The 1990s were a simpler time.

The New York Yankees were back in championship form, Titanic was a smash hit at the box office and if you went to see a game between South Dakota State University and the University of South Dakota, chances were good you’d see at least a few dead animals chucked on the field of play.

This month, the Jackrabbits and Coyotes will face off for the 114th time on the football field in a rivalry recently renewed — A rivalry that hasn’t been forgotten by those who participated in it.

The Press & Dakotan recently sat down with two alums with Yankton ties who did more than watch the rivalry from the stands in the wild final years of the North Central Conference.

Love Lost

The Monday, Oct. 25, 1993 Sports Monday section of the Press & Dakotan had a prominent headline: “U Sacks Jacks.”

And sack they did, beating the Jacks 29-7 in front of 6,600 at the DakotaDome. The story’s scoring summary identifies the lone Jackrabbit touchdown being scored by Mike Myers on a 22-yard pass from QB Tom McDonald — with a successful point after kick by “Adam Zinatieri.”

“Adam Zinatieri” is, in fact, Adam Vinatieri — the very same Adam Vinatieri who would go on to win four Super Bowls as a member of the New England Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts.

The Yankton-born Vinatieri played for the Jackrabbits from 1991-1994 where he amassed 185 points (a school record at the time).

Vinatieri said the rivalry between State and the U was a strong one back in the day.

“It was a pretty good rivalry back then,” he said. “We’d play down there (Vermillion) and they’d talk some trash to us. They’d come up to us and I’m sure we talked some trash to them. Those were some pretty good games.”

Jeremy Kudera has also seen the rivalry up close.

Kudera played basketball for the Coyotes from 1997-2001.

“Those were the days when dead animals were being chucked on the court,” Kudera said. “That was fun to be part of and to see, as long as nobody got hurt. It’s nice to see that that rivalry and that intensity is starting to grow yet again.”

He added that he and his teammates would be extremely supportive of the football team when they’d take the field against the Jackrabbits.

“As a team, we’d always go and hang out,” he said. “We were friends with many of the football players, so we wanted to support them just as they supported us during our basketball games. We were very in-tune with what was going on on the football field and tried to attend as many games as we could. … I don’t remember any one particular football game, but I know they were all a lot of fun.”

Kudera said he loved every minute of the rivalry.

“There’s a lot of love lost between those schools,” he said. “Being there in the trenches for five years for me — I redshirted a year — it’s a very intense experience and there’s a lot of intense fans on both sides. To be involved with that and to be in those arenas and the football stadiums fighting hard and trying to win those ball games, there’s nothing more fun than that.”

Families Divided

As with many intra-state rivalries, Kudera and Vinatieri were both exposed from an early age.

“I certainly was exposed to the rivalry growing up in Dell Rapids right in between the two schools,” he said. “Obviously that blossomed and matured for me being intimately involved on the court. It’s a much different experience when you’re living it that way, and it’s just continued ever since then.”

He said that, at first, he had no specific side that he was rooting for.

“I didn’t have a real true loyalty until into high school,” he said. “I became much more interested in USD, and obviously, it’s where I chose to go. It certainly became evident very early for me that USD was my team.”

Vinatieri said that the rivalry has led to a bit of a split in his family.

“The funny thing is my father and my brother both went to the University of South Dakota,” he said. “Me being a State guy, it meant that it was a little special and was kind of a family rivalry. My older brother would call and talk trash to me. It was fun when we would beat them and I could give him a bit of, ‘Hey, I go to the good school.’ That added a little bit to it because amongst the family, it had a little bit more meaning.”


There’s one basketball game against the Jackrabbits that Kudera remembers well.

“Probably the one that stands out most to me was a game up in Brookings,” he said. “It was a hard-fought game that came down to the end. I hit some big shots down the stretch to help us win that ballgame. That’s one that really stands out, because to win at Frost Arena is always a challenge.”

Winning at Frost Arena has been such a challenge that this game during the 1999-2000 season was the last time that the Coyote men won at Frost Arena.

Vinatieri said that he can’t recall any particular games that stick out, but rather a location — the DakotaDome.

“I do remember the first time playing down at the dome,” he said. “That was my first time playing in a dome, so that was kind of memorable.”

State-U On Ice/Reincarnation

After more than a century creating a team divide for the state, it all ended.

Following the 2003 season, South Dakota State University left Division II for Division I.

Kudera said it felt like somewhat of a letdown at first.

“There were a lot of mixed emotions,” he said. “The initial gut reaction for a lot of people was, ‘What are they doing? They’re really messing something good up that has been a big rivalry and a big thing for a long time.’ I think it’s pretty easy to see now that it was the right move. It was the right move for the state of South Dakota and now that USD has made that move, it’s been a huge thing for this region, for this state and for both universities.”

However, USD would follow its in-state rival to the promised land of Division I in 2008 and, upon joining the Summit League and the Missouri Valley Football Conference, would rebuild the old rivalry.

Kudera said he sees the rivalry re-intensifying after it had been put on ice for so long.

“A lot of folks, especially the college students especially the college students (when it was reinstated), really didn’t understand what that rivalry meant. Finally, we can see both teams are competitive in the league — doesn’t matter what sport you’re talking about — and that rivalry is really getting intense and heated up again. I think everybody involved now has a feel of what that can be like, and that’s super exciting.”

Vinatieri said he likes seeing how the rivalry has evolved.

“The North Dakota teams have kind of been the powerhouse schools in that conference for a long time,” he said. “Now the South Dakota schools have gotten better and are now competing to be the number one teams in the conference. It’s fun to see them go from Division II to Division I and see the programs really blossom and get much bigger.”

Keeping Tradition Alive

Kudera hasn’t abandoned the Coyotes by any stretch of the imagination.

Today, he’s a part of the Yankton chapter of the Howling Pack and makes it to all of the games he’s able to.

“It kind of was natural for me being a former Coyote basketball player over at USD,” he said. “We wanted to be involved. We came back to this area to be involved with athletics and the university, so it just kind of was natural for us to try to get something started and get the excitement going for Coyote athletics in Yankton.”

Vinatieri’s weekend job has made it a little difficult to make it back to Brookings and Vermillion to indulge in the revitalized rivalry, however, he said that he has every intention to make it back out in the future.

“With my football schedule, we play every Sunday,” he said. “I want to get my butt out there and watch a game at my alma mater and be able to watch my nephew who plays for South Dakota State now. It would be kind of fun to get back there and catch a game, I just haven’t been back there for a while. But, my football days will be over before you know it and I’ll probably make it back quite a bit after that.