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"The Rivalry" - The History of the Series

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

In years past, I've tended to recycle a lot of my previous years' posts when it comes to talking about "The Rivalry". That tradition will continue to some degree - as, really, the history doesn't actually change - but this year I'm going to less recycling and more new writing on this subject on which entire books have been written and documentaries have been made.

The story of college football's most-played rivalry is a great one, and worth retelling. So many young Lehigh and Lafayette young men have participated in something truly special and unique in the world for more than 100 years. NFL players, future business leaders, athletic directors, football coaches and countless other young men have participated in this game to end all games. Harvard/Yale might be older. Ohio State/Michigan might be better known. But when it comes to the number of games played and just the sheer intensity of rivalry, you cannot match the one, the only, matchup between Lehigh and Lafayette when it comes to trying to define what a rivalry actually is. Others have their "Game". Others have rivalries, with a lower case r. But Lehigh and Lafayette have "The Rivalry", the one which all others are measured against. (more)

When Lehigh and Lafayette started their rivalry in 1884, in that same year the cornerstone for the Statue of Liberty was laid down in the summer of 1884 on Beldoe's Island. It was the heart of what was considered "The Gilded Age" - an era of lack of leadership (just twenty years after the presidency of Abraham Lincoln), congressional gridlock, and big business filling the void in the form of railway companies. Then as now, the big brains went into business, not government.

Just to put in perspective how long ago this actually was, Mark Twain, in a house just outside Hartford, Connecticut, penned Huckleberry Finn in that same 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.

In 1882, Lafayette started a football team to play local schools like Rutgers (who played in the first-ever football game vs. Princeton), and Penn. Two years later, manager Theodore L. Welles approached Lehigh and offered to play them - if they could start a football team. "New Journalism" pioneer Richard Harding Davis, who was a student at Lehigh for two years before becoming one of the greatest journalists of his era, enthusiastically took Mr. Welles up on his offer - after using his many charms to convince Lehigh's administration to pay the $52 for eleven brown and white striped jerseys.

Lafayette and Lehigh would play twice in that year - both losses. The New York Times described the first 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." Much later, reflecting on that game, 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."

The next game went no better, but Davis was very encouraged by the fact that they had actually scored in the second game, which Lehigh lost 34 to 4. Who scored that first-ever touchdown for Lehigh? None other than Davis himself, the driving force behind the founding of the team. "He often declared that he took keener satisfaction in making that first touchdown for Lehigh than in all the short stories and verses he ever wrote," a friend recalled in letters many years later.

Davis would leave the following year to start his journalism career, but the team he founded would play Lafayette again. A lot.

Lehigh was a pioneer of the early game. The Engineers were one of the first colleges (along with Princeton) to be credited with using the "V" Trick, or Wedge (or "Lehigh V") in 1884. With no passing game, players would fly down the field behind a big "V" of linemen, trying to physically overwhelm the competition.

After reimplementing the "Lehigh V" in 1888, the results were dramatic. The Engineers went 10-2, only losing to powerful Penn and Princeton, but beating Lafayette twice, 6-4 and 16-0. (One of the teams that Lehigh beat that year was none other than Penn State, who lost 30-0 to the Brown & White in the only winless campaign in Nittany Lion history.)

They'd go 11-2-1 against Lafayette from 1888 to 1894, when the "Lehigh V" was banned.

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 Brown & White, with their excellent archives, detail the first student-written account of a Lehigh/Lafayette game, a 28-0 drubbing by Lafayette at Easton. "Yesterday, about 400 football enthusiasts journeyed to Easton, returning a few hours later, poorer but wiser men," the paper said of the game. "This is our second defeat by Lafayette in several years and its novelty no doubt lends a spice to the game in the eyes of the Easton men. Their players were in the pink of condition, having carefully trained and rested for several weeks, while our men were in a badly used up state." (You always have to come up with excuses when you lose.) Lafayette's team that year featured a young halfback named George "Rose" Barclay, who is widely credited for inventing the football helmet a few years later so teams like Lehigh wouldn't make his ears look like cauliflowers.

In the same year, Lehigh played Lafayette in a return match, which they won 11-8. "Lehigh has shown again what Lehigh spirit ant pluck can accomplish in the face of adverse circumstance," the Brown & White gushed in a statement I could have probably made on this blog in the past nine years. The game really comes to life in the student account, with Lehigh holding a slender 9-8 lead but standing up two future college football hall-of-fame members on 4th down and forcing a fumble, recovered in the end zone, to win the game. "The game was witnessed by more than 1500 people, the largest attendance of the year. The afternoon was perfect for football and the waving banners and streamers; the college yells and songs added zest to the contest," the reporter gushed.

*****

The only year 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, who had played professional baseball the previous summer and was therefore not considered by Lehigh (and others) to be a true amateur athlete. Rinehart was a hall-of-fame lineman on Lafayette's (paper) national-champion 1896 team. Rinehart was named one of the finest players of the first half-century by Walter Camp, one of the early pioneers of the game.

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 college football, amid increasing concern with the increasing number of injuries - and deaths - resulting from football games. His meetings with the highest officials from the top football schools of the time were the precursor to the modern NCAA and in the thought of many historians saved the sport entirely. (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 still formally banned, was legalized as a result of these meetings, well as the implementation of other key changes (making plays like the deadly "Flying Wedge" illegal, where eleven men focused on one ballcarrier in the shape of a wedge with a 5 to 25 yard headstart, 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.

1909 featured the first forward pass for a touchdown in "The Rivalry": a trick pass by TAaron Crane to held give Lafayette a 21-0 victory. Three years later, Lehigh QB Pat Pazzetti threw the first TD pass for Lehigh, a 10-0 victory.

In 1915, Lehigh/Lafayette games moved from "Lehigh stadium" (which, I believe, is now the vacant field next to Brodhead Avenue, though I never was able to confirm 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 nicknamed 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 their stadium christening in 1915: they walloped Lehigh 35-0. This era was dominated by Lafayette, with the Leopards getting two paper "national championships" as a result.

*****

In 1929, Lehigh, Lafayette and Rutgers entered into a sporting alliance. They were called the "Middle Three" (in contrast to the Eastern "Big Three" of Harvard, Yale and Princeton and the "Little Three" of Williams, Amherst, Wesleyan). Not really a conference, it was more of a scheduling arrangement based on student preferences on which games their most bitter rivals, but it involved many sports, not just football. (Most notably, it involved lacrosse, a sport then in its infancy in the Northeast.)

"The rivalry between Lehigh and Lafayette has been traditional,", the New York Times wrote at the time, "but changing conditions seem to have dimmed that a bit and and in its place the "Three" idea is growing rapidly." In addition, another Times article mentions that the games with Lehigh and Lafayette in all sports "are the most significant to the [Rutgers] student body."

The "Middle Three" did well from the 30's into the early 1960s, an era when the concepts of Division I, II, and III didn't really exist and conference play also largely didn't exist (with the Big Ten and SEC being notable exceptions). But the Rutgers faithful had one thing wrong: instead of "dimming" the Lehigh/Lafayette rivalry, the "Middle Three" championship instead had the effect of intensifying it. No matter how much Rutgers wanted to play Lehigh and Lafayette, the Scarlet Knights would always be Air Force to Lehigh's Army and Lafayette's Navy.

During World War II, many college football teams suspended play since most young men were fighting overseas. But Lehigh and Lafayette arranged to play each other twice during the 1943 and 1944 seasons, thanks to travel restrictions. Lehigh's teams during this era were only ad-hoc students, who formed a team in the spirit of Richard Harding Davis to keep the "Rivalry" alive. Having said that, they were crushed four straight times in those games, including a 58-0 whitewash in 1944 which stands today as the largest margin of victory in "The Rivalry".

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 of trying, 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 "got feelers from six bowls", including the Sun Bowl on New Year's day the Brown & White reported, but Lehigh president Martin Dewey Whitaker stated in no uncertain terms after their game that they would not play in any bowl games. "Cited as factors were financial considerations, possible scholastic problems among team members, and effects on Lehigh's academic and athletic reputation," the Brown & White reported. The decision was seconded by their editorial board, too. "[Bowl] publicity might foster the already-growing notion that Lehigh is constructing a football 'machine' to be more than an adjust to its academic program. Student grants from alumni might suffer - alumni seem overwhelmingly opposed to creating a gridiron monster. If only machine schools would schedule Lehigh's team, the university would be obliged to build a machine of its own - or go back and start over, as Carnegie Tech and NYU have had to do." (This was not just an idle threat: a slew of Catholic colleges and universities, notably Fordham and Georgetown, discontinued their big-time football programs at this time due to cost.)

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.

1964 marked the 100th edition of "The Rivalry", an event cataloged by a host of different newspapers and the like. A battle between two terrible Lehigh and Lafayette teams - Lehigh would enter the game 1-7, Lafayette 0-7-1 - the centennial game would end in a 6-6 tie - with both kickers missing extra points. In general, the 1960's were a pretty bleak time for both Lehigh and Lafayette football, as both the Engineers and Leopards often had losing records.

But Lehigh would emerge again on the national scene in the 1970s. In 1977, "Rieker-to-Kreider" - that is, QB Mike Rieker and WR Steve Kreider - led the way to a 35-17 victory over Lafayette on the way to Lehigh's Division II championship.

In 1979, head coach John Whitehead would coach Lehigh to their first-ever appearance in the I-AA (now FCS) playoffs - and hammer Lafayette 24-3 along the way.

In 1987, the last-ever game was played at Taylor Stadium, as it was to be torn up to be the future home of the Rausch Building for Lehigh's business school. 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. (I played pickup football games on the field, still standing, but partially torn up, a year after the last game was played.)

In 1988, Lafayette beat Lehigh 52-45 in an entertaining, high-scoring shootout featuring Lafayette QB Frank Baur (who was on the cover of Sports Illustrated's national college preview the following year). In 1989, Lehigh would host their first-ever "Rivalry" game at Murray Goodman stadium, but Baur and Lafayette would win handily, 36-21.

1994 was Lafayette RB Erik Marsh's swan song as he rewrote the Leopard record books as they crushed Lehigh 54-20. It was one of the few "Rivalry" games where I left right before halftime.

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.)

The following "Rivalry" clashes are all ones that have been immortalized on this blog in some way.

2003 saw Lehigh RB Jermaine Pugh have 265 all-purpose yards, including a big punt return for a TD, in a 30-10 victory. It was a glorious game for Lehigh - and extensively detained in the documentary, "The Lehigh/Lafayette Legacy" - but it would end up being the last win by Lehigh in "The Rivalry" for four long, bitter years.

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 QB 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 RB 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 back in a 49-27 victory. Lafayette was rewarded with a trip to UMass, where they would fall 35-14.

While the 2007 game didn't have any championship implications, Lehigh's 21-17 loss 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 QB Rob Curley to WR Kyle Roeder that was the difference in this close game.

In 2008, Lehigh finally ended Lafayette's four-game winning streak with a 31-15 victory that was still in doubt until senior DB John "Prez" Kennedy intercepted a pass and returned it 93 yards for the game-clinching score. QB J.B. Clark was named MVP of the game as well, with going 12 for 22 passing with 201 yards and 2 TDs.

And last year, it would take the second-ever overtime game in "Rivalry" history, but Lehigh senior LB Al Pierce's fake rush, then drop into pass coverage resulted in an interception of an underthrown ball by QB Rob Curley to secure an unbelievable 27-21 overtime win. After the 4-7 season that year, it's been speculated that that interception is what saved head coach Andy Coen's job that year, after his third-straight losing season - but his second straight win over Lafayette, something that former head coach Pete Lembo, now head coach at Elon, was unable to accomplish.

Overall, Lafayette leads Lehigh 76-63-5. But as you can amply see, won-loss records don't matter much in this part of Pennsylvania when the Leopards and Mountain Hawks play each other.

Comments

I was at all the games between 1981 and the present...misiing only a few of the away games in Easton. 2 that stand out are the 1987 game when it was s damn cold...and the game which ended with "The Catch"
Anonymous said…
My first game was in 1971. Jack Rizzo, who later played for the New York Giants, rushed for more than 300 yards and Kim McQuilken led the way in passing.

It was a shame the cold game was the last time anyone could watch a game at Taylor, as so many people left early (I stayed).

I miss the tearing down of the goalposts.
Anonymous said…
What a great recap!

Well done.

BTW- Lehigh 28, Lafayette 17 in # 146.
ngineer said…
In 1971, not only did Rizzo have 313 yards rushing, but his sidekick, Don Diorio also had 193!
Great recap Chuck...and remember 1975 when the goal post came down at halftime as the game was so out of control in a Lehigh romp.

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