Top Texas high school football rivalries — No. 1: Port Neches-Groves vs. Nederland

To celebrate the start of the 2017 season, we spent weeks trying to pick the top rivalries in the state, using interviews, archives and a unique scoring system.

Previously: No. 10 — Harlingen vs. San Benito / No. 9 — El Campo vs. Bay City / No. 8 — Cuero vs. Yoakum / No. 7 — Stephenville vs. Brownwood / No. 6 — Abilene vs. Abilene Cooper / No. 5 — Ennis vs. Waxahachie / No. 4 — Midland Lee vs. Odessa Permian / No. 3 — Sherman vs. Denison / No. 2 — Marshall vs. Longview

You know you’ve got a great rivalry game when it features not one but two nicknames, and when Port Neches-Groves and Nederland meet on the gridiron, it is always a must-see in the Golden Triangle. The towns of Port Neches and Nederland bump right against each other and are only separated by railroad tracks. As one local puts it, “You won’t know which town you are in unless you see a sign.”

For nearly 70 years this annual grudge match between Jefferson County neighbors didn’t have a nickname, but in 1995 Tom Halliburton from the Port Arthur News dubbed the showdown “Mid County Madness,” and the name fit the showdown like a glove. These two programs have as much history and tradition as anyone in Southeast Texas and they feature two of the most rabid fan bases around, so when they meet, the name is spot-on.

There’s pedigree, too. The two teams have played in a combined nine state title games, with Nederland winning one state title and Port Neches-Groves boasting three. It’s a rivalry defined by streaks, most notably for Nederland. The Bulldogs won four in a row from 1954-1957, and ironically, that streak started during the Indians’ glory days of the 1950’s. The two programs didn’t play from 1949-1953, and when the rivalry picked up Nederland asserted dominance. However, despite the wins for Nederland, PNG was in the midst of a state runner-up finish in 1954 and a state title run in 1955. NHS shortly thereafter got it going with their own runner-up finish in 1956, and their only state title in 1957. PNG then began a dominant run. From 1965 to 1983, they didn’t lose to Nederland. Only in 1965 and 1968 was Nederland able to manage a tie against their arch rivals. Nederland has turned the tide recently as from 2000-15 they owned a 13-3 mark against PNG.

Photo by Russell Wilburn

“It’s a chance for bragging rights at work since a lot of Nederland and PNG folks work together. It’s special because a lot of folks go to one school but then their kids attend the other school so the dynamics are real unique. You definitely will see a lot of t-shirts game week that are half black/gold and half purple/white,” Nederland head coach Monte Barrow said. Barrow himself is a 1985 graduate of Nederland and was the QB of the Bulldogs team that ended the long PNG winning streak in 1984.

Port Neches-Groves head coach Brandon Faircloth was new to the rivalry when he arrived in Southeast Texas in 2009 from Odessa Permian.

“I am a bit of an outsider and I have coached in some big rivalry games, but our game is as big a rivalry game as there is in Texas, it’s something to behold. The kids from both towns go to church, play little league together, etc. They know each other better than anyone,” Faircloth said. “That breeds a lot of respect between the two schools and communities, it’s not a dislike at all, but you want to win and beat your brother, for example. For 48 minutes it’s all-out war, but after the game the kids are hugging each other and taking pictures together along with the parents and families.”

The second nickname of the rivalry was dubbed “The Bum Phillips Bowl” in 2014 after the death of the Texas icon in 2013. Coach Phillips, most known for his tenure as head coach of the Houston Oilers coached at both programs (Nederland 1951-1956; Port Neches-Groves 1963-1964). Phillips passed away in 2013, while the PNG-Nederland game was in progress. Fittingly enough, the game was tied at 7-7 in the third quarter between his two favorite high schools at the time of his passing. His son Wade Phillips, current defensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos and former Dallas Cowboys head coach, was in attendance at the 2014 game, which was the first time the game and trophy held the name “Bum Phillips Bowl.”

Quick hits for “Mid County Madness”: 

How many years has it been played? 92 years since 1925

Overall record: PNG leads 49-37-7

Distance between schools (in exact miles): Just 4.3 miles separates the two campuses

State titles won and/or appeared in for each team: Nederland (1956 3A runner-up, 1957 3A state champion, 1961 3A runner-up). PNG (1953 3A state champion, 1954 3A runner-up, 1955 3A state champion, 1975 4A state champion, 1977 4A state runner-up, 1999 4A Division II runner-up).

Average attendance: combined average of both stadiums’ capacities: Nederland’s Bulldog Stadium lists a capacity of 11,000, while PNG’s Stadium boasts a capacity of 13,000. Both regularly feature overflow crowds for Mid County Madness.

How much animosity is there, really? Is it a fun rivalry, or does it always get chippy and cross the line? It’s as intense a rivalry as you’ll see, with huge crowds and typically a district title on the line. It rarely gets dirty or crosses the line, but it’s usually an incredibly physical football game.

Does the game have a nickname? What’s the story behind it? Mid-County Madness aka Bum Phillips Bowl.  The Mid County Madness name was coined in 1995 by the Port Arthur News due to the location of both towns in the middle of Jefferson County and the name stuck, the Bum Phillips Bowl was added in 2014 in honor of Bum Phillips who coached at both high schools.

WHY do the schools dislike each other? What’s the town history? The two communities are inter-connected in many ways. They border each other between Beaumont and Port Arthur, and a natural rivalry over the decades developed. The players from both schools know each other well and it’s almost a brother vs. brother type rivalry.

How has the rivalry changed over the years? Pranks were a big part of the rivalry with PNG’s totem pole coming up missing or painted black and gold, and Nederland’s Bulldog has been painted purple a time or two.

Any famous alumni? Coaches? Mike Simpson (PNG Class of 1964, played 1969-1973 with San Diego Chargers and San Francisco 49ers), Greg Davis (former UT OC), Bum Phillips (Nederland HC 1951-1956;  PNG HC 1963-1964), Wade Phillips (PNG QB 1965), Don Clayton (Nederland Class of 1975; THSCA Hall of Honor 2017).

How’d the first-ever game go? What is known about that one? Nederland won the first meeting 6-0 in 1925, but the two teams squared off again later that year with PNG winning 13-7.

Greatest game ever? In 1963, Bum Phillips returned to the Golden Triangle after a stint as head coach at UTEP. He took over at PNG after a successful run a decade earlier at rival Nederland. His PNG Indians were quarterbacked by his son Wade Phillips. Trailing 21-6 in the second half, Phillips’ squad recovered a pair of onside kicks and scored late in the game to cut the lead to 21-20. Instead of going for the tie, Coach Phillips elected to go for the win and the two-point try was successful with PNG stunning Nederland, 22-21.

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