Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Flashback: November 17th, 1962: Lehigh 13, Lafayette 6

It was the end of an era - in more ways than one.

Sure, Lehigh and Lafayette students had performed midnight raids on the others' campuses plenty of times before, and done plenty of shenanigans in the towns of Bethlehem and Easton, some above board, some not.

"The Rivalry" has always involved pranks, including the occasional arrest for painting the Lafayette Leopard Brown and White, for example.

But in 1962, at a smaller scale yet predating the big stuff that would be coming in six short years at Kent State ("Four Dead in Ohio", Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young), it seemed like there was a rising level of tension between law enforcement and students in the air in the game between Lehigh and Lafayette in 1962.

"Over 400 Lafayette students marched on Easton Nov. 15th after the annual pep rally and bonfire before the Lehigh game and had to be dispersed with fire hoses," the Lafayette reported.  "Observers said the demonstration was the most riotous display in more than 30 years."

Excess and arrests from the early years and wartime had been a part of the "Rivalry" for nearly a hundred years.  Over the years, these campus raids were a right of passage at the all-male schools, complete with the occasional fistfight.

On the Lehigh side, those demonstrations involved storming the Easton campus to vandalize statues, notably Lafayette's Leopard or the statue of the Marquis De Lafayette near the opening of Fisher Field.

The New York Times reported that "since 1933, the statue of the general has been minus a sword when a student riot on campus preceded the game". One year, recounted Al Pedrick '43, the statue was painted purple. “Anyone who was caught got dismissed from school for three days,” Pedrick said. “I know that for a fact because my brother got caught.”

Sometimes, the pranks didn't even leave Bethlehem.

"When Bethlehemites awoke from their slumbers Friday morning it was discovered that while they slept, students of Lehigh-Lafayette clash had painted the town, not red, but white, with such slogans as "Smash Lafayette" and "Smash 'Em", told a 1923 Brown and White.

While the slogans were an idea to greet Lafayette fans heading to downtown Taylor Stadium with some positive propaganda, the local police were not amused and locked up seventeen students for their role in the "decoration".

In the early 1960s, however, something else was happening.

The excess traditionally surrounding the Rivalry seemed to go from school pride to something bigger, something darker, that even most Lehigh and Lafayette students and alumni could probably not adequately explain.

"The year everything happened was 1959," The Lafayette tells us.  "Lehigh threw apples onto the field during the first half.  During halftime their frosh attacked the Lafayette stands to steal dinks, and threw more trash [on the field] in the process.  They tried to steal the band's straw hats and were turned back with a barrage of oranges and ice cubes."

"During the fourth quarter," the article continues, "the Lehigh men, faced with a crushing defeat, began to circulate a sign.  Contrary to tradition, they would defend their goal posts against the victors."

With a minute and a half remaining, Lehigh scored their first touchdown, and the New York Times reported that "about 300 frustrated Engineer supporters rushed out onto the field to prevent the flattening of their goal posts."

It was then when Lafayette students started towards the posts, and a riot over tearing down the goalposts began.

"It was a good five minutes before Bethlehem police restored order, and several Lafayette men were billy-clubbed in the process," the Lafayette continues.  "Both teams sat on the 50 yard line and watched the fight," while Lehigh fans allegedly poured beer cans and bottles onto the Lafayette students.  "President Bergeron was narrowly missed by a piece of pipe as he attempted to restore order."

After the riot - which was covered in both the New York Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer - both administrations made motions to "remove the emotional build-up of the bonfire and thereby tone down the individual student rivalry," by removing former traditional events like the freshman tug of war, and cracking down on the raids of the others' campuses with harsher penalties.

Already other Lehigh/Lafayette traditions has started to disappear, like the pre-game smokers that were in place before World War I, and the bonfire, at one time only conducted after a Lehigh or Lafayette win but increasingly done the night before the game.  As freshman classes would make efforts to light the opposing bonfires "early", students, again, would clash with local police.

By 1962, it seemed like local law enforcement hadn't made much progress, as the students of the era still were conducting the raids and, increasingly, were butting heads with them and pushing the envelope even more. 

"As a rule, after running down the hill," the Lafayette said, "the marchers stop traffic around the center square and attempt to scale the Center Square monument, while the police attempt to drive them back up the hill.  Last year, water balloons, beer cans and firecrackers slowed their progress."

*****

The Thursday before this particular game, students marched to the structure and put tinsel on the monument before attempting to climb it.

But almost immediately, things then started to spiral out of control.

"Police on duty were unable to handle the riotous students," the Lafayette reported.  "Reinforcements were called in who helped push the mob back on No. Third Street toward the campus.  There, the mob hurled bottles, boulders, jagged rocks and tree limbs onto the police and firemen below.  Several cars detoured around College Hill were struck by debris thrown by the students."

After a trio of arrests of students who allegedly incited the riot, ultimately, the fire department was called in, and fire hoses were used to push unruly Lafayette students back up the hill.

According to Easton chief of police Vincent J. Gallo, the empty gin bottle that nearly hit him is what  "really triggered me off."

It was a dangerous flare of tension between the town and the students - and it seems to reflect the student wave that would engulf higher education soon thereafter, when Lehigh and Lafayette would ultimately become co-ed, and students all across the country would demand to have their needs and desires attended to through means of protest.

It probably didn't seem like the beginning of all of that at the time - after all, the Vietnam War draft was years away, JFK was still the President, and while civil rights issues still brewed, the Lehigh Valley was far away from these battles on a national level.

But it did show the beginning of a new type of student - one less likely to simply fall in line.

In the same paper, the Lafayette student council offered "its regrets" for the incident, but also wished to "express out continuing disapproval of the way in which the Easton Police force uses unnecessary brutality in its dealings with the students of Lafayette.  It has been a recurring complaint, from many sources, that the police in some instances neglect to function as officials of the city responsible for keeping the peace, and begin to act as individuals with personal objections to college students in general."

At Lehigh, too, the traditional "Pajama Parade" Friday after the pep rally, with the same types of speeches that had been happening for decades, took a political twist.

"Howling and pajama-clad, the 700 man regiment marched as one across the city to the river, where for a brief period they staged a chilly but effective sit-down strike in the middle of the New Street Bridge," the Brown and White reported.  "For 1200 moments of time, they sat suspended above the trickling torrent of the Lehigh River, while outraged motorists honked and detoured."

After the traditional serenade of the Moravian women, which was a disappointment to the girls in attendance ("It was quieter than they've ever been," one girl reported to have said), they turned around  and headed back to campus, but as evidenced by the short program, something was different than in years past.

The Lehigh students, like Lafayette's, seemed to almost be baiting the policemen to act.  "We want the fire hoses!" they chanted, as they, too, were pushed back to campus.


*****

It's telling that in Lafayette's four-page newspaper the riot was covered on all three pages, but the recap of the game only took up the inside of Page 3, right above a recap of the chess club's performance.

Going into the game 3-5, and coming off a 40-0 walloping by "Middle Three" rival Rutgers, the focus for some time for the Leopards was, at this point, the Lehigh game.  Led by young QB George Hossenlopp, the season was a build-up to their one big bowl game in November. 

Lehigh, not long ago led by hall-of-fame head coach Bill Leckonby, started a new era in 1962 under new head coach Mike Cooley.  Like Lafayette, they entered the contest 3-5 and were only playing for the traditional rivalry game as well, behind the leadership of QB Walt King.  Against Rutgers, they lost 29-13.

The 1960s in general saw a de-emphasis on being competitive in "small college football", and saw both Lehigh and Lafayette struggle against most teams they played.  The game they played against each other was the one where they played with passion, for the most part.

With the particularly bad riots this pre-Rivalry, though, a bigger issue that loomed was security, with Mr. Gallo in charge of that detail for this meeting.

With 26 officers at the game, he felt prepared to "thwart demonstrations of a few disorderly students", Lehigh's student paper said.

"If any students get out of hand, we'll be able to handle them," Gallo said.

There were more harmless, fun pranks and stunts that were less dark, too, like the Lafayette students who traveled to Washington, DC, and put a sign up with the White House as a backdrop that read, "Beat Lehigh".

There was also the baby leopard that the Lafayette freshman class rented that year - and the unspecified "decoration" Lehigh students added to the visiting stands that greeted the Lafayette fans' field of vision from the other side if Fisher Field.

Lafayette would go ahead early, scoring a first-half touchdown by FB Les White but saw the Leopards' extra-point blocked by WR Andy Larko.  Then Lehigh would rally in the 4th quarter, taking advantage of a partially-blocked 9 yard punt deep in Lafayette territory, to take the lead 7-6.

After Lafyette would knock King, their captain, quarterback and kicker out, QB John DeNoia would come in and guide Lehigh to their final score, a run by RB Pat Clark that would lead to the final result.

There were no reports of violence after this game.  But the type of postgame excess would survive and continue well into the 1990s, in some form or another, as the tensions between the town and the students would be uneasy for years.  The Rivalry was taking a new shape.

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