The battle for Columbus football bragging rights already was heated nearly two hours before the annual football showdown between East and North on Friday night.
Columbus East juniors and seniors, some in togas and orange body paint, arrived at Columbus North hours before the 7 p.m. kickoff to tailgate and for some good-natured trash talk.
East senior Sam Lewis said the game is the most-anticipated game of the season for both teams.
“We’re all friends, but when we play them, we want them to lose,” he said. “All I want to say is bow down to the brown!”
The football field and surrounded parking lots were decorated in Bull Dogs blue and Olympians orange, as were the fans, all excited to see a game that means more to some than a state championship.
Lewis and other East students were painting each other bright orange — while enjoying some grilled hamburgers and hot dogs at their tailgate party.
Across the lot, family and friends of players of the home team were tailgating in their own way, seated in a circle around a grill. Next to them was a blue tent covering cheeseburgers and sides.
The Columbus North tailgating effort belonged to Dan Moore, father of Columbus North senior Weston Moore.
“The rivalry between North and East is a big hype. All the kids grew up together, and once they get to high school, they split ways,” Moore said. “It’s pretty friendly, but nobody loves to lose. We’re hoping for a better game and that we get the win this year.”
Moore plans to tailgate at every game this year and thought Columbus football fans would be in for a good game despite temperatures in the 90s and muggy conditions.
North fans in the bleachers formed a cheering section while dressed as kings and queens, complete with crowns and robes.
Seniors Hannah Poindexter and Kinsey Allen were at the front of the pack and said the idea behind their theme came from their original phrase “De-crown the brown.”
“We’re going to be a surprise. We’re going to give it our best try,” Poindexter said of the Bull Dog team.
As part of the pregame preparations, Allen and her friends got together before the game to create a T-shirt to support their team.
East had its own set of T-shirts. The athletic department sold the bright orange shirts before the game that said “Go East. Beat North.” The deal included a ticket to the game and a $5 gift card to Subway.
As game time approached, the visitor’s section filled with East fans, an expanse of orange across the bleachers.
Jerry Cox, a member of the first East graduating class and the football team in 1974, was among them.
Cox, who played tight end and fullback for East, said his team lost 21-7 to North his senior year.
He said he knows how exciting and competitive the rivalry is and despite his dedication to the Olympians, predicted the Bull Dogs would pull off an upset.
“My great nephew, Conner Roberts, plays for East, and I don’t think that’s going to happen, but call it a hunch,” he laughed.
Cox said records and state championship titles get thrown out the window when East and North go head to head on the field.
The East-North game is talked about at Cummins where he works, in shops around town and in living rooms all year long throughout the area, Cox said.
Columbus residents and out-of-towners come to this game when they might not show up at any others, he said.
As both teams ran onto the field to do warmups and drills before the game, fans began cheering, trying to out-yell each other across the field.
“Once the game’s over, it’s over. It’s hard to describe inner-city rivalries without saying it’s a one game season,” Cox said. “That’s all that matters.”