From the moment the Naugatuck Valley League finally said, ‘We do,’ and approved the marriage with its long lost step child, the anticipation for this moment has been palpable. You could just taste the impending venom and bile on your tongue.
Every resident from Pulaski Highway, to Main Street, across the Naugatuck River, to Pershing Drive and up to Wakelee Avenue who bleeds Ansonia blue have been wringing their hands for this day. Every longtime resident from Sodom Lane, Sentinel Hill Road, across Derby Ave., Water St. and Elizabeth St. and up to Hawthorne Ave, who wished aloud that true football Fridays would return to their small city, are being stirred from a long slumber.
Forget those unmemorable and disinterested games against far off and uninspiring football towns like Guilford, North Haven, Wallingford and, yeah, maybe even Milford. Forget the new games against far off and uninspiring football towns like Waterbury, Torrington, Watertown and Wolcott.
For the first time in six years, Division Street is once again a Connecticut landmark. It has once again become The Battle Front.
For the first time in six years, we reopen the storybook.
For the first time in six years, Ansonia will play Derby in football.
Just six years?
Feels like a lifetime.
And, perhaps, in some ways it really is. Times have changed so much since the last time these century-old rivals met on a football field. Maybe not Ansonia so much. The Chargers, after all, have won plenty of games and state championships since the these two last met.
Derby? Well, there has been a sense that the demographics and flavor of the town have changed dramatically over the last decade, maybe more. The old neighborhoods aren’t thriving with generations as they once were.
The small school’s football team, which hasn’t had a winning season since 1996, has been weighed down — even smothered within an inch of its life — by its bad marriage to that megaconference of alien schools for the last 15 years. It co-oped with O’Brien Tech in hopes of replenishing dwindling numbers, yet still couldn’t find its way.
But the prodigal NVL, which virtually terminated the rivalry when it added Woodland to the mix six years ago and had consistently rebuffed efforts to include this proud Valley town, finally came to its senses and accepted it into its family.
You can feel it now.
Derby is beginning to win football games again and, no surprise, it finally feels like football season here again.
Ansonia is crossing Division Street to do battle. It’s time to gear up and go to war.
Understood, we are a ways off before this game — which used to draw upwards of 5,000 – 10,000 people in the later years (and many more before that) — will again inspire the revered tones of its alumni. But you have to start somewhere and, with enough effort and time, it will begin to script its own lore. That’s the hope, at least. Times change, towns change and people change. Derby-Ansonia will never be what it was.
But at least it finally is again.
…Full disclosure here:
I’ve never seen a Derby-Ansonia football game. Not once.
I grew up just a mile or so from the Ansonia border in Woodbridge. As far as football goes, I might as well have grown up in Alaska.
As it stands now, I can count the big games I’ve attended at DeFillippo Field on two fingers.
One was the Shelton-Derby Silver Turkey Bowl in 1999 when I was a pup reporter for the New Haven Register. I remember being in awe of the the atmosphere at this beautiful field.
The other DeFillippo game also included Shelton, but not Derby. It was the Shelton vs. West Haven in 2003. In fact, I”ve seen, maybe, five Derby football games in my time — all while covering the SCC for Elm City Newspapers. I can’t recall covering a Derby game since coming to the Connecticut Post in 2004 — incidentally, the first year we didn’t get Derby-Ansonia.
So this is going to be a treat for me, as it probably will for many fellow writers and fans, not to mention many of the the players and their families, who have never seen this close encounter.
True Valley football games — and I’m talking about your Seymours, Naugatucks, Ansonias — can be a treat if the conditions are right. But, lately, the big time True Valley games have been so rare, they’ve felt more like exhibits in a museum. I’m hoping that this revival can rekindle that certified True Valley feel.
Because, honestly, there’s nothing like vintage valley football.
Go get ‘em, boys.