The Holy War: A Battle of Similar Foes

By Jim Kelly – Saint Joseph’s University and Villanova University really hate each other. It’s not the most well-known sports rivalries, but it is certainly the most important one in the Philly area. The rivalry, like many of its kind, actually exists not because of the differences between the schools, but because of the similarities between them.

Try googling SJU. The first thing in the “also searched for” section is… Villanova. Try googling Villanova. The first thing in the “also searched for” section is… yep, SJU. The two schools are statistically similar: both are rated in the top ten of northeastern regional colleges (though Villanova can hang its hat on topping that list). Both are Catholic, both have fairly small student populations, both find themselves situated (at least partially) on the Main Line, and most importantly, they both have a long tradition of successful basketball teams. Basketball, to an outsider with no knowledge of the Big 5, might be the only thing that distinguishes the two schools. But, it is these similarities that drives students, parents, alumni, families, friends, and fans without a real connection to the school (and let’s not forget fans with a real connection to both schools, like myself) to fuel the amazing rivalry that exists between Hawk Hill and whatever is the equivalent of “Hawk Hill” at Villanova. (Radnor Station?)

If you could indulge me for just a paragraph here, I have a personal story I would like to share. My mother went to Villanova for her nursing degree, and my father went there for a master’s degree. So, yea, I grew up singing “V for Villanova” and watching Jay Wright lead the team to an incredibly successful decade of college basketball from 2005-2014, missing the NCAA tournament just once. Jay Wright is a great guy, and an even better coach; from the way he talks and presents himself, to his demeanor on the court, to his unbelievable ability to win with the players he is given. The tradition of success (and that memorable 1985 NCAA title) still lives at Villanova, as the Wildcats are perennially considered to be a top-25 team. Screw journalism ethics, I’ll say it: I love Villanova basketball.

With that being said, my father also got a master’s degree from SJU, and I, having attended St. Joe’s Prep (SJU’s little brother), began distancing myself from ‘Nova during high school and rooting for my Hawk brethren. What I found most exciting about SJU basketball was how good of a secret that program is kept. Creighton legend and likely NBA bust Doug McDermott once stated that Hagan Arena was the toughest place he played in, and he has a point. The stadium is small, everyone is close to the court, and the fans there are dedicated and knowledgeable. Not to mention the insane student section that comes out to support the Hawks. Few other 4,000-seat arenas, if any, can produce an environment like that. Once again, I’ll throw ethical caution to the wind and say I love Saint Joe’s basketball.

It was during my high school years that I discovered the stereotypes that exist about each school and how they play into their perception of each other. SJU students think Villanova students are soft, rich, preppy kids from the suburbs, who have no idea of the real Philadelphia grit and toughness that City Line and Montgomery Avenue obviously produce. Villanova students see SJU as nothing but a safety school, and the student body at Hawk Hill as a collection of individuals who could never get into Villanova. Well, no one wants to be called a soft, rich, preppy kid from the suburbs. And no one wants their school to just be called a safety school.

So, where does that leave us? Nowhere, actually. This leaves us nowhere. Villanova and SJU basketball are inextricably linked. Without that “Holy War” on the schedule, both teams would take a major hit. There would be no extreme fire and excitement from the student sections, no rolling out of “The Hawk Will Never Die” signs. SJU and Villanova basketball teams cannot exist without each other. If one team is particularly bad during one season, beating their rival is a surefire way to make up for it. Their rivalry is the most dynamic and the most important of any Big 5 matchup. The history these two schools share together is unbeatable. The similarities are just so close, and the hatred is just so real. The Holy War continues to divide students, alumni, families, friends, and fans, and realistically, it always will.

But, as for me, I’m perfectly fine being a proud supporter of both the Hawks and the Wildcats.

The Hawk Will Never Die…
V For Villanova…
The Hawk Will Never Die…
V For Villanova…

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