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Sunday's Word: Rivalry

The Lehigh/Lafayette rivalry - what I like to refer to as simply "The Rivalry" - is the purest and greatest rivalry in the world. And this year it's for all the marbles - a I-AA playoff berth.

Sure, Lehigh clinched a Patriot League co-championship by blowing out Fordham in an impressive display on Saturday. But it sure would be awfully empty sharing it with Lafayette, losing to the Leopards in "The Rivalry" and sitting at home Thanksgiving weekend. Lehigh/Lafayette is always more than just a game, but with a I-AA Playoff game on the line, "The Rivalry", in effect, is another playoff game. Win, we survive and play on. Lose, we're done.

Lehigh and Lafayette have played each other more times than any other rivals in the history of college football. This will be the 142nd meeting between these two schools, who are separated only by about 13 miles along old Route 22. There are other rivalries are considered big games: Michigan/Ohio State, Alabama/Auburn, or USC/Cal - but those teams play games in the higher reaches of Division I athletics that are completely corrupted by money. Many of these players are using these games to shore up their resume for a possible NFL career, and too many don't graduate.

There are other rivalries that stake themselves out as "pure" - like Harvard/Yale or Amherst/Williams. But since they play no postseason, these great games get relegated to the level of "strange oddities" that simply don't have much relevance in the football world. More often then not the games are meaningless to their conference championships; they never have postseason ramifications.

There are other rivalries that are "old" - like Richmond/William & Mary, Montana/Montana State, Appalachian State/Western Carolina. But they can't touch 142 meetings. Montana's "Brawl of the Wild" are playing their 106th meeting on Saturday, and that's the closest of this bunch. 106 meetings is a long time to have developed hate, but it's nothing compared to the hate after 142 meetings.

Finally, there are some schools that are pretty close together. But it's hard to top a 13 mile journey. Theoretically you could walk the entire distance. It's not easy to hate someone who's hundreds of miles away. But Lehigh and Lafayette seem to share the same plot of land. Whatever you do when following Lehigh, you cannot escape the view of Lafayette, and vice versa. Lehigh's wins are generally followed by... "... and what did Lafayette do?" This doesn't happen anywhere else. Even Michigan fans ignore Ohio State sometimes.

It's got everything. Hatred. Proximity. Too many meetings to count. And not only conference championships at stake, but a Golden Ticket to a possible I-AA championship.

Coaches, players, and fans will all tell you this is the best "rivalry" in America. And they're right.

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