warriors since, going 18-0-1 over the last 19 meetings.

In recent years, the game has had post-season implications for Ridgefield teams contending for spots in the state playoffs. For example, the Tigers’ 21-13 triumph in Wilton last year helped them secure one of the eight berths in the Class LL state field.

This year’s game holds no such post-season allure, and that, ironically, makes it more compelling. With both teams struggling, a victory over an arch-rival will inject a streak of sunshine into otherwise dreary surroundings and provide a video clip to celebrate at the end-of-season banquet.

The motivation is clear: The Wilton players want to be the ones who end Ridgefield’s rivalry winning streak before it hits 20 games; the Ridgefield players don’t want to be remembered as the ones who lost to Wilton for the first time in 20 games.

As one former Ridgefield player told me earlier this season when referring to the Tigers’ disappointing season: “As long as they beat Wilton, the season will be worth it.”

That’s the mindset that makes rivalry games intense — the type of attitude behind the axiom about tossing records out the window.

It will be on display Friday night, operating as sports alchemy by turning a meaningless game into the most important one of the season.