Jordan Longino remembers sitting on the sideline as a preschooler, watching the Germantown Academy vs. Penn Charter football game and dreaming of one day taking the field — and taking part in one of the richest traditions in scholastic sports in America.
“Even then, I knew what a big deal it was,” Longino said.
Now a senior star in two sports, Longino will lead Germantown Academy into Saturday’s 134th edition of the “Big Game” against Penn Charter at Carey Field on the Patriots' campus in Fort Washington.
But for Longino and players and coaches on both squads, there’s something extra special about this year’s renewal of a rivalry that began in 1887 and stands as the longest, continuously played prep school series in the country.
That’s because the game that has tied together generations since the time when sons of Civil War veterans took the field until today nearly was canceled this season because of the global pandemic.
“Just knowing that makes it mean that much more,” Penn Charter senior Aaron Maione said. “Just knowing how hard so many people at both schools worked to make this happen makes you appreciate it even more.”
The Big Game has been played every year since Germantown Academy won the first contest by a 20-6 score in 1887. That’s through two World Wars and the hauntingly familiar global pandemic of 1918 and 1919.
But 2020 nearly was the first gap in an unbroken string of fall get-togethers on the football field by the old rivals. In August, the Inter-Ac League announced the suspension of interscholastic competition because of the coronavirus outbreak, although there were tentative plans to try to play football and other traditional fall sports in the spring.
The league reversed course in October, announcing plans for an abbreviated schedule in fall sports. Tops on the priority lists for athletic officials from Germantown Academy and Penn Charter was arranging the annual “GA-PC Day,” which has expanded over the years to include competition in other sports and even art shows and theatrical events.
“There’s really nothing else like it,” Germantown Academy football coach Matt Dence said.
Penn Charter coach Tom Coyle said the threat to life-as-usual by the restrictions created by the COVID-19 outbreak has increased appreciation for the tradition.
“It’s like everyone has been centered and has grown to better appreciate something like this,” Coyle said. “You realize how much something like this means to you when it’s almost taken away from you.”
Although there will be a much smaller crowd and other limitations on campus to account for the virus, Saturday still will feature many of the competitions and events associated with the Big Game — including the Big Game itself.
Germantown Academy enters with a 2-0 record, fueled in large part by a strong senior class that includes Longino, a standout quarterback who on Wednesday signed to attend Villanova on a basketball scholarship.
Penn Charter is 0-1, but the Quakers are well aware that a win over their ancient rival would effectively make their season.
“This is the game that everyone wants to play,” said Maione, a wide receiver and defensive back and Davidson University recruit. “It’s really kind of hard to wrap your mind around, when you think about it. Just how far back this game goes.”
For Longino, memories of the Big Game extend back to his days as a pre-K student at Germantown Academy. That’s when he and some of his buddies were allowed to hang on the sideline.
“You could picture yourself growing up and playing in the game,” Longino said. "It’s something I always dreamed about, just knowing the tradition and the legacy.
“To be able to play in this game one last time, as a senior when it’s on our home field, it’s really just a blessing.”