In an era where Princeton, Yale, and the Carlisle Indian School all competed for the top, Lafayette was right there alongside the top teams in the nation.
And soon, Lehigh would be in the conversation once again as well.
In 1911, Lehigh announced their seriousness to vault back into contention by signing four key transfers, including a future Brown and White hall-of-fame quarterback, QB Pat Pazzetti, from Wesleyan.
"The Pennsylvania college is pulling strongly for a record-breaking football team this year - hoping to put one on their old rival, Lafayette - and is doing all in its power to get the athletes in the institution," The Lafayette reported.
To test themselves, in a two year span Lafayette and Lehigh would schedule the Carlisle Indian School, headlined by none other than the legendary Jim Thorpe himself, who played running back, defensive back, placekicker, and punter.
Thorpe was known throughout Pennsylvania as the "World's Greatest Athlete," already helping Carlisle to become a national power in football and competing in many track and field meets, including some at Lafayette. Thorpe would compete in the Stockholm Olympics in 1912, bringing home many gold medals and spiking international interest in the Games at a time when the Olympics were struggling just to survive.
"The mighty [Stan] Powell and the mightier Thorpe composed a battering ram that could pierce the defense almost at will," The Lafayette reported in 1911 under the headline 'Lafayette Massacred by Dusky Carlisle Warriors'. "Time after time Thorpe would take the ball and charge at the opposing barrier with herculean effort, dragging with him two or three tacklers as so many playthings; his ground-gaining was invariable."
The Lafayette was impressed by Carlisle, who shut out the Maroon and White 19-0. "As the Indians trotted from the field house the giant stature of their players first dawned upon those who had seen them only through the newspapers," they said. "The two teams met before a crowd of 6,000 spectators and rooters, most of them loyal friends of Lafayette but many supporters of the Indians."
Lehigh did not fare much better against Carlisle a year later.
"The Indians won the toss," The Brown and White reported under the headline 'Lehigh's Forward Passes Baffle Redskins', "and Thorpe kicked off to Pat Pazzetti, promptly at 3:00 o'clock.... With five yards to gain on a fourth down, Pazzetti attempted a forward pass to J.I. "Joe" Vela which Thorpe intercepted, and carried eighty-five yards for a touchdown. Thorpe kicked the goal. Time, 3:04 P.M."
|Carlisle Indian School team photo, 1911|
Both accounts omitted the contributions of the hall-of-fame head coach, Charles "Pop" Warner, and a host of other legendary players from those teams. In 1912, the year of Lehigh's game, Carlisle would also end up beating Army at West Point 27-6 and powerful Georgetown 33-20 in Washington, DC.
Though Thorpe attracted a good crowd, though, it paled to the fans that headed to Easton in the Rivalry game of that year.
"At last Lafayette approaches the real climax of her football season," noted The Lafayette on November 22nd, 1912. "The football world always watches this contest with the closest interest for it is the greatest of the annual struggles between small college teams. To the ardent supporters of these two colleges, even the Yale-Harvard game is but a minor incident in comparison to the deciding of this championship. No matter how many games Lehigh may lose during the season, she always tackles Lafayette with a sturdy confidence and hope of victory. No matter how many great games Lafayette wins in the season she always enters this struggle ready to fight, knowing that upon the outcome depends the real success or failure of the season and knowing that her opponents will be worthy of every possible effort."
After an era of near-complete dominance by Lafayette in the Rivalry, in 1912 the roles of the Brown and White and the Maroon and White were suddenly reversed, and the student writer at The Lafayette knew it.
"Sweeping victories for the past three years have caused Lafayette to assume a rather superior feeling toward Lehigh," the reporter said. "Not so this year. Lehigh has the best team that has represented that institution in the past ten years."
|QB Pat Pazzetti in an open-field run, 1912|
In comparison, Lafayette entered the contest 3-5-1 and was a team racked by injury. In the week prior to the big game, a 21-7 setback to Brown, the Maroon and White's team captain, center Howard L. Benson, didn't play due to injury, as well as two more starters.
Still, there was no yield from Lafayette in the run-up to the game. "I feel it in my bones that we are going to beat Lehigh," Benson said in a statement to the student paper.
On the Lehigh side, entertainment in the run-up to the game was provided in the form of a "smoker", a gathering of students and faculty where the boys and men would smoke tobacco products, hear rousing speeches, and other entertainment. "Following a number of songs and cheers for Lehigh and the team, the annual Freshman-Sophomore game of basket-ball was announced in which the Sophomores won out by the score of 30 to 15," The Brown and White said. “Following a vaudeville act, a wrestling exhibition and a rousing speech by Coach Keady, the attendants then went on their annual parade through 'the Bethlehems', where they serenaded the girls of Moravian."
The following day, the Student Special train from the Lehigh Valley station took the Lehigh faithful to the game, a special 1:20 PM train that cost 50 cents to ride, round trip.
In Easton, the Lehigh students would see a very fierce battle, with the Brown and White, this time, coming out on top, 10-0 in front of a crowd of over 12,000 people or 15,000 fans, depending on which account you read.
"For the first time since the 11 to 5 Lehigh victory in 1908, the Brown and White eleven gave Lafayette a defeat last Saturday afternoon on March Field, Easton before a record crowd," The Brown and White reported. "Despite the fact that the Lehigh team was outweighed by far, they entered into the game from the start with the determination to fight to the end, and which was backed up by the perfect cheering of the entire college seated in the east stands. In one of the greatest gridiron battles of the East, the Maroon and White of Lafayette was forced to bow to the Brown and White of Lehigh last Saturday," The Lafayette reported. "The goal of attainment has been reached. After three years of defeat, Lehigh has succeeded in defeating her old rival, and in crossing the Maroon and White goal line the first time since 1908."
"Lehigh came to Easton fully confident of victory," the paper continued, "realizing that the opportunity of opportunities was at hand. Well fortified with one of the strongest elevens in the history of the institution, built around Hoban, the old Dartmouth halfback, Sawtelle from Georgetown, Pazzetti, the old Wesleyan quarterback, McCaffrey from the same institution, and Keady, a Texas College man, Lehigh presented an aggregation of players well worthy the best of opposition," not-so-subtly implying that, perhaps, the Brown and White transferred their way to greatness.
Following a ticket dispute - Lafayette finally made 400 more tickets available to Lehigh on the day before the game - the stands were packed, including Lafayette College's band, and many "feminine partisans," according to The Lafayette. "Every seat was occupied and thousands were standing. Massed on the west side of the field was the Maroon and White legion, and on the east side the Brown and White adherents were gathered."
In the first half, playing more conservatively with Pazzetti's patented open-field runs, both sides were locked in a 0-0 stalemate. But in the second half, Keady opened up the game by employing the forward pass, allowing Lehigh to take the lead.
"In the third quarter, when Captain Pazzetti sent the ball rocketing between the uprights for a field goal, all the pent-up energy of four years burst forth and pandemonium reigned in the Lehigh stands," The Lafayette reported.
And Pazzetti's two yard pass to Sautelle at the goal line - the first touchdown pass ever recorded by Lehigh in the Rivalry - resulted in an ovation by the Lehigh fans, according to The Brown and White. "It was not until that pass that the confidence of victory by the Maroon and White was shaken," the Lafayette said.
The intensity of this Rivalry game was evident in this game, especially reading both accounts by the student newspapers.
"Lafayette has been so accustomed to victory over Lehigh that it was rather hard to be entirely generous and be happy even in defeat," The Lafayette reported.
"After four years of climbing, Lehigh has won," a gushing Brown and White reported. "After years of working against odds, and heavy ones, Lehigh's loyal sons have succeeded in putting onto the field a team which has proven itself the conqueror of Lafayette in one of the most desperately fought games that was ever played between the old rivals. When Pazzetti's magnificent place-kick went spinning between the Lafayette goal-posts, the hardships of past endeavors were forgotten, uphill climbing was but a memory. We had beaten Lafayette - and joy knew no bounds."
It was a long climb, but Lehigh’s 1912 team finally reached the summit.