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"The Rivalry" - The History of the Craziness

(Photo Credit: The Brown & White)

For passionate alumni, "The Rivalry" signifies the last throes of the year before family items occupy the schedule, where the focus comes on turkeys, hams, and presents. The weekend before Thanksgiving offers the one chance a year many alumni get to see many of their own outside their busy lives.

And for students, "The Rivary" means the nearing of the end of a semester of tough classes, which all comes together with an outpouring of directed energy.

"For us students we have class from 8 to 4, eat dinner at 6, and then have to go do 6 to 7 hours of homework," one current Lehigh student said in regards to going to athletics events. "So priorities have to be taken into account. After all we are paying $51,050 a year, so sacrifices have to be made to ensure a stable future."

"Rivalry week" happens the week before Thanksgiving, in between four o'clock exams and final exams. It's not surprising once the students are over the hump of the academic boot camp which is the Lehigh curriculum, the students let loose. (more)

It is a way to deal with the stresses of being away from home, being away from the nest, and to be individuals. It's the one thing that unites everyone who is or has been Brown or Maroon. It's unadulterated school spirit, frequently tinged with alcohol, inundated with emotion and coming of age all at once in a common direction. It's Hunter Thompson meets The Beach Boys meets "Animal House".  It all comes into play this week.

There are lots of great sources for all the crazy traditions of "The Rivalry".

PBS 39 produced an excellent documentary called "The Lehigh/'Lafayette Legacy" produced in 2003 (recently put, in its entirety, on YouTube), and the book "Legends of Lehigh/Lafayette", written by Todd Davidson and Bob Donchez in 1995.

Both talk a little bit about the "tradition of excess", to put it mildly, around "The Rivalry".  Here are some of them, through history, described below.

Some of the original traditions involved pep rallies called "smokers". For two all-male schools, you couldn't get much more macho: smokers involved wrestling matches, boxing matches, coaches' and players' speeches, and lots and lots of tobacco products being consumed (hence the name "smoker"). They were present on both campuses: in the New York Times in 1913, a smoker was described at Lafayette: "All week long there have been daily demonstrations. To-night there was a smoker, at which the building literally rocked with the vehemence of the cheers."

Smokers appear to make their appearance at Lehigh around 1902, according to the Brown & White.  All the students at that time - Lehigh was an all-male school then - got souvenir pipes from the smoker as well as complimentary tobacco products. Aside from the cheers, "stunts", wrestling and boxing matches were on offer as well between students.

At Lehigh today, insurance concerns probably preclude the inclusion of pep rallies involving tobacco or boxing matches - whether they would involve bouts between Mountain Hawks and Leopards, or not - but instead the traditions involve a house decorating contest down Fraternity Row, the South Side Boosters' pre-Lafayette pep rally, and the Laf-A-Palooza Pep Rally on Thursday night, which include a concert, dance team, step team, and the Marching 97 in attendance.

(I think we can all agree the step and dance teams are a big improvement over the cancer-causing second, third, and fourth-hand-smoke at the smokers.)

Another common aspect of "The Rivalry" which continued well into the 1960's was the idea of raiding the other campus, sometimes resulting in riots. 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 slimbers 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 & 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".

For Lehigh, the bonfire is linked to Lehigh's first-ever win in "The Rivalry", a 16-0 win in 1887. To quote Legends of Lehigh/Lafayette, to celebrate the victory freshmen set fire to the grandstand that were seen as “an eyesore and a disgrace to the athletic grounds.” (Mercifully, after that administrators thought that maybe an official bonfire was a better idea.)

The bonfire became a Thursday or Friday tradition before the big game. And Lehigh and Lafayette students would frequently try to sneak to the other campus to "light the fire before its time". Freshmen were assigned to guard the fire to keep opposing students out. A typical early-year bonfire from 1919 was retold in this photo album.

The bonfire has been an on-again, off-again tradition at Lehigh. It was briefly resurrected a few years ago, but did not make a return this year.

Also linked to the Bonfire were Lehigh's "Marching 97". All throughout "The Rivalry" the Brown & White marching band has been involved with parades on campus and in Bethlehem for over 100 years.

Traditionally, the band would make their first appearance in a "pajama parade" after the bonfire was lit. Band members, dressed in pajamas, marched over the Lehigh river using the "Penny Bridge" to serenade the ladies of Moravian College (then an all-female school). The "Penny Bridge" was now in the site where the Fahy bridge is today, and cost a penny to cross; the band would play the song "We Pay No Tolls Tonight" as they crossed.

Nowadays, the "Marching '97" still parades around campus the Friday before "The Rivalry", famously stopping first at the legendary 8:00AM "Eco 1" class that nearly every Lehigh student attends. As a result, it's unofficially called the "Eco 1 Flame". (When I was a student, some folks bought some hops-based liquid refreshment to class during this time. I think I might have been one of them.)

Bed Races
Five years ago, an old Lehigh tradition from Greek Week was revived: the bed race. Traditionally down "fraternity row", it was cancelled years ago due to safety concerns, but returned for the second-straight year. It doesn't go around the deathly curves around fraternity row anymore, however: it starts on the lower part of the Mountain. This Friday is when it takes place this year.

The origin of the bed race actually dates from "Greek Week", in 1967, where a proposal was made to have a "girl" riding on a bed down the hill with four fraternity brothers pushing it. A Lehigh original, it was moved to part of the "Lehigh/Lafayette week".

Turkey Trot
Another rite of passage on the Lehigh side is the "Turkey Trot", an intramural run which involves a run up and down South Mountain. It's been around at least since the 1960's, and is a great way to stay in shape. Hard to believe the winner six years ago ran the course in 14:46! That's about the time it would take me to get halfway up South Mountain. If I could do it in an hour and a half I'd be pushing it.

Before the drinking age laws were strictly enforced, fraternities used to hand out beers to contestants going up and down the mountain. That's about the only way I might - repeat, might - do it today.

For folks like me, there's a new addition to the traditional "Turkey Trot" run on campus: a one-mile loop below the trot area for folks who want to participate but are daunted by 2.6 miles up and down hills. (I'm hoping there's beers available.)

No article on the history of "The Rivalry" would be complete without the mention of drinking. Whether we adults like to think about it or not, somewhere along the line drinking to excess became one of the rites of passage of the week. "The Lehigh/Lafayette tradition has extended way beyond football over the years," said the Brown & White's Alexis Novick in 1999. "I’m not saying it’s right, but this weekend has become a tradition to most students to get wasted beyond belief."

Stories abound of sunrise cocktails, shots, and other dangerous drinking activities that could take them near death take place on this weekend, more so than other weekends. Even students who have no intention of going to "The Rivalry" use it as an excuse to get plastered and become "rebels without a cause" for one week.

Beirut, the unofficial drinking game of Lehigh, is common during this week - even among alumni of both schools. Seeing a Beirut table during a tailgate isn't an uncommon sight, as is plastic cups, cans of National Bohemian and other cheap beers. For the more well-off young alumni, Yuengling. For the well-heeled, imported Heineken.

Not everyone likes it, but it happens. I don't have any personal stories of wasted mayhem - ones that I'll share, anyway. But I'd be remiss if I didn't at least mention my trip to Lafayette in an old VW Bus with a bunch of buddies and about six cases of beer. That's the game I remember the least. (Folks later told me it was a 10:45AM start - and many, many people didn't even bother going to bed the night before. I do remember breaking out in song multiple times - "too much, magic bus!")

(NOTE: I am a great proponent of "drinking responsibly" and do not condone people drinking to the point of self-poisoning and generally making an ass of themselves. (And yes, we had a designated driver of the VW bus. If I remember correctly.)

Goalposts & Postgame Riots
In the past, a postgame tradition was to tear down the goalposts after the game - the caveat being "after the game" was generally optional. Some years - like 1975 - they came down at halftime, meaning the football teams would have to go for 2-point conversions instead of kicking extra points.

Since at least 1943 the postgame riot and tearing down of the goalposts was a violent rite of passage. Lehigh and Lafayette students (and others) stormed the field to secure parts of the goalposts, specially constructed of easily-torn down wood. Fistfights were commonplace in the anarchy that ensued. Some years, the riot was the big story of the day, the competition on the gridiron coming a distant second place to the action on the sidelines.

In the late 1980s, I caught the tail end of this tradition. In a 52-45 marathon won by Lafayette, I nabbed one of the end-zone markers which I proudly brought back to my freshman dorm.. and had it sweet-talked away from me by some girl. In 1991, in which would turn out to be the last year for the postgame riots and goalpost grab, I ended up with a sliver which couldn't have been more than four inches long. Proudly, I put my piece of goalpost in my pocket and got my ride home - amidst other fraternities fighting each other for pieces of the post that just a bit longer.

In the 1991 game, Lehigh erected metal goalposts, and got the local authorities involved in keeping order. Even though students and fans were repeatedly warned not to storm the field (in a game which Lehigh dominated, 36-18), many fans still did storm the field (me and my friends not being among them). The fans on the field, frustrated at not being able to rip down the goalposts, picked up hunks of turf and started to throw them at the cops trying to restore order on the field. Not surprisingly, the cops went out, pepper sprayed and beat up a lot of the "fans" on the field that day, in front of many horrified students and alumni. Not a banner day for "the Rivalry" when the president of Lehigh at that time, Peter Likins, got a whiff of pepper spray.

The metal practice field goalposts outside the stadium were not as lucky as the ones inside Murray Goodman. They came down after some effort by fans.


There's a lot more: more than I can recount in one blog posting.  If you'd like to hear even more, I'd like to direct you to the Brown & White's main page.  Their Friday issue will have a spread on "Rivalry" stories that will probably add extra chapters to my memories and the ones I've detailed above.  It's a story that keeps adding new chapters every year.


Anonymous said…
Hi. I'm a regular on the fordhamfans board. I enjoy your site. I especially loved the history of the game with those fellows from Easton. I'll be watching you guys clean their clocks tomorrow. What Harvard-Yale Game? I have a friend who is a Lehigh alum. Maybe I can wrestle a ticket from him some day!

Anonymous said…
Hi. I'm a regular on the Lafayette Sports Forum. Cleaning clocks is a noble goal for a Lehigh graduate seeking a higher station in life, but so few can muster the skill even to tell time, let alone reset a clock after cleaning it.

As for the Game - when the clock winds down to zero, we'll be happy to recite the final score for Lehigh players and fans who can't read.
van said…
Sorry Pard, but you will not be happy to recite the score this Saturday, just as you were not happy on 8 other Saturdays this year.

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