I am rarely scared for my life during a basketball game. The Arch-Baron Cup was as close to death as I’ve ever come.
The first three Arch-Baron Cups took place during the NIT Tournament. Madison Square Garden hosted the matchups, a premier location for what became a marquee rivalry. The Flyers won two of the matchups, in 1952 and 1955, and the Billikens were victorious before a crowd of 18,000+ in 1961. The two programs were scheduled to play in MSG in early 2002, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the series, however the game was cancelled shortly after the events of 9/11. Mayor Rudy Giuliani cited a strain on security forces as the primary reason for the cancellation.
The Saint Louis-Dayton matchup came to a halt after the NIT semifinal game between the two schools at the end of the 1961 season. Billiken forward Glen Markowski sucker-punched Dayton guard Bill Cramsey when Cramsey and his parents were exiting the Golden Dollar Bar and Lounge in Times Square. As a result, Dayton President Reverend Raymond Roesch put a five-year moratorium on scheduling Saint Louis. Markowski and Cramsey later became good friends and toured the country together as a folk duo.
Arch-Baron Cups were held at Kiel Auditorium off and on over a period of thirty years. The first non-neutral ABC game was played at Kiel in December of 1966, the Flyers winning a nail-biter, 80-78. The Billikens enjoyed a pronounced home court advantage playing the Flyers at Kiel, SLU went 8-2 in the ten contests played there. The arena was demolished in 1992, decorated actor, and beloved St. Louisan, Fred Berry set off the detonation before a crowd of 72,000.
St. Louis hosted the Arch-Baron Cup in late 1971, a tight game that eventually saw the Billikens eke out a 75-71 victory over the Flyers. The game was marred by events occuring during the closing seconds of the contest, as Bills fans, frustrated by the overly aggressive tactics employed by UD that night, showered the court with debris. Most of the ire was directed at Dayton’s J.D. Grigsby who was whistled for three below-the-belt fouls — the final one a headbutt to the groin of Billiken forward Jesse “The Ghost” Leonard. The game was nearly called early before the Missouri National Guard regained control of the crowd.
Only one ABC game was played at UD’s historic Fieldhouse. An instant classic, the Flyers escaped with a 57-56 victory over their main rivals. Dayton decided to host the game at its on-campus site as a precautionary measure, as there were several threats to set off bombs if the game was played at UD Arena. While most of country, including incoming President Richard Nixon, called for the game’s cancellation, UD assured that a move to the smaller venue would guarantee safety. Although there were several violent incidents outside the Fieldhouse, none were reported inside the facility.
Legal issues plagued the start of the game as local police attempted to shutter the doors to the men’s restroom. Due to an overflow crowd, Dayton built troughs to be utilized as urinals during the contest. However, an ordinance that was still on the City of Dayton’s books at that time did not allow for men’s penises to be openly exposed without either a barrier, wall or curtain separating the phalluses. The “Peter Peeper” law, originally enacted to limit “homosensual” activity, was temporary lifted and the game went on as planned.
As with Dayton’s Fieldhouse, the St. Louis Arena only hosted one Arch-Baron Cup in December of 1968. Dayton won its third straight ABC, a 67-56 victory witnessed by just over 2,000 spectators. This was the least attended ABC in the history of the series. The game had plenty of local competition, as the city of St. Louis hosted a concert by Randi Hendrix (Jimi’s brother), the Captain Kangaroo Revue and Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple held a service for over 100,000 attendees at Busch Memorial Stadium.
The sole game played at the St. Louis Arena has historic importance, as Don Donoher earned his 100th victory as the Flyer’s head coach in UD’s Arch-Baron victory in December of 1968. Donoher was quoted as saying, “to win my one hundredth game against that group of cretins, in this shitburg, is just icing on the cake. I’ve never been this aroused after a win.”
The site of many historic Arch-Baron Cups, no venue has hosted more UD/SLU matchups than the University of Dayton Arena. Formally known as the Sweater Centre, the Arena has been Dayton’s home for the ABC since 1970. Classic games, fan brawls, an arena-wide carbon monoxide poisoning — UD Arena has seen it all during this noteworthy series, including the infamous “Palindrome Game” that saw UD defeat the Billikens, 73-37. The Arena has recently gone through renovations, an Arch-Baron Museum will be located within University of Dayton Arena when the project is scheduled to be completed in the summer of 2021.
Due to a scheduling snafu, Dayton and Saint Louis played two Arch-Baron Cup games within eleven days of each other. After a 94-75 shellacking by the Bills, UD returned to the Gem City to the sound of boos and shotguns being loaded. Tension was extremely high as the Flyers took on the Billikens on a chilly February night in 1994. Dayton guard Shawn Haughn went a perfect 8-for-8 from behind the three-point line, leading the Flyers to an overtime victory over the Bills.
Only one Arch-Baron Cup was held at the University of Cincinnati’s Shoemaker Center, a first-round matchup between Saint Louis and Dayton in the Great Midwest Conference tournament. The Billikens completely decimated the Flyers, 80-46, in Jim O’Brien’s last game as UD’s head coach. The game was halted briefly as referee Juby Harris suffered a torn knee ligament halfway through the first half. Play continued on, however, when the clock operator took a long-distance phone call with around seven minutes left to play.
After winning a total of ten games over two seasons, Jim O’Brien was summarily terminated after UD’s sizable loss to Saint Louis. The Arch-Baron defeat was the last straw, O’Brien was informed an immediate meeting with Athletic Director Ted Kissel was required. The gathering between the two men was held at a Red Robin ten minutes from the Shoemaker Center. “I munched on a Royal Red Robin Burger© and told Jim his assistance with the Dayton basketball program was no longer required. Jim was 0-5 in Arch-Baron games, he knew the deal” wrote Kissel in his autobiography, The Funky AD.
Saint Louis and Dayton met in the first round of the Great Midwest Conference tournament in 1995, which was hosted by Marquette that season. The Billikens beat the Flyers 78-62 in front of a crowd of 9,000 in the Bradley Center. SLU went to the NCAA tournament that season, while Dayton failed to win a conference game. It was Dayton’s fourth straight loss in the series and the last time the two programs would face off until December of 1999, as the Flyers were left out of the merger between the Metro and the Great Midwest conferences that led to the formation of Conference USA. Saint Louis joined the newly formed league while Dayton scrambled to align itself with the Atlantic Ten.
Although the game was not memorable, the pregame festivities proved to be quite lively. Dayton super-fan John Raponi was stabbed in an O’Charley’s restroom by an irate Saint Louis fan prior to the contest. Raponi still attended the game, bleeding out around three pints of blood during the contest, reporting to the hospital only after the final buzzer had sounded. Raponi’s bloodied shirt has become UD basketball’s Shroud of Turin, currently on display in the school’s Donoher Center. It is the city of Dayton’s most visited tourist attraction since its installment in 2005.
Currently known as the Enterprise Center (formerly the Scottrade Center/Savvis Center/Kiel Center), the previous home of Saint Louis basketball has been the site of numerous classic Arch-Baron Cup battles. The arena was the only venue that built a makeshift prison to temporarily house rowdy Arch-Baron Cup attendees. Controversy followed this decision, as an investigation later revealed that detainees were being denied basic human rights, including food, restrooms, clothing and natural light. Saint Louis fan Henry Redfoot was arrested at a halftime brawl during the final ABC game played in Scottrade in January, 2008 and was never seen or heard from again. The venue opted to disband its secret police force after this incident.
Dayton forward Monty Scott missed an Arch-Baron Cup matchup earlier in the 2005-06 season after injuring his foot while riding a jetski in the Miami River. At the time it was thought that Scott, a senior, would never play for the Flyers again. SLU welcomed UD to the Savvis Center on March 1st, 2006 — the final regular season game for both clubs. Fortune smiled on UD that afternoon however, as one of the Flyer managers recently had dental surgery and was popping painkillers during the contest. Scott, allegedly, stole several of the pills during a timeout and the rest is ABC history. Although Scott does not recall participating, he entered the game around the fifteen minute mark of the first-half and went on to play one of his finest games in a UD uniform, leading Dayton to a 72-70 win and taking home the Harewood Horse trophy for his efforts.
The only Arch-Baron Cup played during the Atlantic Ten tournament took place on March 12, 2008 in front of 600 patrons. A close game throughout, the Flyers and Billikens headed to overtime to an unexpected chorus of boos. Dayton guard Marcus Johnson hit a mid-range jumper to give UD a 63-62 lead with twenty seconds to play. SLU held for the last shot, an errant jumper from senior guard Danny Brown at the buzzer that allowed Dayton to hoist their twenty-second Arch Baron Cup. Although the Atlantic Ten informed both programs that a postgame ceremony would not be possible, the Flyer Faithful in attendance managed to rush the court and raise their conquering heroes onto their shoulders, carrying the victorious players all the way to the Golden Nugget’s casino floor.
While the game was one of the more memorable Arch-Baron Cup tilts in memory, it was what occured at halftime that gets remembered most. The first-round matchup was marred by a methadone giveaway at halftime that delayed the second half by 45 minutes. Several local “sand zombies” commadered the court and refused to leave until they were given clean needles and more “chiva.” Fortunately, there were several groups of Atlantic City labor union members in attendance who dispersed what police later described as “Italian jaw crackers” on the shabby horde.
The Chaifetz Arena is the current home of Saint Louis University basketball and already the host of several classic ABC games. Chaifetz Arena has created several ABC specific regulations:
- Guests who “moon” or show other private body parts will be escorted out of the venue.
- There will not be any obscene or indecent messages on signs or clothing.
- Weapons of any type are prohibited at Chaifetz Arena.
These policies have resulted in a 70% decrease in ABC-related arrests.
Chaifetz Arena was the site of one of the most improbable and memorable plays in Arch-Baron Cup history. Down three with a second left in the game, SLU’s Kwamain Mitchell threw up a prayer from thirty-feet, a shot that miraculously banked in to send the game into its first overtime period. The Billikens edged out the Flyers, 68-65, in the second ABC contest decided in double overtime.
It’s the two most important college basketball games each season. An oftentimes scary journey to a place where humanity goes to die. Clearly the most heated rivalry in sport, the Arch-Baron Cup is a true bucket-list event.
Let me put this as simply as I can — the Arch-Baron Cup is the biggest game in college basketball. Period. I have faked back injuries just to watch Dayton and St. Louis play in what has become an annual classic.
Duke Head Coach
I’ve rocked every stage from Dayton to Daytona, St. Louis to St. Lucia. I attended my first ABC on an off night during the Open Up And Say Ahh! tour and it blew my mind. The pageantry, the pugilism, the provocation.