Melbourne's knockout semi-final against Hawthorn will be the 32nd meeting between the clubs since they fought like there was no tomorrow on an emotion-charged night at the MCG in 1996.
Merger talks between the Demons and the Hawks were well advanced when the sides met in round 22.
But anti-merger feelings ran high among the 63,196-strong crowd, with banners and signs held aloft by both sets of fans strongly opposing the entity that would be known as the Melbourne Hawks.
Hawthorn won the match by a point to make the finals and go around at least one more time.
But the Demons were well out of finals contention and their players faced an uncertain future.
"My recollections of that night are that it was just all about playing for your mates," Melbourne champion David Neitz told AAP.
"We felt like the whole side was going to be busted apart and this was the last time we would be out there on the field together.
"I don't know how the Hawks went about it. Potentially it was a similar feeling for them, and there's no doubt that emotion spilled out.
"At the first bounce there was carnage. It was an absolutely furious start to the game ... there were bodies flying everywhere - it was brutal.
"There was a lot happening in that game."
Neitz, who was 21 at the time, was on fire and finished with six goals to take out the first of seven club leading goalkicker titles in his 306-game career.
But he was overshadowed by Jason Dunstall, who needed nine goals to reach 100 for the season and kicked 10 to make it to triple figures for the sixth time.
Feisty Melbourne midfielder Alastair Clarkson amassed 29 possessions and kicked a goal against the side he would go on to coach to four flags.
Todd Viney, with two-year-old son Jack safely tucked in bed at home, had a chance to win it with two minutes left but his hurried shot skewed off his boot out on the full.
The Demons threw everything at the Hawks after Neitz's sixth goal made it a one-point game with four minutes left until Nick Holland's saving mark in the dying seconds settled a titanic struggle.
"Whenever Melbourne have played Hawthorn since I think that merger proposition hangs in the air," Neitz said.
"It was more acute in the years soon after the merger didn't go ahead but I think it's still there for a lot of people.
"Whether that has as much of an impact on the current day players, I'm not sure.
"A lot of our guys weren't even born then but I think a lot of fans still feel it quite a bit."
Friday night's clash will be the first final and most important encounter between the sides since that eventful night in 1996.
Neitz, who played in 13 finals for the Demons including the 2000 grand final loss to Essendon, is hopeful Simon Goodwin's side can overcome the Hawks on their way to a 13th premiership, their first since 1964.
"There's been some hard times and you do feel for everyone but the club has been able to get it right over the past few years," he said.
"Simon Goodwin's a good coach who the players seem to respect a great deal and who is getting the most out of them.
"They're playing with the intensity of a side that can match it with anyone on any given day or ground.
"It certainly holds them in good stead."
Australian Associated Press