For a little more than two years — 756 days to be exact — the Victory Bell has been displayed inside a trophy case at McCallum High School. On each of those days, the 50-pound railroad bell has served as a reminder of the Knights’ 2011 and 2012 victories over Travis High in football.
The prized trophy is awarded annually to the winner of the “Battle of the Bell” matchup between McCallum and Travis. On Thursday night at House Park, the Knights (4-3) and Rebels (5-1) will play for the bell again as the rivalry begins its seventh decade.
“I’m just glad to see that everyone is excited about it again,” said Tommy Cox, a former coach at Travis who’s now the athletics director for the Austin school district. “It’s what high school athletics is all about.”
Other rivalry games in the area, such as Georgetown-East View and St. Andrew’s-St. Stephen’s, also have a traveling trophy. Westwood and Round Rock also stage a “Battle of the Bell” showdown annually, but the bell itself was stolen a few years ago from the Westwood campus and it hasn’t resurfaced. Thrall and Granger — teams that both wear purple uniforms — award a purple bell to the victor of their Class A showdown.
The McCallum-Travis bell, which has the game’s final scores etched into its exterior, ranks as the ultimate prize for area rivalry games, according to those who play for it.
“You put in your workouts all throughout the whole season, it’s for this game,” Travis quarterback Jonathon Caldwell said. “It’s not as big as playoffs, but it’s going to be the biggest district game. It’s what we’re hungry for, it’s what we want.”
McCallum and Travis first played Nov. 25, 1953. The Austin Statesman labeled the matchup, which was played at House Park on the day before Thanksgiving, as a “Civil War” between the high school on Austin’s south side and the city’s northern-most campus.
McCallum emerged with a 21-20 victory in that inaugural meeting. The Knights’ John Shaffer and Travis’ Billy Rogers both scored two touchdowns apiece, but it was a late interception that sealed the outcome.
Including that game, McCallum has won 33 of the 60 annual matchups. The two teams tied in 1956 and 1993.
In addition to the ties, 21 games were decided by eight points or fewer. Cox, a 1966 graduate of Travis who was the Rebels’ head coach from 1980-87, said McCallum’s quadruple-overtime victory in 2007 was the “one of the best high school games that I ever saw.”
“We’ve seen some great ones,” he added.
When McCallum and Travis opened in 1953, Austin High and the old, segregated Anderson High were the city’s only other public high schools. The Austin school district now has 11 high schools, and neighborhood rivalries have developed between the respective football teams.
McCallum opens each season with the Taco Shack Bowl against nearby Anderson High, which opened as an integrated high school in 1973. Travis battles both Akins and Crockett for bragging rights in South Austin.
The bell, however, has kept the contest between McCallum and Travis relevant.
“It’s not really that there’s a neighborhood rivalry about it; it’s based on the bell,” said Lehman coach Todd Raymond, who played and coached at McCallum. “It’s very disheartening to hear the bell being rang on the other side. That’s the part that’s tough to deal with.”
McCallum, which has won 13 of the past 14 games in the rivalry, and Travis also will be battling for positioning in the District 26-4A standings on Thursday night. McCallum and LBJ are tied atop the 26-4A standings with 2-0 district records while Travis is 1-1.
McCallum quarterback Sabian Cannon has contributed to 17 touchdowns this fall, and the Knights defense has allowed 18.1 points per game. Travis has averaged 50.5 points per game, losing only to Crockett.
“(This game) means a lot to the players and the coaches,” Caldwell said. “It’s my senior year; I don’t have another chance. I’ve got nothing to lose. We’re going all out.”