When you think of Philadelphia sports, what do you envision? The Philly Phanatic? Allen Iverson's step-over on Tyronn Lue? Maybe, Rocky Balboa running up the Art Museum steps in that famous movie scene? The infamous â€œE-A-G-L-E-S. Eagles!â€ chant? Perhaps you've heard of the Eagles fans throwing snowballs at Santa Claus. Philadelphia is a passionate city â€“ especially when it comes to its sports teams. They love a good rivalry. Any Eagles fan cannot stand the Dallas Cowboys. Phillies fans are not fond of the Mets and the Braves. On the rarest of occasions, the â€œCity of Brotherly Loveâ€ is not so welcoming.
Maybe you don't like sports, and you're more of a foodie. Cheesesteaks top the list when it comes to â€œPhilly foods.â€ Even cheesesteak spots have their own rivalries. Pat's and Geno's both claim to have the best cheesesteak in the city, as seen on numerous TV shows. Right across the street from one another; each place with lines that zig and zag like airport security. We can argue forever about which spot has the best cheesesteak in the city. Hint â€“ it's neither one of theseâ€¦ But I digress. If you enjoy a delicious cheesesteak, and a good sports rivalry, boy, do I have something in store for you!
First, let's set the scene. When the wrestling community thinks of Philly, the Pennsylvania Regional Training Center (PRTC) probably comes to mind. The Pennsylvania RTC is actively helping Olympic-level athletes achieve their dreams. It is a joint effort between Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania. This is not the only instance where two schools come together to form a partnership in this way. What makes this one special is that these schools are literally walking distance apart. Mostly separated by Chestnut Street, it can be difficult at times to tell where one campus starts and the other begins. It's the only Division I dual meet where the visiting team can walk to the match.
The rivalry did not gain steam until Drexel entered the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association conference in the 2013/14 season. Before this, the Dragons were in the now-disbanded CAA wrestling conference. Because they joined, it would make more sense to wrestle their neighbor and conference opponent on a yearly basis. Therefore, Coach Matt Azevedo and Penn head coach at the time, Rob Eiter, decided to make it interesting and add some bragging rights to the rivalry. And the Abner's Cheesesteak Trophy was born. Abner's is the sponsor of the trophy, since they arguably make the best cheesesteak in University City (the area of Philadelphia in which both schools are located). As an added bonus, they were always open late so one could enjoy the greasy, cheesy goodness on the way home from a late-night out. Or so I've heardâ€¦
How did the idea of a cheesesteak trophy come to fruition? The coaches wanted this trophy to â€œcharacterize the city of Philadelphia,â€ in the words of Coach Matt Azevedo. First, the idea of the Liberty Bell came to mind. What's more â€œPhiladelphiaâ€ than that? In my honest opinion, even as a guy who loves history, the Liberty Bell is a little too boring, and maybe expected. They wanted something fun and a little out of the ordinary. Then the crazy idea came about. A woodworker connected to the programs offered to carve a cheesesteak out of wood and place it on top of the trophy. After consideration, they agreed upon the cheesesteak trophy. I love the idea of the trophy being something unique, and different â€“ much like their partnership with the PRTC. I guess you can say the Liberty Bell idea slipped through the cracksâ€¦
I talked to both current head coaches, Matt Azevedo (Drexel) and Roger Reina (Penn) and they both had very similar statements regarding this rivalry. Both used the terms â€œfriendlyâ€ and â€œcompetitive.â€ They have a mutual respect for each other's programs, coaches, athletes, etc. When it comes to the partnership, Coach Reina added, â€œWe are setting the standard of partner-school RTCs.â€ There have been a few other cases where this type of partnership was attempted, and most have either disbanded or have not quite had the success the PRTC has had, in terms of sticking together.
â€œWe are also co-hosting the 2025 NCAA Championships in Philadelphia. Our partnership is more than just the PRTC.â€ Coach Reina continued, â€œWe are working to bring up the entire wrestling community in and around the city.â€ The addition of the Pennsylvania Regional Training Center has helped grow the Philadelphia chapter of the Wrestlers in Business Network. It has grown to be one of the largest, if not the largest, in the United States. The excitement of the wrestling community in the area has significantly increased.
You cannot discuss the Philadelphia wrestling community without mentioning Penn's Director of Operations, Kevin McGuigan. His Twitter handle is literally â€œ@WrestlingPhilly.â€ If there is anyone to ask about how the PRTC has impacted the area, it is him. Kevin stated, â€œthe Senior athletes provide examples of leadership and adhering to core values while they train and compete. Through combined practices and mentoring, these organizations all work together in developing future leaders from the Philly Wrestling community.â€ This effort, in conjunction with the Beat the Streets â€“ Philadelphia Chapter, has helped raise up the community, both on and off the mat.
The community is really coming together. It's tighter than it's ever been. Kevin continued, â€œThere is holistic growth and interaction among the (PRTC) team. There is camaraderie and a family-like atmosphere.â€ What a unique scenario this creates. Essentially, the match-up is almost between â€œteammatesâ€ from separate universities. Unfortunately, I graduated from Drexel just before the PRTC was picking up steam. Since I never got to experience a match quite like this in my day, my main question is, â€œIs this similar to any other match â€“ or is it different?â€
Both Coach Azevedo and Coach Reina discussed why the match is a little different than any other match. â€œFamiliarityâ€ was the word both coaches used. This is what makes this match so close every year. When wrestlers gain a familiarity with each other, the scores tend to be closer after each bout they wrestle. This is no secret to the wrestling world. These guys train with one another in the offseason and during the year. Obviously, there is no better scouting report available. Actually, â€œgetting a feelâ€ for an opponent is more advantageous than simply watching said opponent on film. Any wrestler can attest to that.
Looking at the match this season, both coaches agreed all ten matches are important. However, they both concurred there were a few that stood out. At 125lbs, Ryan Miller of Penn defeated Kyle Waterman in overtime at the Keystone Classic in November. Since then, Miller has climbed the rankings to 26th in the nation. Expect Waterman to look for revenge as the underdog. Another wrestler looking for revenge is Penn's Nick Incontrera at 174lbs. Now ranked 23rd, he will square off against 11th ranked Mickey O'Malley of Drexel. O'Malley had a first-period fall at the Keystone Classic. Another match with two ranked opponents is at 165lbs. Lucas Revano of Penn will take on Evan Barczak of Drexel, ranked 24th and 26th, respectively. Revano won the first tight match-up in November. We've only discussed three bouts; all of them happen to be rematches. It's easy to see how both teams can become so acquainted with one another outside of the practice room, as well as being training partner inside it.
This is the 8th meeting in the last 9 seasons; every year seems to build more excitement and competitiveness. What does this mean for the future of this rival match? Both Coach Azevedo and Reina brought up the fact that both programs have been on the rise as of late. In the future, when both programs are nationally ranked, the dual could potentially be set more into the national spotlight. Personally, I'd love to see the trend of outdoor matches be introduced to this dual meet. Imagine this match occurring earlier in the year (due to warmer weather) outside in a neutral Philadelphia location. Why not put down a mat with a backdrop of the Liberty Bell, or Independence Hall? Incorporate a cheesesteak lunch truck serving up some cheesy, greasy goodness for the crowd. Maybe add in some mascot shenanigans to really capture the Philadelphia sports scene, while including some of the historical aspects that make this city so vital. The local community would love to see something like this.
Until then, the matches will rotate between the Palestra on Penn's Campus and the DAC at Drexel. This year's match will be held on Sunday, February 13th, at the Palestra. The action will start at noon. Television coverage of the match will be on NBC Sports Philadelphia for those with cable. You can also watch on ESPN+. Be prepared for a tight match, as the last few years have been very close. Since the trophy's origin, Penn won the first two meetings. Drexel has since won five in a row. Will Drexel extend the win streak and make the lengthy two-block haul with the trophy in hand? Or will Penn come away victorious and keep the trophy on the south side of Chestnut Street?