MERRILLVILLE | It is hard to believe that back in the day "The Battle of Broadway" was once so taboo that the football rivalry between Andrean and Merrillville was suspended.
On Wednesday night at Maxim's Restaurant & Lounge on Broadway, the nasty old rivalry was laid to rest as several 59ers and Pirates fans assembled to raise a glass to their teams and toast the teams that have put Merrillville on Indiana grid map.
As the fans drove to the football celebration, the lights on the fields just blocks away burned bright as practice continued.
Andrean will host Fort Wayne Luers in tonight's Class 2A Northern Semistate. Merrillville will travel to play Fort Wayne Snider in the 5A game on the doorstep of the game at Lucas Oil Stadium.
"This is unbelievable," said Merrillville fan Brent Stacks, whose son, Ian, played for the Pirates last year. "Maybe this is a common sight in Indianapolis. But not here."
If both teams win tonight, Stacks has an idea for next week. And Santa can come if he wants to.
"If both teams win they should have a parade up and down Broadway," Stacks said with a smile.
There were a couple of historical stretches where the two schools did not play because of bad blood or a lack of competitiveness. But Merrillville coach Zac Wells and Andrean coach Phil Mason have a great rapport and Broadway's battle started up again in 2009.
In Week 2 of this season the Pirates beat up on the 59ers 50-28.
"I wouldn't have believed we'd both be here after that game," said Merrillville's Bill Raspopovich, father of Pirates quarterback Jake Raspopovich.
"No, I wouldn't have believed it either," said Andrean's Mike Daugherty. "We had that huge monkey on our back after losing to Wheeler in last year's sectional. That was a big speed bump. But we kept getting better just like they did.
"This is amazing. There's 20 teams left in the entire state and two of them are from this small community a half a mile apart."
Andrean father Richard Fielder, though, did believe in the Pirates after watching the game on Aug. 24.
"I felt Merrillville would be here," Fielder said. "They're a really good team."
Phil Kambouris runs Maxim's and he played offensive line for the Pirates in 1987 and '88. His establishment is filled with high school football fans on Friday nights after the game.
While he attends Merrillville games when his work schedule allows, he plans on going to Father Eckert Field tonight to cheer on the 59ers. About 70 Andrean fans went to Maxim's before the regular-season game at Demaree Stadium.
"I'm very happy for the community," Kambouris said. "I have friends on both sides. But because of the drive (to Fort Wayne) I'm going to go to Andrean."
Randy Shuman played center on Merrillville's 1976 Class 3A state championship team and was honored with the IHSAA's Phil Eskew Mental Attitude Award after the game. He lives close to Andrean assistant coach Jeff St. Germain and the two chat prep football often.
Shuman believes both programs have followed a similar path. Just like his Pirates team in the salad days.
"People telling you you can't win, you couldn't do it, you don't have a chance, this is great for the kids," Shuman said. "This is bringing back a lot of great memories for me."
The fans at Maxim's are hoping to get together again next week. But Merrillville will have to go 2-0 against Fort Wayne tonight for that to happen.
Bill Raspopovich is making tentative plans for next weekend. If Andrean wins tonight the 'Niners will play next Friday night. If Merrillville wins tonight the Pirates will play next Saturday night.
"I'd love to see it," Raspopovich said. "We have a lot of friends at Andrean. We're talking about going down on Friday night to watch them play if we both win.
"It will be fun."