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By Nick Trail, Staff Writer
Across Crompton Creek sits Tullahoma. If you’re looking through Wildcat eyes, across Crompton Creek rests Manchester.
Manchester and Tullahoma. It’s a division as clear as the line that divides them. Both towns are confined inside the Coffee County borders. Both, probably, need the other to ensure the county as a whole is prosperous.
But both love to hate one another.
Friday the two towns will do what they have done for the previous 86 years – use high school football for supremacy. The 87th annual Coffee Pot game will be held at 7 p.m. at Wilkins Stadium in Tullahoma. The winner gets to hold the Coffee Pot and will be just a little bit better than the other for about 365 days.
“The people from both cities take great pride in the game,” said Manchester businessman Pete Jackson, who has become somewhat of an authority and historian of Red Raider football. “More people can tell you who won the Manchester-Tullahoma than the super bowl last year.”
If you’re from Manchester, more often than not your memory has been of Tullahoma gloating. The Wildcats have won 55 of the previous 86 meetings – including 16 of the last 19 with current Tullahoma head coach John Olive. But regardless of the past, each year brings about a feeling that this could be the year that the Coffee Pot returns to Manchester for safe keeping.
“The Manchester-Tullahoma rivalry has always been a big part of the tradition of both programs,” stated Jackson. “That was the game everyone wanted to win in the past and the passion of the game still resides in the kids today.”
While the origins of the coffee pot, a surprisingly unattractive golden pot that shows its age in scratches and lackluster polishes, are unclear, Jackson believes the coffee pot trophy came about as a result of businessmen from both cities. The move was to save money after each team continued to tear down the other’s goalposts after a win at the onset of the rivalry, which dates back to 1924.
“I believe the Coffee Pot trophy started back in the 1930’s,” said Jackson. “Businessmen from both cities decided on the trophy because they were tired of replacing each school’s goalpost after a victory. They were hoping that the trophy would ease some of the tension between the two schools.”
Jackson isn’t just a historian and a businessman. He played quarterback for the Red Raiders from 1960-1962. He never claimed the Coffee Pot for the Red Raiders, but has memories from victories of the past.
Jackson was a freshman on the 1959 team that beat Tullahoma 26-0, costing the Wildcats a perfect season and a trip to the Clinic Bowl that same year.
“Even though I didn’t get to play, I still recall the great feeling of beating Tullahoma.”
He also recalled the 1961 coffee pot game that Manchester fell to Tullahoma 13-7. The Red Raiders failed to convert a first-and-goal situation on the Tullahoma 4-yard line.
He also recalled how the principals of both schools would meet in the middle of the field following the game, and how former CHS principal Joe Frank Patch would refuse to polish the trophy, saying “why polish it if we’re not going to give it back?”
As time has passed, Jackson said that his fondest memories about the Coffee Pot rivalry come from reminiscing with former players – even those from the other side of Crompton Creek.
“We are all a part of this community,” said Jackson. “It’s been great to see old Tullahoma players years down the road and discuss the games. The animosity that was once there has developed into some great friendships.”
In the modern day era, the Red Raiders have not won the Coffee Pot since 2007. In fact, the last three wins in the rivalry game are all too scattered for Red Raider alum – 2007, 2003, 1996. Despite that fact, second-year Coffee County head coach Lee Davis understands the rivalry that exists
“We aren’t going to have to fire the guys up to play Tullahoma,” said Davis. “The players realize how much this game means to the community. It’s about pride.”