The San Saba vs. Goldthwaite football rivalry has seen pretty much everything – from the upset of a state champion to a coach penning fake letters from the other team.
Tonight, the rivalry will see its 100th game between the San Saba Armadillos and Goldthwaite Eagles, which will tie Lufkin vs. Nacogdoches for the eighth-oldest in the state. It’s also the oldest rivalry in Central Texas – a game ahead of Burnet vs. Marble Falls.
Why the Goldthwaite-San Saba rivalry that began in 1916 survived is primarily answered by proximity since the two towns are only 22 miles apart along Texas Highway 16. As John Baskin, who coached at San Saba from 1964-1973, said, “If you lived south of Goldthwaite and north of San Saba, you could practically mow each other’s yards.”
Another obvious answer is the school enrollments have remained similar. They have been in and out of the same district since 1978, and currently, both are in District 7-2A Division I.
The Goldthwaite-San Saba rivalry also survived because the townspeople demanded it – even through generational turnover.
“Players for both teams grow up and become parents and grandparents. Some move away, but the ones that stay keep the rivalry going through their kids and grandkids. It’s four or five generations now,” said Goldthwaite resident Ronald Cagle, who played for the Eagles in the 1960s, had three daughters serve as Eagle cheerleaders in the 1980s and 1990s, plus three grandsons play for the Eagles within the last decade.
Grayson Wetzel cited the people connections between Goldthwaite and San Saba.
“There are so many friendships, kinships and work partnerships. So many people in each town know each other, and that keeps the rivalry at the forefront of a lot of conversations,” said Wetzel, Goldthwaite’s superintendent from 1981-1997.
Goldthwaite didn’t have its own golf course until 1988, and most of its golfers played regularly at San Saba. The golf culture created opportunities for bragging rights and off-the-record wagers on the annual game.
“They’d see each other at the golf course or the auction ring and rib each other about the game. The old guys egg it on, and it gets passed to the next generation,” said Ronnie Schulze, a San Saba assistant coach for 38 years and counting.
Another era that fueled the rivalry was when Chan Priest, a football player for San Saba in the 1960s, served as Goldthwaite’s head coach from 1980-85. As the Eagles’ coach, Priest lost his first four games to the Armadillos by an average of 28-7. But Priest beat San Saba in his final two years at Goldthwaite, and in 1985, he coached the Eagles’ to the first of their four state championships.
Mark Oliver, who quarterbacked San Saba in the late 1980s, said the Goldthwaite rivalry was different from others.
“Llano and Mason were friendly rivalries. But with Goldthwaite, you could stick your chest out for a year if you beat them, and it left a sour taste in your mouth when you lost. If you got a chance to beat up on them, you took it,” Oliver said.
“Growing up, we weren’t supposed to like Goldthwaite. That’s all we were told.”
In the best rivalries, teams often trade wins and the series record is close. That’s not the case with Goldthwaite-San Saba, which is marked by two periods of dominance by each school. The Armadillos won 48 of the first 66 meetings. Since 1984, Goldthwaite has won 24 of 33 games – including 17 of the last 20.
Overall, San Saba owns a 57-38-4 lead in the series.
Through both periods of dominance, the winning team never considered dropping its weaker rival. And the team being dominated never thought about giving up and ending the rivalry.
Schulze, who has served under 12 San Saba head coaches since 1979, said that even when the Armadillos are rebuilding, they still want to play the Eagles. “We’re not about to say we can’t beat them. We’re going to try,” he said. “Look at what happened in 1993.”
San Saba shocked state-ranked Goldthwaite 13-6 in a 1993 district game before the Eagles rebounded and won 10 consecutive games and the Class 2A state championship. The Armadillos ended up missing the playoffs.
After the 1993 season, Goldthwaite sold state championship T-shirts. San Saba sold T-shirts that read: “We beat the state champs!”
By that time, Gary Proffitt was well into his 28-year tenure as Goldthwaite’s head coach. The Eagles won state again in 1994, and during a post-championship pep rally on the courthouse square, Proffitt made sure he informed the gathering that the 1994 Goldthwaite team also beat San Saba.
Sometime in the mid-1990s, the rivalry was dubbed “The Battle of the River” since the Colorado River forms the boundary between the neighboring counties. The nickname stuck and T-shirts are still sold in both towns just for the Goldthwaite-San Saba game.
Proximity led to creative off-field shenanigans between students of the two schools that kept the rivalry flaming. San Saba accused Goldthwaite of hanging dead armadillos in its trees. Goldthwaite accused San Saba of prematurely lighting its homecoming bonfire once in the 1960s.
In the 1980s and ‘90s, stealing booster club signs in the players’ front yards became so rampant that school officials met annually at the Colorado River bridge to exchange and return the signs to their rightful owners.
When Brad McCoy was San Saba’s coach from 1989-1994, he wrote letters to his players and pretended they were from Goldthwaite players.
“Our players were listed with things they said they were going to do to us. Coach McCoy said he found the letters on his windshield and that they were from Goldthwaite players,” said Landon Sanderson, a San Saba player at the time. “Looking back, I was naïve. I thought it might have happened that way. I never thought my head coach would do something like that.”
Nowadays, students have found modern ways to pester each other about the rivalry.
“It’s all on their iPhones now,” Schulze said. “With social media, most of these kids know each other. They’re texting back and forth and using Facebook to mouth at each other about the game.”
THE BATTLE OF THE RIVER
Overall Series: San Saba leads 57-38 with 4 ties.
Early Trend: San Saba won 48 of the first 66 games played through 1983.
Recent Trend: Goldthwaite has won 24 of the last 33 games, including 17 of 20.
Consecutive Years Played: 64 (1953-present).
First Game: 1916.
Longest Goldthwaite Win Streak: 7 games from 2004-2010.
Longest San Saba Win Streak: 7 games from 1977-1983.
Goldthwaite’s Largest Victory: 48-0 in 1995.
San Saba’s Largest Victory: 51-0 in 1933.
OLDEST RIVALRIES IN TEXAS
1. Bay City vs. El Campo-x, 113
2. Denison vs. Sherman-x, 112
3t. Cuero vs. Yoakum, 107
3t. Longview vs. Marshall, 107
5. New Braunfels vs. Seguin, 104
6. Harlingen vs. San Benito-x, 103
7. Texarkana, Texas vs. Texarkana, Ark., 101
8. Lufkin vs. Nacogdoches, 100
9t. Goldthwaite vs. San Saba-x, 99
9t. Burnet vs. Marble Falls, 99
9t. Haskell vs. Stamford, 99
9t. Karnes City vs. Kenedy, 99
13t. Bronte vs. Robert Lee-y, 98
13t. Giddings vs. La Grange-x, 98
13t. Bridgeport vs. Decatur, 98
13t. El Campo vs. Wharton, 98
17. Amarillo High vs. Lubbock High-y, 97
18t. Midland High vs. Odessa High-x, 96
18t. Hondo vs. Pearsall-y, 96
18t. Hondo vs. Uvalde-y, 96
18t. Hondo vs Devine, 96
18t. Floydada vs. Lockney, 96
18t. Marshall vs. Texarkana, 96
24t. Del Rio vs. Eagle Pass-x, 95
24t. Devine vs. Pearsall-x, 95
x-teams play tonight or this season.
y-teams currently are not playing.