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Lehigh/Colgate Top Games No. 5: Colgate 35, Lehigh 6, 11/4/1922

In honor of Lehigh/Colgate week, I thought it appropriate to look at some of the Lehigh/Colgate games over the years and talk a bit about some of the highlights.

"Hate the Gate" was a term first accredited to LB Tom McGeoy the week before the Colgate game back in 2006, and while the rivalry aspect of this game is a more recent phenomenon, driven largely by Patriot League championships and FCS playoff berths, the first-ever meeting of these two squads came on a cold, November afternoon in Binghamton, New York.

It would be the only meeting of the pride of the Lehigh Valley and the pride of the Chenango Valley before the modern era, back in a day when a barnstorming college football team was a critical tool to recruit general students, not just athletes.  The trip to Binghamton was a recruiting trip for both schools, but the Maroons, as they were then known, were aiming quite a bit higher than the Brown & White when it came to football at that time, and it showed.

Five years ago, in an attempt to bring some publicity to this game played in 1922, I created my own myth about this game played up in Binghamton.

It sounded good at the time.

"Legend has it after Lehigh boarded the train to return to Bethlehem after their sound defeat, Engine #13 broke down pulling out of the station in its last-ever trip, causing the Engineers to stay in Binghamton in a fierce snowstorm an extra day before catching the next train home. Lehigh coach "Tom" Keady was rumored to have said that the experience on Engine #13 rattled the players so much that they lost to Bucknell and to hated Lafayette to close the year, not scoring a single point in both games.

Thanks to one of my favorite tools on the Internet, however, the Brown and White Digital Archive, it's possible to unearth the true history of the game.

"A great deal of interest is being manifested around the campus concerning the game with Colgate," a reporter at the Brown and White optimistically wrote in the run-up to the game.  "From all indications, about half the student body will follow the team to New York State to witness the fray.  The team will surely have enough moral support to deserve victory."

The article says that the game was to be played in Johnson City, New York, not strictly Binghamton, New York, though its city limits are now considered to be in Binghamton.  Johnson City was one of a tri-city area shared with Binghamton. and was named after George F. Johnson, CEO of the Endicott-Johnson corporation.

It was so named since the city was intended, as was Johnson's vision to be a prosperous town where the workers at his factories got a "square deal", including housing for new immigrants fresh off the boats from Ellis Island.  A college football game there would have been useful recruiting students for both schools, as a town like Johnson City would have been filled with young families and engineers, and young men of college age.  (Not to mention college football players.)

The game was set up by William Fisher, the athletics director of the Endicott-Johnson corporation, and Lehigh's athletics director at the time, H.R. Reiter.

The New York Times reported at the time that the game "will be of great interest to all Central New York and Pennsylvania, and will probably result in an annual contest in Johnson City."

The yearly meeting in Johnson City wasn't meant to be, of course.

At the time, Colgate and Lehigh were men-only institutions, as was the custom, so a road trip for the students would be a good way to expend energy on a Saturday and Sunday.

"Sanford, the quarterback, is an excellent forward passer, and Mason, Colgate's fullback, is an exceptionally versatile player," the Brown & White croons.  "It is not hard to predict a win for the Brown and White, although they will be held to a low score by the Maroon."

Taking the team and the band up to Johnson City was something that wasn't always available to general citizens before World War I - cars and trucks.

"At 4:30 o' clock on Friday afternoon," the B&W continues, "the Lehigh University Band, numbering sixty men, left Bethlehem for Colgate.  The four trucks arrived in Scranton shortly before mid-night and drew up at the Hotels Marquette and Holland, where the musicians stopped for much-needed rest and food."

When they say "trucks", they mean "trucks" like the one in the picture above - open engines with a flat-bed behind it, and an open back.  The sixty-piece band most likely averaged 15 people on each truck, including instruments and whichever students "bummed" a ride up to Colgate.  One can imagine how cold, and dark, that drive must have been to Scranton.

"The following morning the band serenaded in front of the two hotels, the crowd heartily cheering this ovation," they continue.  "By 9 o' clock the trucks were boarded and the sixty-five mile trip to Binghamton was started."

At noon, they got to the field in their new marching uniforms: white skull caps, brown sweaters, white knickers and brown golf socks, and marched to the field.

"The game was played in the First Ward Stadium, before a crowd of about ten thousand," the B&W reported.  "There were about three hundred Lehigh students there.  It was an enthusiastic crowd, they cheered their loudest even when the team seemed hopelessly overwhelmed."

The Brown and White jumped to a 6-0 lead thanks to a fumble recovery by Lehigh's two-way lineman, "Wild Bill" Springsteen (no word if he's related to Bruce), which he ran back for a touchdown.  But the Maroons would soon take the game over, scoring three touchdowns and "tearing great gaps in Lehigh's line."  The blowout would be complete after the Maroons would dominate Lehigh's offense, keeping Lehigh unable to gain much in the second half at all.

"It is to Lehigh's credit that, although the team was overpowered, they fought gamely to the end," the B&W reported.  "The battering Maroon team outweighed the Lehigh eleven and were able to gain ground at nearly every play.  Lehigh never ceased to fight, but she could not hold the New York team."

Unlike today, where Lehigh and Colgate share a conference and common, mutually exclusive goals with championships and playoff bids, the Maroons were on their way to attempt to be a national power, equal to the big-time Eastern programs of the day like Princeton, Army, and Columbia.  The Brown and White's trip up there was likely similar to an FCS team facing off against a FBS team like, say, Louisville, and up-and-comer in the world of college football but not quite to the level of the Ohio State, LSU's and Alabama's.

"The band received everywhere a cordial reception and was invited to partake of non-Volstead drinking fluid more than once," a pointed reference to the Volstead act of 1919, otherwise known as Prohibition.  New York, one of the states that were the most lax states in enforcing the near-unenforceable law, probably allowed the band to party like it was 1909 once again - another reason why the trip to New York was so great for the Lehigh students.  While much of Pennsylvania was "wet" key support of Prohibition came from Pennsylvania politicians like Milton W. Shreve, so not all of the Keystone state was amenable for drinking.

"A non-stop journey was made back to Bethlehem," the article concludes, "leaving Binghamton at 6:30 o' clock and arriving at 3:00 o' clock on Sunday morning," a cold, tough drive home on the back of those flatbeds in the middle of the night, despite the libations.

It was the start of the the tiny, slow incubation of a healthy hatred of the 'Gate, that would manifest itself years later.

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