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"The Rivalry"

(Photo Credit: Jane Therese, 2004, New York Times)

"The Rivalry" is more than just a Lehigh Valley game that is sold out.

For those of you that are going to be attending one of the telecast parties from all around the country, those of you who are going to be catching "The Rivalry" on Channel 69 or on LehighSports.Com, those of you who will be seeing it for the first time in person, or those of you who are grizzled veterans approaching the coveted "50 Game Club", before trying to tackle the emotional side of things it's (still) helpful to get your mind around the numbers of times Lehigh and "that school from Easton" have played each other over the years.

The raw numbers about "The Rivalry" are only a Wikipedia click away, but even those written words and article don't totally capture the history that entwines these two schools.

No two football teams have faced each other as often as Lehigh and Lafayette have. They've met each other 143 times, with the 144th meeting occurring in a sold-out Fisher Stadium this Saturday. It's been sold out for weeks - just like it is every year. There have been grumblings about the number of tickets available - just like every year.

Other rivalries pale in comparison this one, THE Rivalry to which all others pale in comparison: Harvard/Yale (a mere 124 meetings), Army/Navy (a paltry 108 meetings), Montana State/Montana (merely 107 "Brawls"), Richmond/William & Mary (only 117 scuffles), or even Ohio State/Michigan (the baby of the bunch with 104 tussles).

Lehigh and Lafayette started their rivalry in 1884. To give that year in history some perspective, the cornerstone for the Statue of Liberty was laid down in the summer of 1884 on Beldoe's Island. Mark Twain, in a house just outside Hartford, Connecticut, penned Huckleberry Finn in that year. The president at that time was an ailing Chester Arthur, who was ending his term as the 21st president of the United States as he was suffering from Bright's Disease, a kidney ailment. A couple of weeks before the first-ever meeting of Lehigh and Lafayette, Grover Cleveland defeated James Blaine in a presidential campaign that was filled with mud-slinging.

The first game occurred only one year after football rules were standardized, and was won 50 to 0 by Lafayette over a team that had been playing for three years. Lehigh, on the other hand, had formed their first football team that year for the expressed reason of playing Lafayette. (Their fledgling team would go 0-4, losing twice to Lafayette.)

The New York Times described the game in that year: "The first inning was very interesting, as Lehigh frequently got the ball dangerously near Lafayette's goal line, but each time was beaten back, the point being made by the home team." A hundred games later, as quoted in the New York Times a Lehigh fan recounted that "We did not win... but we did give Lafayette the worst lickin' she ever had and many, many a sore head went back to Easton that night."

Football in this era was very different than the game is today, though it was extremely popular. With no passing game, players would fly down the field behind a big "V" of linemen, trying to physically overwhelm the competition. Predating the NCAA's, college teams would spring up even at tiny (comparitively speaking) colleges and universities like Lehigh and Lafayette.

These teams would play any comers, including semi-professional "athletic clubs". In addition, with few standardized rules on the game or limitations, gambling on the games was rife. In 1892, the New York Times would report on a 15-6 win by Lehigh over Lafayette: "Lehigh showed her superiority from start to finish, and the college men won much money on the result."

The only year since 1884 that Lehigh did not face off against Lafayette was 1896. That year, Lehigh refused to play Lafayette over a dispute about the eligibility of their best player, Charles "Babe" Rinehart. Rinehart was a hall-of-fame lineman on Lafayette's national-champion 1896 team, while the team also featured halfback George "Rose" Barclay, who is widely credited for inventing the football helmet so teams like Lehigh wouldn't make his ears look like cauliflowers. Rinehart was named one of the finest players of the first half-century by Walter Camp.

Since 1902, Lehigh and Lafayette started the tradition of playing only one game per year, only a year before the Wright Brothers took their historic flight at Kitty Hawk and six years before the first Model "T" would come off the assembly lines in Detroit, Michigan. The teams and fans used to travel by train from Bethlehem to Easton to play and watch the games, making their proximity a big bonus.

1905 saw president Theodore Roosevelt get involved in the increasing number of injuries - and deaths - resulting from football games. The meetings with the highest officials from the top football schools of the time were the precursor to the modern NCAA. (Lafayette and Lehigh were two of the twenty schools that regularly attended these meetings, alongside schools such as Army, Haverford, RPI, Michgan, NYU, and other giants of the time.)

The forward pass, which was formally banned at this time, was legalized as well as making other key changes (such as making plays like the "Flying Wedge" illegal, the source of many of these injuries). Lafayette, using a devastating wedge attack, had some of their more lopsided victories in "The Rivalry" at this time: beating Lehigh 40-6 in 1904 and 55-0 in 1905.

In 1915, Lehigh/Lafayette games moved from "Lehigh stadium" (which, I believe, is now the vacant field next to Brodhead Avenue, though I haven't confirmed this) to a proper stadium: Taylor Stadium, which used to sit where the Rauch Business Center now stands. Lafayette ruined the home opener for Lehigh in a dominating 35-6 victory. The Maroons used a new "spread" formation to beat the Brown & White - spreading the field with receivers and a long passing game.

The Easton Express-Times named Lafayette the "Leopards" in the 1920s, and in 1926 old March field was replaced by a state-of-the-art facility (at that time) by the name of Fisher Field at Fisher Stadium. Lehigh was unable to repay Lafayette the favor from 1915: they walloped Lehigh 35-0. This era was dominated by Lafayette, with the Leopards getting two paper "national championships" as a result.

Through World War II and beyond, "The Rivalry" has thrilled Lehigh and Lafayette fans alike with great individual performances, classic games, and strange stories.

In 1950, Lehigh won the "Middle Three" championship from Rutgers and Lafayette with an easy 38-0 win over the Leopards. It was the Engineers' first-ever undefeated season in 67 years, and was played in front of a crowd of over 20,000 people at Taylor Stadium. Backs Dick Gabriel and Dick Doyne combined to bowl over opponents - Doyne in 1949 held the record for rushing yards in a season with 1,023 yards, with Gabriel in 1950 finishing just 30 yards short of Doyne's record. After their season, Lehigh vetoed a chance to play in the Sun Bowl in Texas - while no official reason was given, a common reason why northern teams refused to play in Bowl games in the South was that it was still segregated at the time.

The 1961 game featured a Lambert Cup-winning Lehigh team who had a game-winning field goal in the final minute booted by Andy Larko's first successful FG attempt (that hit the crossbar AND the post) in a thrilling 17-14 victory.

In 1977, "Rieker-to-Kreider" led the way to a 35-17 victory over Lafayette on the way to Lehigh's Division II championship.

In 1987, the last-ever game was played at Taylor Stadium. Lehigh would win, 17-10, in one of the coldest days in Bethlehem history as the fans started tearing up old Taylor Stadium early in the 4th quarter.

In 1988, Lafayette beat Lehigh 52-45 in a shootout featuring Lafayette QB Frank Baur (who was on the cover of Sports Illustrated's national college preview the following year).

1994 was Lafayette RB Erik Marsh's swan song as he rewrote the Leopard record books as they crushed Lehigh 54-20. In 1995, Lehigh fans at Goodman saw a thrilling 37-30 OT victory with WR Brian Klingerman catching the game-winning pass with one hand in the corner of the end zone.

1997 saw RB Rabih Abdullah's 4 touchdowns, 2 rushing and 2 receiving, for a 43-31 come-from-behind victory over the Leopards that set the tone for the big undefeated regular season in 1998. (Lehigh would crush Lafayette that year 31-7.)

2003 saw Lehigh RB Jermaine Pugh had 265 all-purpose yards, including a big punt return for a TD, in a 30-10 victory. It's the last time Lehigh has ended the regular season with a victory, and the last win by Lehigh in "The Rivalry".

2004 saw Lafayette earn their first co-championship in football with their 24-10 victory over the Mountain Hawks, giving Lafayette their first-ever trip to the FCS playoffs (they were rewarded with a trip to Delaware, where they game a major scare to the Blue Hens in a 28-14 defeat). Lehigh, who shared the Patriot League title with the Leopards, also got an at-large bid to the playoffs, hosting eventual champion James Madison in the last playoff game at Murray Goodman (losing a thrilling 14-13 struggle).

In 2005, Lafayette snatched the Patriot League title from Lehigh. Under a minute to play, backup quarterback Pat Davis heaved up a prayer on fourth-and-ten heave. Drilled as he released the ball, the 37 yard air ball floated into the hands of Lafayette tailback Jonathan Hurt, where he twisted into the end zone for the game-winning score in a 23-19 victory. Not only did Lafayette deny Lehigh the Patriot League autobid (which went to Colgate instead), the playoff committee rewarded the Leopards with a playoff game of their own, sending them to eventual national champion Appalachian State. (They would give the eventual national champions their biggest scare of the playoffs, leading after three quarters before finally falling 34-23.)

2006 also saw Lehigh and Lafayette battle for a co-championship, with the winner taking the Patriot League autobid at a newly-renovated Fisher Stadium. After falling down early, coach Coen in his first "Rivalry" as head coach battled back to 28-27 - but after missing the extra point, the Mountain Hawks would give up three straight touchdowns as Lafayette would not look bask in a 49-27 victory. Lafayette was rewarded with a trip to UMass, where they would fall 35-14.

While the 2007 game - for a change - didn't have any championship implications, Lehigh's 21-17 loss last year meant the class of '08 was first time since 1950 that a graduating class hasn't enjoyed a win over Lafayette. True to form, it was a fourth-quarter drive and TD pass by Rob Curley to Kyle Roeder that was the difference in this close game.

Overall, Lafayette leads Lehigh 76-62-5. It goes without saying that a win by Lehigh this weekend might set off some legendary parties on South Mountain.

For more information on "The Rivalry", the good folks at PBS 39 have made the entire content of the documentary "The Lehigh/Lafayette Legacy" is available on YouTube. (It was instrumental in the preparation for this blog posting).

Comments

Anonymous said…
Spell-check
ngineer said…
I have a print of the campus made in 1909 that shows football being played on the same site where Taylor Stadium was eventually constructed. Back then, wooden bleachers with the 'good seats' with a roof. Also, turn of he century photographs show the same field packed for the Lafayette game with a lad perched on a pole overlooking the field. So it appears the prior "Lehigh Stadium" was the same site as Taylor when built in 1914.
Anonymous said…
I'm personally glad it has become fun again. Most of the 90s and until 2003, it wasn't fun for Lafayette because they were just getting pounded consistently. And there was also the spectre of Lafayette dropping football altogether.
Four straight and 5 out of 6 by the Pards have allowed this to be a fun rivalry again.
Lehigh fans will always back their team so it was simply getting the Lafayette fans and students back into the rivalry.

GO PARDS!!!

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