The idea of Lehigh, Lafayette and Penn competing for the "state championship" has as its origins the student newspapers, who had started tallying the records of the games between each other in the hopes of crowning a mythical "champion of Pennsylvania".
In 1888, Lehigh and Lafayette played each other twice, and played Penn once apiece in Philadelphia.
But the final records of Lehigh (2-1), Penn (2-1) and Lafayette (1-2) made it inconclusive as to who the state champion really was.
In 1889, with interest high in some sort of champions to be crowned, all three schools made an attempt to start a true "Championship of Pennsylvania", complete with its own trophy. It was was founded in part to broaden the interest in football at both Lehigh and Lafayette, to be sure, but it also may have been a way to lock in Penn to playing return games in the Lehigh Valley, as Penn had already cancelled return games against both Lehigh and Lafayette in the past.
It made for a thrilling season, and one that further intensified the already-fierce Rivalry.
With the additional excitement involving a championship to play for, both Lehigh and Lafayette started the 1889 season in rough fashion.
The Brown and White would lose three of their first four games, but it would be the loss in the first game of the “championship of Pennsylvania” series that would sting the most, falling to Penn 6-4 after the Brown and White’s brand-new 22 year old halfback from Johns Hopkins, Paul Dashiell, couldn’t play due to a thigh bruise.
“The game at Philadelphia with the University of Pennsylvania was as poor an exhibition of foot-ball as we have participated in for a long time,” the Lehigh Burr admonished. “Loose playing abounded on both sides and there was hardly a pretense of teamwork. While our team was badly crippled by the absence of several of the best players, the wretched blocking and tackling of the old men was everywhere noticable, and such as would not be tolerated in a practice game.”
But there was more to Lehigh’s loss than met the eye.
“In the first game for the championship of Pennsylvania, there were on the opposing team three graduates, two of whom were married men, and none of whom were on the rolls of the college represented or in any way connected with it,” a later issue of the Burr reported. “There is no remedy for this injustice but in the concerted action of the colleges immediately concerned, yet as the general sentiment is markedly in disfavor of such practices, it is to be hoped they will not long continue. The tendency toward professionalism, so marked of late years is one of the gravest evils, and if unchecked will not only bring college athletics into general ill-repute but will destroy their truly excellent purpose just as it is becoming fairly recognized.”
The student criticisms of Penn’s team might have been a bit more convincing had Dashiell been a student at the time he was at Lehigh.
By the time he came to Bethlehem, Dashiell had already received his Bachelor of Arts from Johns Hopkins in 1887, and was acting in the role of teacher, well on his way to studying towards a Ph. D. in chemistry. There were no rules at the time against teachers or coaches playing on the school football teams, however, and Dashiell was one of the great minds of the game, so his presence was a giant boost to the Brown and White.
According to Francis A. March, Jr., Lafayette students considered him, essentially, Lehigh’s first paid football coach. “They were more afraid of Paul Dashiell than they were of the rest of the Lehigh put together,” he wrote in his book Athletics at Lafayette College.
After his playing days, Dashiell would be a successful coach at Navy, and would be a very influential member of Walter Camp's rules committee.
Ultimately, he would rise to become president of the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company, a position he would hold for 25 years.
The first game between Lafayette and Lehigh in 1889 in Bethlehem, a come-from-behind thriller shows a flavor as to how the games were played in the early days of foot-ball.
Lafayette fans hopped on the railroad from Easton, dropping them at Bethlehem station, at the foot of Lehigh's campus. A good-sized crowd came to Lehigh's athletic grounds to watch the first Rivalry game of the season.
Lafayette jumped to a relatively large 10-0 lead when Lehigh came roaring back behind Dashiell and Warriner. The Brown and White would manage to score a touchdown and kick conversion to make the score 10 to 6 at halftime.
Crowd control, and keeping any sort of order, was an enormous challenge.
“Everybody, who knows anything about foot-ball,” The Lafayette reported, in response to criticism from the Bethlehem papers, “or has even seen a game, recognizes the impossibility of keeping a crowd from rushing on the field when a man is hurt or from crowding a little over the line, when an exciting run is being made on the other side of the field. But as for stopping the play of the 'Varsity men that accusation would seem absurd to any body who witnessed the game. All the crowding on the field that was done, was done in an orderly way and impelled entirely by curiosity when a man was hurt or some consultation of referees and captains took place. Of course, when touchdowns were made the crowd immediately swarmed out to congratulate their men, but moved back of the lines when play was resumed.”
In the second half, Lehigh rode their momentum to score the final ten points in the game.
|Bethlehem Union Station|
While both student papers noted that it was a hard-fought struggle for both sides, The Lafayette didn’t take the loss well, nor the criticism from the Bethlehem press.
“Lafayette has been abused considerably by the various newspapers since the game with the University for alleged brutal behavior on the foot-ball field,” they said. “The team itself has not been assailed, but the spectators were represented as a ruffianly mob of toughs who hurled themselves upon the 'Varsity men at every opportunity, and struck, kicked and generally misused them. The crowd, however, was as far from fulfilling this description as any ever seen at a foot-ball contest. In the front ranks were our professors and the ablest lawyers and doctors in Easton. All the prominent young men were there enjoying the game. Besides these the ground was lined with ladies from Easton, Bethlehem, and other nearby towns, who, if the game had been anything like the accounts, would have been taken from the grounds by their escorts. None of these spectators had the least idea that the game was anything more than an unusually hard-fought contest, and the accounts in the papers were a complete surprise to all.”
The Lafayette’s account did break down, however, and admit that perhaps there was some fighting after all.
“And now, one word about the ‘slugging’," they said. “Everybody knows who began that, Mr. Dewey himself owns up to starting it. We have been wondering why he so openly pursued [Yankee] Sullivan tactics [a turn-of-the-century boxer]. There is but one answer and that forces itself upon us very strongly, that is, he knew perfectly well that Dr. Shell, the referee, would never disqualify a University player. We think the referee was to be blamed for the introduction of any discord that may have sprung from the game. Had there been a man there who could have been relied upon to call a foul whenever a foul was made, neither side would have played foul at all and no disputes would have arisen. As it was ‘Doc’ Shell was blind to the fouls of the 'Varsity players and only seemed to loose for those of the Lafayette men.”
As a result of the fighting, at future games against Lehigh in Easton, it was vowed that there would be ropes to keep the crowds from spilling over into the field.
“It was said that a posse of police were on hand but were laughed at by the crowd,” The Lafayette said. “This is humorous. Not a policeman was on the ground, none having ever been required. However, the whole police force will be on hand at our games hereafter, and our friends who come to play with us will have the minions of the law right there to stop any real or imaginary ‘brutality’."
In Bethlehem. buoyed by the win over Lafayette and thus rekindling their hopes for the state championship, the Brown and White soared in their next two games against Columbia (51-6) and Penn State by the amazing score of 106-0.
The Nittany Lions, why played Lafayette only two days prior in a 26-0, was seriously undermanned.
“After the game against Lafayette and prior to the game against Lehigh,” the Nittany Lion blog Black Shoe Diaries reported, “Penn State captain Charles Hildebrand and two other players went to Philadelphia to attend the funeral of Hildebrand's younger sister. The three men did not make it back to the game until the first half was nearly complete, and Penn State was forced to start the game with just nine players.”
|The outmanned 1889 Penn State team|
“Play began on the twenty-five yard line,” the Burr said, “and in two minutes Warriner made a touchdown, to which Dashiell added a goal. Four times in rapid succession the ball was carried behind the line, Dashiell scoring the last after a seventy-five yard run through the opposing team. Soon after Warriner on a double pass from Dashiell crossed eight white lines, making the sixth touch down, and the score stood 34 to 0.”
While taking full advantage of double reverses and overwhelming Penn State physically, Warriner and Dashiell combined for a remarkable fourteen touchdowns in a dominant performance is unlikely to ever be equalled by a Lehigh football team.
(“When the Penn State players returned to campus after the game,” the Black Shoe Diaries said, “guard Charlie Aull said, "We couldn't get at the son-of-a-bitch with the ball.")
Meanwhile, Lafayette, fresh off their own thrilling win over Penn 10-8 and their decisive tune-up against Penn State, was ready to defend their home turf for the championship of the “State of Pennsylvania”.
|Penn's 1889 Team|
That’s not, however, how the victory was seen by everybody.
“The chief slugging offender, Wells, was ejected from the contest,” the book Legends of Lehigh/Lafayette tells us. “As a Penn rusher made a dash for the end zone, Wells jumped off the bench and tripped him short of the goal line. After regaining his feet, the Penn rusher charged towards Wells, only to be intercepted by a mob of Lafayette students who left him, according to one onlooker with ‘a pair of pretty black eyes, a battered nose, and torn ligaments in his leg.’”
Students bearing “stones and clubs", chased the Penn team from campus - which would have serious ramifications later.
With Lehigh’s place in the “Championship of Pennsylvania” also in the balance, and Lafayette’s campus a short train ride away, attendance at their game in Easton was overflowing, their unofficial State Championship series all tied 1-1-0.
The Lehigh Burr, anticipating another hard-fought game, remembering the issues with the game in Bethlehem and fully aware of the issues during the Penn game, exhorted the Brown and White fans to act in an orderly fashion in Easton, while finding it irresistible to dig at their rivals.
“The recent disgraceful conduct of the students at Lafayette renders it necessary to say a word regarding the game to be played there to-morrow,” they said. “A very large crowd will accompany the team, and the imprudent conduct of a few men may cause serious trouble. Every assurance has been given that the Lafayette students will not assault our players, and in any difficulty that may arise between the teams remember our men are abundantly able to take care of themselves. You are there as spectators only and have no right on the field during the progress of the game. We regret to have to make such an emphatic announcement, but Lafayette's course in the past does not justify confidence in their intentions of fair play, and we earnestly hope trouble will be avoided.”
“The windows of the halls were crowded with fair faces,” they said, “and the roadway was lined with carriages from which a large number viewed the fray. The field had been enclosed by ropes and a number of officers were present so that not the least disturbance marred the pleasures of the day.”
Lehigh would get the ball facing the goal on the athletics grounds that was on a slight downgrade -which was a big advantage for a half because the afternoon sun shone in the eyes of the defenders, a well-known feature of Lafayette’s athletics grounds.
With the “grade in their favor” as the Burr put it, the Brown and White would score in the first half on a 20 yard Warriner touchdown run, with Dashiell converting the kick. Frustrated before the end of the half, a fight broke out, started by Lehigh, just before halftime, despite the Brown and White’s 6-0 lead.
But Lafayette in the second half would have the field and sun advantage, and would rally back after E. B. Camp’s own 20 yard run after the break, and Francis March’s kick tying the score.
The game would end in a 6-6 tie, called on account of darkness, satisfying neither side, but especially disappointing the Lehigh contingent, who was not happy with the officiating from the officials hailing from Princeton.
”Only the remarkable incompetency of the umpire prevented Lehigh winning,” the Burr said. “With his repeated declaration that Lehigh did no more fouling than their opponents, incontrovertible proof of his partiality is seen in his decisions. Ten fouls were given against Lehigh and but two against Lafayette. Indeed no sooner would our men force the ball close to Lafayette's goal line than his inevitable whistle would sound, and but for the fact that the only touch-down was made from about the twenty yard line, it is doubtful if we would have scored at all.”
All that was left to determine the “championship of Pennsylvania” was Lafayette’s and Lehigh’s return games against Penn. If Lehigh could beat Penn at home, the title would effectively be theirs, since they would have gone 1-0-1 against Lafayette.
The Brown and White would play on their slippery and wet field, due to recent rains, and shut out Penn 8-0 to capture the title, ending a dominating performance with a line plunge by Dashiell as the last play of the game.
|Champions of Pennsylvania|
There was never a chance to display the cup commissioned by President Lamberton, however, because shortly after Lehigh won the championship, Penn refused to play Lafayette ever again, thanks to their violent behavior during their violent visit to Easton, Francis March said in his history Athletics at Lafayette College.
After the "Championship of Pennsylvania" was theirs, a wealthy alumnus, Rollin H. Wilbur, arranged for a private car and a train tour of the South in order for the Brown and White to play three schools south of the Mason/Dixon line.
“The car was decorated on either side with strips of canvas bearing the legend: "The Lehigh University Football Team — Champions of Pennsylvania," the Burr gushed while detailing their trip to Annapolis, Baltimore, Monticello, and Washington, DC, even taking in a production of Richard III.
On the field, the Brown and White roundly thrashed Navy, Johns Hopkins and Virginia, and the private car team came back to Bethlehem with the team at 8:30 in the morning on the following Monday.
“Three games were played on three successive days, scoring 102 points to their opponents 18, and involving nearly eight hundred miles of travel," the Burr wrote, “and the team returned having added ‘Champions of the South’ to their other laurels.”