One of our Mason Ambassadors who guides campus tours for prospective students and their parents likes to conclude her talk at the George Mason statue. There she points out that our university’s namesake has his back turned to the Washington Monument, a permanent indication, apparently, of the strained feelings that the founding fathers had toward each other late in their revolutionary lives.
Mason and Washington indeed were once friends and confidantes. Washington once wrote of Mason, “I could think of no person in whose friendship, care and abilities I could so much confide.” When corresponding with Benjamin Franklin and Lafayette, Washington called Mason “a zealous and able supporter of the liberties of this country and a particular friend of mine.”
That all changed in 1787 when Mason and Washington were on opposite sides at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. Mason, whose Virginia Declaration of Rights would later serve as the model for the federal Bill of Rights, saw holes in the plan. Washington supported it. Their relationship breached, as former Mason professor Peter R. Henriques detailed so thoroughly several years back in “An Uneven Friendship: The Relationship Between George Washington and George Mason.”
On Saturday, we pick up with a slightly different rivalry when our men’s basketball team plays host to George Washington at noon at the Patriot Center. The inaugural “Revolutionary Rivalry” game, with both teams now competing in the Atlantic 10 Conference, promises to be a fierce yet friendly founders’ feud between proud Patriots and classy Colonials.
The schools, less than 20 miles or an Orange Line ride apart, may not be quite as close as Gunston Hall and Mount Vernon were when Mason and Washington lived along the Potomac River in Fairfax County. But the institutions do share common ground as outstanding universities in the capital region and as destinations for some of the brightest minds, both students and faculty, from around the globe.
This is going to be fun for years to come, and not just in basketball. The Revolutionary Rivalry is a competition among all 16 of the Mason and George Washington sports teams that play each other during the school year, with the overall winning school taking ownership of the Tri-Corner Hat Trophy. Headed into the nationally televised game Saturday, the score for this inaugural season is knotted at four points apiece.
By the way, that ratification vote at the Constitutional Convention went 89 to 79 in Washington’s favor. I’d take that same score Saturday, only reversed.
May the best George win. And may this be the renewal of a rivalry that spans the centuries.