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RedHawks hope to break streak in 127th Battle for the Victory Bell

On Saturday, Sept. 16, at 7 p.m., the oldest non-conference rivalry in college football will be renewed at Nippert Stadium on the University of Cincinnati (UC) campus. The Miami University RedHawks have lost the last 17 Battles for the Victory Bell.

The history

On Dec. 8, 1888, Miami and UC squared off in Oxford, Ohio, for the first college football game ever played in the state of Ohio. It finished 0-0.

Fast forward to 1923. In the 30th Battle for the Victory Bell, UC’s Jimmy Nippert sustained a cleat wound at some point in the game. Weeks later, Nippert developed an infection. Penicillin wouldn’t be discovered until 1928. It was reported that the infection was due to chicken droppings left on the field after a pre-game chicken race. 

Nippert died. Shortly after his death, his grandfather James Proctor, the inventor of ivory soap and the first son of the co-founder of Procter & Gamble, donated the $250,000 necessary to finish the stadium being built at UC around the field that had been in use since 1901. The stadium has undergone numerous renovations since then, but it still carries Nippert’s name.  

In 1950, two football coaching legends squared off in the 55th Battle of the Victory Bell. Woody Hayes of Miami would go on to win five national championships at Ohio State from 1954 to 1970. 

Sid Gillman of UC, who was the coach of Miami from 1944 to 1947, was one of the greatest offensive innovators of football history. He is the only coach who has ever been inducted into both the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame, despite never winning a Super Bowl or national championship. Miami won the 1950 game 28-0. So much for Gillman’s offense.

In 1975, Miami beat UC 21-13 during one of the greatest seasons in school history. That year, Miami finished the season ranked No. 12 in the nation according to the AP poll and won its third straight Tangerine Bowl over South Carolina. It was in the midst of a reign of dominance for Miami in the Battle for the Victory Bell, which saw the good guys win 20 of the 26 match-ups played between 1960 and 1985.

Today, the RedHawks have lost the last 17 Victory Bells. They came close to breaking the streak in 2017, but 15 unanswered points by the Bearcats in the last five minutes of the contest helped the opponents to a 21-17 win. It’s the longest winning streak in the history of the rivalry. Just last year, Cincinnati finally took the all-time series lead, 60-59-7.

The game

After getting crushed by the Miami Hurricanes 38-3 in South Florida in Week 1, the RedHawks are coming off a 41-28 road victory over the UMass Minutemen. Redshirt-junior quarterback Brett Gabbert threw four touchdowns in the game, and junior receiver Gage Larvadain went for 273 receiving yards and three touchdowns. 

The Miami defense held UMass to just 62 rushing yards. If it wasn’t for a pick-six thrown by Gabbert and a Gabbert fumble on Miami’s one-yard-line, the score wouldn’t have been so close. In the fourth quarter, the RedHawks had UMass backed up at third-and-20, but they blew coverage on that play and allowed a 50-yard touchdown pass. 

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Cincinnati is 2-0 coming into the battle for Southwest Ohio football supremacy, after beating Eastern Kentucky 66-13 in Week 1 and Pittsburgh 27-21 in Week 2. 

“I saw that [Eastern Kentucky] score and I think, ‘Yeesh, that stinks. We got to play them in a couple of weeks,’” Miami head coach Chuck Martin said. “And then you come back next week and Eastern Kentucky is beating Kentucky in the middle of the third quarter at Kentucky. Yeesh, that’s not what I wanted to see.”

Cincinnati’s quarterback, senior Emory Jones has completed over 75 percent of his passes over the first two weeks for close to 500 yards and nine total touchdowns to just one interception. He started his career at Florida, where in 2021 he amassed over 2700 passing yards and nearly 800 rushing yards for the Gators.

“Their quarterback is a tremendous weapon,” Martin said. “...if you can have [3500] total yards in the SEC, you're a pretty good player. You’re going against the best of the best.”

The Cincinnati defense has consistently overpowered the RedHawks lately. Miami hasn’t scored more than 20 points against UC since 2015.

“They’re just big physical dudes, man,” Martin said. “They are good football players. They’re fun to watch. Not fun to play against, but fun to watch. If you like defense like I like defense, they’re fun to watch.”

Cincinnati opened at 16.5 point favorites in the betting markets, but since then they've fallen to just 14.5 points. According to Action Network, 89% of public bets are on the RedHawks. 

For Miami, the key will be playing mistake-free football. Martin said that while the RedHawks were able to overcome costly turnovers and blown coverages against UMass, they certainly won’t be able to against Cincinnati.

“We haven't beaten them in 17 years,” redshirt junior linebacker Matt Salopek said. “It’s the type of game that as a player and as a team helps you leave a legacy here at Miami … to go out there and beat UC would be a great thing for this program.” 

If you’re not making the trek to Nippert Stadium for the game, you can catch it on ESPN+ or at one of Miami’s game-day radio affiliates.