It was 1902 when the Fordham Rams and Holy Cross Crusaders first met on the gridiron. While most of the details of that matchup are lost to history (Holy Cross was victorious, 17-0), the game signaled the start of a rivalry that has spanned more than a century, including games in Ireland and Bermuda, and on one of the sports world’s most famous stages.

The teams’ 57th meeting is set for Saturday, Nov. 16, when for the second time in three years they will play at Rose Hill as part of Fordham’s annual Homecoming celebration.

As students, alumni, parents, and friends prepare to flock to Jack Coffey Field for the festivities—including the eighth annual 5K Ram Run, Homecoming tent celebrations, and postgame Mass—here’s a brief look back at a few of the memorable milestones in a good-natured sports rivalry between two Jesuit institutions.

A Salute to the ‘Iron Major’ 

The teams met regularly during the first four decades of the 20th century, trading wins back and forth after Fordham captured its first series victory in 1907. 

In 1927, Frank W. Cavanaugh, a World War I veteran and celebrated college football coach, took charge of the Rams. Known as “The Iron Major,” he had coached briefly at Holy Cross before the war. At Rose Hill, he helped usher in one of the most successful eras in Fordham football, including an undefeated record in 1929. 

Frank Cavanaugh, also known as the Iron Major

Cavanaugh retired after the 1932 season and died less than a year later, but the Rams continued to be one of the most formidable teams in the country. Thanks in large part to the “Seven Blocks of Granite”—the nickname for Fordham’s fearsome linemen, including the legendary Vince Lombardi, FCRH ’37—Fordham was consistently ranked among the top 20 teams in the nation until the University discontinued its football program during World War II.

Fordham restarted its program in 1946, but the Rams wouldn’t face Holy Cross again until 1951. It was then that William P. Walsh, LAW ’57, a Holy Cross undergrad at the time, helped give the rivalry a boost. 

Walsh, who was from Long Island, was working at a summer camp run by Fordham football head coach Ed Danowski, FCRH ’34, when he heard that the two Jesuit rivals were restarting their series.

He thought an official title and a trophy—the Ram-Crusader Cup—would be a nice way to celebrate the rivalry. He also suggested that the annual game be played in honor of Cavanaugh, who had been the subject of a major motion picture—The Iron Major (1943)—that was filmed in part at both Fordham and Holy Cross.

“The Iron Major” tells the story of Fordham and Holy Cross Head Coach Frank Cavanaugh

The cup went to Holy Cross four times in a row, from 1951 to 1954. After the 1954 season, Fordham stopped its football program again, this time due to cost concerns.

Beginning of a New Era

A group of Fordham students helped restart the football program at a club level in the 1960s, and it was reinstated as a varsity program at the Division III level in 1970. 

Twenty years later, in 1990, the football program moved up to Division 1-AA, now called the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), and joined the Patriot League. That was where Holy Cross had been competing since the mid-1980s.

The two teams resumed their rivalry—this time with an international flair. The 1992 game was played at the Limerick Gaelic Grounds in Ireland, where Holy Cross defeated Fordham, 24-19.

The Rams captured the cup for the first time in 1995, with a 17-10 victory in Hamilton, Bermuda. Since then, the series has been relatively evenly matched. Holy Cross has a slight edge in the cup battles, at 17-16, and has won the past two. Fordham had previously taken five straight Ram-Crusader cups games. 

And while most of the games have been played either at Fordham or Holy Cross, the 2016 edition was a notable exception—for the first time since 1923, Fordham and Holy Cross faced off at Yankee Stadium.  

A Legendary Field for a Legendary Game

Drew Casey, FCRH ’17, had the opportunity to call that game on Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016, for WFUV 90.7 FM. It’s an experience he said he won’t forget anytime soon.

“As a sports broadcaster, you work a lot of games and many tend to blend together,” Casey said. “This one was a little bit different—Fordham, Holy Cross, Yankee Stadium—I think I had that circled two, three years out.”

Casey remembers having to take a second in the middle of his routine pregame interview with Andrew Breiner, Fordham’s head coach at the time.

“We were sitting on a bench where third base at Yankees Stadium would have been,” Casey recalled. “This was certainly special. It was just really cool to think about Yankee Stadium.”

Rams/Crusader dad John Hanley poses at the Ram-Crusader Cup on Saturday, Nov. 14, 2016.

Fordham defeated Holy Cross, 54-14, in front of a crowd of more than 20,000 fans, thanks in large part to a four-touchdown day from running back Chase Edmonds, FCRH ’17. (Edmonds, now a running back on the Arizona Cardinals, recently had another big performance close to home, running for 126 yards and three touchdowns against the New York Giants.)

“I think what makes this Ram-Crusader Cup in general interesting is the schools really care about it,” Casey said. “They care about winning that trophy.”

Alumni of both schools care about the game too, not least because of the schools’ shared Jesuit heritage.  

Edward Winkler, FCRH ’67, LAW ’72, is one of many Fordham alumni with ties to both schools. He attended the historic matchup at Yankee Stadium and returned to Rose Hill in 2017 with his daughter Alexandra Polefko, a 2003 Holy Cross graduate.

Edward Winkler, FCRH ’67, LAW ’72, is one of many Fordham alumni with ties to both schools.

“I sent my daughter and some tuition money to Holy Cross, but most of my time, effort, and treasure goes to Fordham,” he told Fordham News, laughing, during the 2017 Homecoming game. “But you know, with Holy Cross being another Jesuit school, it’s like a sibling rivalry rather than a real fight.”

Go to the Homecoming 2019 site for the complete schedule of events and to purchase game tickets.