FORT WAYNE – There was a time when it was the marquee matchup on high school football Friday night in Fort Wayne.
For 14 years, from 1980 to 1993, two sure-fire things occurred during halftime of the North Side-Northrop games: As the home school’s band played and marched, Hilda Doerffler would also be on the move.
Because she could never show partiality between her boys who were coaching against one another, or root against one of their teams, the mother of Byron Buzz Doerffler, Dean Doerffler and Dale Doerffler would settle into the stands for the first half of the game, then, during halftime, pack up and move to the other team’s section.
She wouldn’t miss a game, and she always changed sides at halftime, said Buzz, who was the first football coach in Northrop High School history, beginning in 1971 until he retired in 1983.
Dale, now the North Side athletic director, coached the Redskins from 1980 to ’96. Dean, who took the Northrop job after Buzz left, coached from 1984 to ’93. He is the athletic director at Concordia.
Fourteen times, two of Hilda’s boys stood across the width of a football field and faced one another. Four times Buzz coached against Dale, each winning twice. In the decade that followed, Dale’s North Side teams won six of 10 games against Dean.
So the much-hyped storyline for tonight’s Super Bowl of Baltimore coach John Harbaugh facing younger brother Jim, the San Francisco coach, has been played out – certainly on a lesser scale – more than a dozen Fridays at either Northrop’s Spuller Stadium or North Side’s Chambers Field. Only instead of two brothers, there were three.
I can’t imagine playing a Super Bowl against your brother, said Dean, who, according to Dale, is in charge of the annual Doerffler Super Bowl gathering. It’s over at his house.
By the time Dale Doerffler became the North Side coach in 1980, brother Buzz was a veteran. Sixteen years older than his twin brothers, Buzz had coached four years at Central High School and was in his 10th year at Northrop.
The first documented sibling encounter came the final game of Buzz’s first year of coaching. That’s when his Bruins beat Concordia, which had the Doerffler twins as juniors.
A year later, when both were seniors, Dean threw a touchdown pass and two-point conversion in the rain, and Dale had an interception that clinched Concordia’s 14-12 win over Buzz’s Bruins, who had lost two games that season by three points.
Eight years later, in his first season as the North Side coach, Dale would beat Buzz again 14-0.
I remember playing Buzz the first time, there was the amount of respect I had for him as a brother, Dale said.
The reason we got into education and coaching was because of him; so you were not only playing somebody who was your brother, but someone you looked up to. And I knew he was a really good coach.
After Buzz won the last two games to even the series against Dale, he retired. That’s when Dean took the job to keep the Doerffler Bowl – as it was annually called – alive.
I remember it because there was a lot of media attention – the twins playing each other, Dean said. I suppose the part we didn’t like was it was the Dale-versus-Dean type of thing. For us, it was always North Side versus Northrop.
As was the case four years earlier, Dale’s Redskins beat the other brother, 18-6, to hand Dean his first football coaching defeat. But then Northrop won the following season, 32-29. North returned the favor in ’86, 25-7. From 1990 to 1992, North Side won three in a row before Dean’s last season.
He won the first game, and I won the last, Dean said, recalling the 28-7 win at Northrop nearly 20 years ago.
Unlike Hilda, who died in 2009, Bob Doerffler didn’t get to see his sons coach against each other.
Dad died in 1979, so he just missed it all, Buzz said.
But the Doerffler clan remains as tight as that 14-12 game in 1972.
The brothers meet for lunch every Friday, and the extended families gather for holidays.
Thanksgiving is my favorite, Dale said. We have dinner at the Doerffler side, and we all watch football.
Because the Friday night lights are in the distance now and belong to another generation of coaches, the memories are frayed around the edges for all three Doerfflers.
Instead, they talk about the good times together – not as opponents, but as brothers. Even after one beat the other, there was no taunting, no swagger, no trash talk.
It’s just not how our family operated, Dale said. We were all in the business, and I think we knew how tough winning and losing is, and what head coaches go through – that they’re just trying to get their teams ready to play.