Every fall in San Francisco’s Kezar Stadium, two teams compete for the Bruce-Mahoney Trophy. However, football is just one of three games that determine the winner of the trophy as both basketball and baseball participate in determining the winner of the coveted prize. Named after two men who graduated from Saint Ignatius College Preparatory and Sacred Heart Cathedral; the games serves as an annual reminder of the sacrifices that each of these individuals made for America during World War II. This is the story of the men behind the trophy and how this rivalry has evolved over the years.
Bill Bruce attended Saint Ignatius during the Great Depression and made quite a name for himself. Perfectly blending his intellect with his athletic skills, Bruce excelled just as much in the classroom as he did on the gridiron. After graduating in 1935, he went to college before World War II called him away. He joined the Navy at the start of the war and was killed in a training accident in Pasco, Washington on April 14, 1943.
Jerry Mahoney was a star in basketball and football while attending Sacred Heart Cathedral. He was named first-team all-AAA in his senior year on both the football and the basketball teams. After graduating in 1944, Mahoney enlisted in the Navy and was the heavy weight boxing champion of the Great Lakes Naval Training Station. His ship, the SS Henry B. Plant, was sunk by a German U-boat off of the English Channel on February 5, 1945.
Due to their mutual sacrifice in World War II, the Bruce-Mahoney Trophy was formed and a long lasting rivalry evolved.
The rivalry began on St. Patrick’s Day in 1893, making it the oldest high school athletic rivalry west of the Mississippi River. The schools met in Central Park for a rugby game where Sacred Heart won 14-4. The schools faced each other multiples times in several sports between three leagues over the next half century before tragedy struck and an idea was born. When Bill Bruce died in 1943 and Jerry Mahoney perished in 1945, administrators of both schools began to discuss the possibility of dedicating a trophy in their honor.
The Bruce-Mahoney Trophy was dedicated in 1947 and is awarded to the school that wins two out of the three football, basketball and baseball games played each year. Since the teams typically play each other twice a year in both basketball and baseball, only the first of the two games for each sport counts towards the trophy.
The first game was played in 1945. Saint Ignatius won the football game 20-6 while Sacred Heart took the basketball (29-28) and baseball (3-1) games while picking up the first Bruce-Mahoney Trophy. Saint Ignatius took a 7-6 victory on the gridiron the next year and avenged their previous year’s loss in basketball, defeating Sacred Heart 26-25. There was no baseball game played between the schools that year and Saint Ignatius took home the Bruce-Mahoney Trophy.
Since the beginning of the rivalry, the schools have not always played baseball together but football and basketball have been a constant since 1945. The teams traded the trophy in 1947 and 1948. By 1949, Sacred Heart Cathedral began a streak of three straight defeats of Saint Ignatius on the gridiron. Consequently, the Fighting Irish held the trophy for three straight years.
The Wildcats swept the Fightin’ Irish in 1952 and 1953, demolishing their football team by scores of 58-6 and 26-7 while claiming two more titles. The schools continued to pass the trophy back and forth year after year until 1973 when the Wildcats began the greatest streak of the rivalry. Every year from 1973-1974 to 1984-1985, Saint Ignatius won the Bruce-Mahoney Trophy. While many of those years were sweeps, there were a few instances of irregularity. In 1979, the football teams finished with a 0-0 tie and two years later they finished with a 16-16 tie.
During this time, a number of future pro’s played in these games. Dan Fouts led the Wildcats against Sacred Heart in 1967 and 1968, helping his school split the trophy with the Fighting Irish both years. Future Super Bowl champion Kevin Gogan played along the offensive and defensive lines as his Sacred Heart teams tied Saint Ignatius 16-16 in 1981 and lost to the Wildcats 26-0 in 1982.
Gogan was also a catcher and first baseman on the baseball team when the Fightin’ Irish lost to the Wildcats 5-4 and 4-1 respectively. Eric Wright helped his Sacred Heart teammates defeat the Wildcats on the hardwood in 1983 with a 59-48 victory. Levy Middlebrooks helped Saint Ignatius in a 53-37 victory in 1984.
By the 1985-1986 school year, the Fightin’ Irish had had enough and defeated their nemesis in basketball (37-35) and baseball (6-0). Though they lost to Saint Ignatius in football (21-14), Sacred Heart Cathedral won the Bruce-Mahoney Trophy for the first time since the spring of 1974.
Over the ensuing decades, the schools played each other annually but they resided in different leagues. While Saint Ignatius struggled for survival in the WCAL, Sacred Heart Cathedral was playing as an independent.
This changed in the 2008-2009 season when the Fightin’ Irish rejoined the West Catholic Athletic League after a long hiatus. While Saint Ignatius’ football team welcomed them to the league with a 24-10 defeat, Sacred Heart Cathedral defeated the Wildcats in basketball (66-37) and baseball (4-1), giving them a well earned Bruce-Mahoney Trophy to mark their first year in a new league.
Saint Ignatius continued to dominate Sacred Heart Cathedral on the gridiron for the next two years, defeating the Fighting Irish by scores of 42-14 in 2009 and 31-21 in 2010; taking home the Bruce-Mahoney Trophy in both years. The 2011-2012 season felt different. Sacred Heart Cathedral defeated the Wildcats 38-14 in football and 45-27 in football to claim the Bruce-Mahoney Trophy. The Wildcats football team had the last laugh as they defeated the Fighting Irish in the CCS championship game that December.
Since that year, Sacred Heart Cathedral has only won the Bruce-Mahoney Trophy one other time (in the 2017-2018 season) and tied in the COVID-19 shortened 2019-2020 season. After a long hiatus, high school football resumed in the Bay Area during the spring of 2021 and Saint Ignatius and Sacred Heart Cathedral resumed their long lasting rivalry.
On Friday, April 9th, the schools clashed at Kezar Stadium. It was a hard fought battle, with the Wildcats taking an early three point lead before the Fightin’ Irish answered with 10 points in the second quarter. However, the Wildcats would not be denied and came back to win the long awaited contest 20-17. As of now, the schools anxiously await their next meeting, a basketball contest to be held on April 27, 2021.