If ever there was a time for the Manatee-Southeast rivalry to get gobbled up like a Goober inside a shark tank, it would be now.
Everything has become so big. Everything has become everybody’s — small-town nuances, such as longtime rivals duking it out in front of 5,000 fans on a Friday in September — are no longer in fashion.
They’re no longer cool.
This is a new age of prep football — teams are now taking planes to road games and ESPN keeps muscling its way into high school stadiums.
Never miss a local story.
Is there any more room for ageless backyard brawls?
Yes, there is. Especially this one.
Tonight marks the 29th time the Hurricanes and Seminoles meet, and it’s a rivalry that remains unrivaled.
Say what you will about Manatee County’s expansion, about how much better everything was 20 years ago, when there were less schools and less people and less of a chance to water down the talent.
This is still the marquee event of the year.
Southeast vs. Manatee.
There is too much history for anything to top it. As some of the players said earlier this week, it doesn’t matter how good or bad the teams look or how good or bad they’re playing — this is the game.
What’s remarkable about the Manatee-Southeast rivalry is that it keeps pulsating despite the fact that, in relation to what is going on today, it’s not hip.
In the age of coaches switching jobs the second they feel so inclined, Manatee still has Joe Kinnan and Southeast still has Paul Maechtle.
In an age of interstate matchups, this is a battle between schools separated by a handful of miles.
In an age where every attractive prep game makes its way on to television, this one will be for your eyes only.
The game has always been enough and will always be enough.
“Once I have kids, and some of my buddies that went to Southeast have kids, they’re going to collide heads,” said Manatee defensive lineman Drakkar Wilson, “and I’m going to be like, ‘Man, I remember when I did that.’
“It’s always going to be like that. It’s tradition.”
Manatee vs. Southeast is the one thing that still belongs to Bradenton, a town that still has a small-town feel regardless of how the population swells.
Tonight’s game belongs to the people in the stands who remember when these kids were Little Leaguers. It belongs to the volunteers in the concession stands. It belongs to the coaches on the sidelines.
Most importantly, it belongs to the players, with the winner owning bragging rights for a whole year.
Manatee is good. So is Southeast. Both teams’ goals stretch way beyond Week 3, so tonight isn’t the end-all, be-all of either team’s season.
But it’s still Manatee against Southeast.
It’s still the battle for Bradenton’s bragging rights, for control of county supremacy.
It will always be the biggest game in town.