Snow falls down, blanketing campus in a white sheet. It’s early on a Saturday morning, but the energy is already tangible. Sounds echo from Blackstock Stadium as the ballad of the Monon Bell plays all across campus.
A tradition since 1890, the Monon Bell game has brought Wabash and DePauw students together for one of the largest rivalry football games in the Midwest.
Sam VanderVeen graduated from DePauw in 2021 with a degree in political science. Now, VanderVeen works for the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance as a public auditor and budget planner. VanderVeen was able to share his experience at the Monon Bell game as an alum.
“Compared to past years, I think the experience was pretty comparable. Obviously, the biggest distinction is that I returned as an alumni, but the sense of community remained the same,” VanderVeen said.
VanderVeen elaborated upon his first Monon experience and said that although DePauw lost that year 22-21 on a two point conversion with five seconds left, the atmosphere was incredible.
VanderVeen mentioned that he felt at home again on Saturday seeing everyone sport their Tiger pride proudly. The experience felt reminiscent of his college years watching DePauw play Wabash.
“It was nice to reconvene with friends, staff, and faculty–all of whom I’ve missed immensely,” VanderVeen said.
Unlike VanderVeen, first-year Natalie Cassady had her first experience with the Monon Bell game this year.
“I wasn’t completely sure what to expect during my first Monon week. I have heard stories about the Monon Bell and rivalries between DePauw and Wabash since I was a kid, but I wasn’t fully sure how the culture was actually being on campus,” Cassady said.
Overall, Cassady said that the Monon Bell weekend has been one of the best weekends she has had since coming to campus. Starting her day at six in the morning, Cassady recalls braving the cold to meet up with her friends for the tailgate.
“I remember walking out into the snow in my layered clothes and converse. Wearing converse was not a good decision because the snow eventually worked through my shoes. Even though it was freezing, the snow was a really special aspect of the day,” Cassady said.
Once she got into the game, Cassady took a spot behind the railing. She added that it was a perfect spot to yell at Wabash players. Once the game ended, Cassady and her friends were quick to rush onto the field.
“I ran into my friend Brace Mullett, a player on the football team. I will never forget his face as I congratulated him on winning the game. He had been talking about the game for a while, and I was so glad to share the winning moment with him. My first Monon Bell game was such an amazing experience and it really makes me proud to go to DePauw,” Cassady said.
Senior offensive lineman Connor Smith played as center for DePauw on Saturday. He described the team atmosphere as pure confidence. Smith said the captains and the whole team have been waiting a whole year for the game, knowing what it was going to take to stop them.
“Leading up to a Bell Game, there’s always stress and anxiety, but this one felt special from the very beginning. Waking up on Monon, you get this Christmas-like anticipation, and once we met together and started walking to the stadium, we knew what we were going to do,” Smith said.
Smith mentioned that the team tried to approach preparation for the game as similarly as possible to any other game of the season. Smith said that although it’s hard to cut out distractions for such a big game, the head coach Brett Dietz did a great job making sure the team focused on what needed to be done offensively, defensively, and on special teams to get the job done.
“Because it’s the last game of the year, every week you get your eye on what Wabash is doing and how they play teams compared to you. Obviously, you try to focus on the opponent at hand, but it’s hard not to look ahead in a rivalry like this one,” Smith said.
During the game, Smith tried to keep everyone as keeled as possible. He explained that part of the problem with last year’s Monon Game was that the team got relaxed when DePauw got up a couple of scores, allowing Wabash to get right into the game.
“It’s hard not to let your excitement get the best of you when everything seems to be going right, but the whole team did a great job at being momentum-proof and focusing on the next play,” Smith said.
Smith explained that going into halftime up 21-0 was almost poetic, knowing that everyone kept mentioning that score from the year before.
“Coming out in the second half, we knew that this was our chance to redeem ourselves from last year’s game, and we responded in stride. Once it seemed as though the game was decided and reality began to set in, I couldn’t have been happier,” Smith said.
For Smith, looking into the crowd and seeing all his friends and family excited after each touchdown was one of the most memorable moments from the game. Smith felt that, on Saturday, almost the entirety of DePauw was on our side.
“As the center, I pride myself in our offensive line’s ability to both protect the quarterback and run the ball. Whenever Wally Renie had time to sit back in the pocket and find an open receiver or any time Gus Baumgartner or Drew Moore broke open a big run, that meant the world to me,” Smith said.
Smith remembers the pain he felt standing in silence after last year’s game, still processing what happened. Fast forward a year, Smith will never forget sprinting off with the team to get back the bell.
Smith has been to four different Monon Bell games, each with a different story. Out of all of them, Smith said that this year tops them all.