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LFN Look Back: Lambert Cup Competition Adds Sizzle To Rivalry

Brown and White, 1957
Everyone had heard of the Lambert Trophy on the campuses of Lehigh and Lafayette.

Awarded to the most outstanding college football team in the East, it was routinely won by some of the legendary big-school programs of the time.  Jock Sutherland's Pitt teams and Earl "Red" Blaik's Army teams dominated the Lambert Trophy balloting in the first couple of decades of the award.

In 1957 the Lamberts and their board members, including Kermit Roosevelt, son of Teddy Roosevelt,  decided that there ought to be a Lambert Trophy for smaller schools in the East as well - schools that played against "major colleges", but didn't play the majority of their games against those schools.

It gave an extra jolt of excitement to the Rivalry.

The Lambert Trophy was first designed and conceived by brothers Victor and Henry Lambert, two New York City jewelers who created the award to celebrate Eastern football and to honor their late father August V. Lambert, a successful and wealthy jeweler and clockmaker.

The brothers and avid football fans, according to Legends of Lehigh-Lafayette, came up with the award in 1936 and were hoping to present the award to the hometown football team who was one of the best teams in the nation at the time - the Fordham Rams.

1936 was the senior year of a certain hall-of-fame Fordham Ram and legendary head football coach in the NFL, Vince Lombardi.

But Jock Sutherland's Pitt Panthers had other ideas, winning the inaugural award after tying the Rams 0-0 and seeing Fordham lose against their big rival of the time, NYU, on the final game of the season, 7-6.

The Rams would have to wait until 1941 before finally winning the trophy that was ostensibly made for them.

When the Lambert board of directors decided to add a "Lambert Cup" to their awards, it was designed to recognize schools like Lehigh and Lafayette.

"By 1957, the Lambert brothers noted that their award was being won year after year by only a handful of 'big league' Eastern schools," the Morning Call noted in 2007.  "Schools like Lafayette and Lehigh were being shut out, so the brothers wanted to recognize the 75 smaller colleges in the East, too."

Smaller schools could not, even with an undefeated season, compete with the perceived "schedule strength" of schools like Penn State, Army, Syracuse, and Navy.

The Lambert Cup would give them their own award, predating the later split of the NCAA into Division I, II and III, as well as the split of Division I football into FBS and FCS subdivisions.

Like Pitt in 1937, Lehigh was not expected to hoist the inaugural trophy in 1957, but behind the aerial work of senior QB Dan Nolan, they would.

In the first-ever Lambert Cup balloting, Lehigh and Lafayette were tied at the No. 1 spot in October of 1957, both sporting undefeated 2-0 records.

Lafayette's squad, coached by noted Brown and White killer Steve Hokuf, had a strong team in their own right, thanks to their own senior signalcaller, QB Joe Bozik.

According to Legends of Lehigh-Lafayette, Bozik fractured his leg in a preseason scrimmage, and had the option to sit out the season to let it heal.

But he insisted on coming back to face off against the Leopards' historic nemesis, Lehigh, and their QB Nolan.

Bozik had duelled against Lehigh in 1955, dominating the "Packers" 35-6, but Nolan had his revenge the following season, winning 27-10.  Bozik was determined to make it back for the third and final round.

"Before the 1955 game," he said, "Leckonby said he had two quarterbacks at Lehigh that were better than Lafayette's, and I wanted to prove him wrong."

As the season wore on, Leckonby's veteran team would stay near the top of Lambert Cup voting all season, beating their old "major college" rival Rutgers, 13-7, and another particularly sweet "major college" in Columbia, 40-6.

When Leckonby was an assistant coach at Boston University, then-Columbia head coach "Buff" Donelli ran up the score against Leckonby's hapless Terrier squad.  Leckonby made the game against the Lions a matter of revenge, and his Lehigh team delivered, coasting to victory.

End Pete Williams was another reason why 1957's squad was so special, a two-way offensive and defensive end that gave the Brown and White a fearsome defense as well as offense.  The pro prospect was a terror to opposing quarterbacks.

"I was the left end, and Pete lined up next to me at left tackle," recalled teammate Bud Wenzel. "I intercepted a pass and ran about ten yards with it before dropping the ball. Pete already had three career touchdowns, but he was right there fighting with me to pick up the fumble."

Bucknell, also in the running for the Lambert Cup, were taken down by both Lehigh and Lafayette early, setting up an exciting stretch run leading up to the 93rd meeting of the Rivalry.

Only a loss to VMI, 13-7, kept Lehigh from being undefeated going into the big game, the final duel between Bozik and Nolan.  It also made for a razor-thin margin between them, Amherst, and Williams for the No. 1 spot in the poll.

While Lafayette's chances at the Lambert Cup were dashed after a 46-20 loss to Gettysburg, all eyes were on Hokuf and Bozik to conjure up some magic to deny Lehigh the inaugural Lambert Cup, driving the first Cup to the winner of another rivalry game, Amherst/Williams.

The energy of the year and the football season spilled out into the week before the Rivalry.

It started with the traditional pep rally, where Leckonby's small daughter went to the microphone and said "Beat Lafayette!"

The traditional Pajama Parade also took place at Lehigh, though the Brown and White did note that Moravian College was sporting more policemen than girls.

Lafayette had a pajama parade of their own - of sorts.

"The one modification was that they did not wear pajamas," The Lafayette reported.  "They proceeded down the hill running and shouting the praises of Lafayette until they got to Center Square.  A five minute rally was staged and the frosh started to advance up Northampton St. The law then stepped in and the parade was disbanded."

The excess then continued with the tug-of-war between the two schools, raids to the others' campuses to light the bonfire early, and other shenanigans took place with more energy than in years' past.

Lafayette's traditional pre-game rally featured "Mr. Lafayette," Dr. Samuel Pascal, who lit up the crowd with a fiery performance before Lafayette set their bonfire ablaze.

Lafayette tried to win the bonfire-burning contest with an ingenious, though unsuccessful, plot.

"The mischevious Leopards soaked an old bureau with gasoline," The Brown and White reported, "enclosing it with an alarm clock which would trip a mousetrap at a certain hour, which in turn would strike a wooden match igniting the sordid mess."  Lehigh students alertly foiled the attempt, and their bonfire went off as scheduled.

Failed excursions to Lafayette to light their bonfire resulted in unsuspecting freshmen getting captured by Lafayette students, and having the initials "LC" shaved onto their heads, which was quite a sight for students attending Lehigh's Friday and Saturday morning classes.

When Lafayette students successfully stole Lehigh's banner from the upperclassmen, a line of Lehigh cars drove to Easton to "sling rotten eggs and grapefruit" towards Lafayette students, The Brown and White reported.  "The result - 29 men dragged off to the courthouse, 207 fines, and 56 suspensions," they continued.

On Saturday afternoon, the Packers and Leopards would take the field to determine the fate of Dick Nolan, Joe Bozik, and the Lambert Cup.

Posted on the dressing room wall were two signs.

One was "There is a great difference between not wanting to lose and really wanting to win."

The other was "Let's destroy the myth - beat Lafayette!"

The myth in question was Lafayette head coach Steve Hokuf's mastery over Lehigh, who had taken several heavy underdog Lafayette teams to face off against Leckonby's squads and come out on top.

Nolan Escapes A Tackle Before Scoring a TD
In Leckonby's Wing-T offense, Nolan was no mad bomber thowing the ball, but his 55 pass completions were close a record at the time for the Engineers.  If he could get to the 57th against Lafayette, he'd be alone atop the record books.

He'd complete his 57th against Lafayette at a key point in the game.

Tied at 7, Nolan broke the record by a forward pass to end Fred Daley, on a drive that would give Lehigh the lead for good.  Dick Pennell would leap through the offensive line to give Lehigh a 13-7 lead.

Bozik would battle bravely, and play a great game, considering it was his first full game of the year.  He would gain 68 yards in 14 carries and be an expert option pitchman, dealing the ball to back Don Nickles more often than not, who also ran for 85 yards.

But Lehigh's defense would take center stage, forcing fumble after fumble that would ensure Lehigh would come away with a 26-13 victory.

"Boosting the team's success was the freshman class," The Brown and White continued, "whose members kept the goal posts from being carried away after the game."

Leckonby, though, kept any emotions he had in check.

After the game, Leckonby came into the victorious locker room.  "He walked slowly over to Nolan," The Brown and White said.  "Shaking hands, he said quietly, 'It's been a great four years.'  The coach went around the room waving good-by [sic] to the other graduating players.  Then he walked outside and melted into the milling crowd."

Classic Leckonby.

Nolan Talking to Otis Douglas After 26-13 Win
Along with the quiet celebration, Nolan and Williams would take time out to talk to a flamboyant visitor to the locker room - the head coach of the CFL's Calgary Stampeders, Otis Douglas.

It's hard to picture someone more the polar opposite of Leckonby than Douglas.

Williams and Nolan would get drafted by the Stampeders, but Williams would have a brief career in the NFL, before embarking on a career with IBM.

Soft-spoken Leckonby had a simple message a week later, too, as he learned that Lehigh had won the inaugural Lambert Cup by 0.09 percentage points over Williams College.

"We are certainly very pleased to have been selected for this honor," he said humbly after the announcement.  "We had a very fine finish to a very successful year.  I would like to thank the players, the coaching staff, and everybody else who worked with this team.

The Lambert Cup ceremony was a great deal on campus, where Lehigh and the players would be seen on the Ed Sullivan show accepting the award.  Leckonby, Nolan, and Williams all were in attendance.

Alongside the Lambert Trophy champions Navy, where the diminutive Ned Oldham was there to accept the award for the Cotton Bowl-bound Middies, Leckonby's humbleness finally was broken in a joking manner.

"Maybe we'll challenge Navy to a game," he was reported to have said, "but we'll have to play them here tonight, because we're two-to-one and bigger."

From there the silver Cup went to Taylor Gym, on display for everyone to see.


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