Gomez, Gonzalez take opposing sidelines for first time in Bird Bowl

HARLINGEN — The 29th edition of the Bird Bowl between the Harlingen High Cardinals and Harlingen South Hawks will bring a new fold to the crosstown rivalry.

Harlingen High football coach/athletic coordinator Manny Gomez was a star linebacker for the Cardinals before graduating in 1990. After a college career, Gomez started coaching with the Cardinals in 1995. One of the players he coached was Israel Gonzalez III, Harlingen South’s first-year football coach/athletic coordinator.

Gonzalez, a 1997 Harlingen High graduate, played in the Cardinals’ secondary. Gomez later hired Gonzalez as a coach, and he spent 10 years with the Cardinals program.

The duo won every Bird Bowl they coached in together. They’ll be on opposing sidelines and going head-to-head for the first time when the No. 5 Hawks (4-0, 1-0) and No. 3 Cardinals (3-1, 1-0) battle at 7 p.m. today at Boggus Stadium.

“It’s like going against a family member,” Gomez said. “Usually you’re going up against somebody you respect, but he’s also a person that you love and you helped raise and shared some great times with. … I got the chance to coach him up a little bit on special teams, and then eventually I got him to come work with me. That’s where the relationship was built and grown.”

Gonzalez said he was surprised when Gomez got him coaching offense instead of defense, where he played. But he called it a beneficial decision, which led to Gonzalez serving two years as Harlingen High’s offensive coordinator before advancing to the head coaching ranks.

“(Gomez) was one of the first guys I knew personally that had gone on to play at the next level, so there’s no doubt he was somebody we looked up to in the program,” Gonzalez said. “He gave me my opportunity. Throwing me on the offensive side, little did I know he had a bigger plan, a bigger vision. … All those little decisions definitely had an influence on where I ended up.”

The Cardinals have controlled the series, winning 24 of 28 matchups, but Gomez doesn’t want Harlingen High to find too much comfort in that with a revamped South team lying in wait.

“I never liked history myself. We know that it’s not what happened yesterday, it’s what’s going to happen today and tomorrow. We just want to be the best we can be today,” Gomez said. “It’s going to be an exciting game, a very violent game. Should be a fun night.”

Gonzalez isn’t thinking about South’s losing streak. He just wants the Hawks to focus on getting “one step closer to winning a district championship.” Though he’ll be in a new set of colors this Bird Bowl, Gonzalez said there have been nothing but well wishes exchanged between himself and his former Cardinals associates, and he and Gomez both said this game is about making their communities proud.

“That staff on the other side of town, they’re an excellent staff with an excellent leader that I’ve got nothing but respect for. They do a tremendous job coaching and raising young men,” Gonzalez said. “Now, Harlingen South has the same thing, and ultimately the winner of this is the community of Harlingen. … It’s going to be a battle. I expect two programs to fight it out to the last whistle. We hope to put on a show and make everyone extremely proud in both communities.”

[email protected]