CHICAGO | The players on both sides know the history of this series.
Just mention "St. Rita" to a Mount Carmel man or "Mount Carmel" to a St. Rita man and you can expect the excitement level to rise like the downtown skyscrapers kissing the clouds. That extra bounce seems to come into their steps and their eyes light up light the old open hearths used to light up the South Side skies.
For some, their dads and grandfathers played in it -- maybe even great-grandfathers or a great uncle. Many of the players went to the same grammar school and live on the same block or next door to each other.
This is South Side Catholic League football and one of the biggest rivalries not only on the South Side, but in the state.
They started playing each other in 1924 and will meet for the 90th time at 7:30 p.m. today at Gately Stadium in a Catholic League Blue matchup. Mount Carmel leads the series 57-30-2, but history has not been on its side the last four meetings.
"I'm from Indiana, so I didn't know that much about the rivalry until I got here," Mount Carmel senior Brian Parker said. "Once I got here, I realized how big this game is, but you also have to remember you play one game at a time.
"Yes, we have to be focused because St. Rita is a very good team and we haven't beaten them in four years."
The Mustangs won 17-7 last year at St. Rita. In that game, three Caravan turnovers played a role in each of St. Rita's scores.
"We have to take care of the ball and not make mistakes if we are to be successful against anybody," Mount Carmel coach Frank Lenti said. "We have to bring our 'A' game each week and I know we will for sure (today). St. Rita is a very good football team."
Senior linebacker Ronan Flahery said it would be nice to get on a roll with a win over a big rival.
"The seniors, we have only won once against them and that was a freshmen," he said. "This game is a big one because both teams want momentum for the playoffs.
"We want to win and it would be nice to beat St. Rita, but we also can't get too caught up in it. We have to go out and play our game."
The Mustangs (4-3, 0-2 Catholic League Blue) are fighting to earn a playoff berth, while the Caravan's lone loss was two weeks ago to Blue foe Loyola Academy in overtime. Mount Carmel clinched its 27th straight playoff berth with a 52-0 win over St. Laurence. St. Rita beat Bishop McNamara 35-7. Both teams also face tough Week Nine opponents as Mount Carmel plays at Providence and St. Rita hosts Loyola Academy.
"Our schedule tests us each week," Parker said. "That is why we have to go one (game) at a time."
At a recent practice, the talk was not about winning or St. Rita, but about doing the things to be successful. That is how it is each week at Mount Carmel.
"Our kids know about the rivalry, but they also have to play Mount Carmel football," Lenti said. "We didn't do that against Loyola, at least in the beginning. We have to start strong and finish that way."
Senior wide receiver Dominic Villa, who lives near St. Rita, said it is just a big game.
"There will be a great atmosphere no doubt," Villa said. "We have to play with emotion, but we cannot afford to get too caught up. We have to focus on doing things right and doing the things that will make us successful."