Skip to main content

This Week, The Rivalry Can Be The First Healing Step

In a world that is rocked by the division of ugly elections and the blowing up of the political order, the business of beating Lafayette in the 152nd meeting of The Rivalry offers a rare sliver of personal unity among the people of Lehigh in an otherwise divided country.

The short version of the tale of the football Rivalry between Lehigh and Lafyette is simple: It's the most-played college football Rivalry in the world.  It's united fans of Brown and Maroon through a grand total of 34 Presidential elections, some of them bitterly divisive, others not.

The current tally of games sits at 151, and the game this weekend, the 152nd, will be played in Easton.  It's been waged every year, with only one interruption since 1884.

And the two schools, in competition in pretty much everything since the founding of Lafayette (1826) and Lehigh (1865), eventually coalesced around football as the main driver of The Rivalry between them.

I've spent a good portion of my adult life being around The Rivalry.  I've studied it, blogged about it, and even written a book about it.  It's something you ought to see once in your life, if you can, because it's unique, it exudes its own special energy, and it has an emotion and spectacle that many bowl games would dream to have.

The world has changed, and football has changed, a lot since 1884.  What hasn't changed, I think, is the weird and particular chemistry that seems to happen when these two teams get together for a football game.  To call it a big tailgate party doesn't really describe it.  To call it schoolyard intensity doesn't do it justice.  To call it a "bowl game" doesn't really capture it either.  It's just The Rivalry.  It's all of those things, and more.

Once you've gone to a Rivalry game, or gone on the campuses in the run-up to the game, you experience the energy.

Even for those not immersed in the Xs and Os of the game itself, the energy starts in the first classes of the week and eventually takes over the campus.  It comes near one of the pressure points of the semester, the end of classes right before Thanksgiving break, and the virtual end of what generally is a tough, challenging semester in school.

Students don't come to Lafayette and Lehigh to hit golf balls into a river during their time at school; they go to challenge themselves and to work hard in the classroom.  Attending one of these schools is not easy.  Monday through Friday consists of all-nighters, intense study, and stress.

But during Lehigh/Lafayette week, the pressure lifts, a chance to finally cut loose and to spend the week partying.

Events start to take over the Lehigh campus - the traditional bed races, the Turkey Trot.  Classes take place, but they're interrupted by the Marching 97 barging in and playing the Lehigh fight song.  Casual drinking during the week, often impractical due to the rigors of the academic schedules, enters the scene.

Alumni and booster groups sponsor luncheons.  The regular ebb and flow of the universities are interrupted with things like "Smack The Lehigh Car" at Lafayette, Bed Races at Lehigh, and a slew of other activities that are planned or unplanned.

It's always been crazy, and has always been nuts.  The rituals and the activities have changed over the years, but it's also united the student bodies and alumni and allowed them to put other divisions aside, just for a weekend, and cut loose.

I think at this point and time in history especially it offers a great opportunity for people to unite behind another common goal.  It will take a lot of hard work and dedication to heal the nation's wounds as it comes to the world of politics.  But for a week - this week - the 152nd version of The Rivalry allows both Lafayette and Lehigh's fan communities to set all that aside, as they have through the last 34 national presidential elections.

We have 51 other weeks of the year to worry about whether America will fall off a cliff.  For this week, though, it's time to call a truce in the political world.  And truces are good things, I think.  Truces allow a pause for reflection, and in fact, such a truce comes at the perfect time at least in terms of the Lehigh and Lafayette communities.

It actually offers us a chance to see that in the end, we're really not all that different.  There are certain traits of the human condition that unite us all - and yes, school pride and a sporting event can be that uniting fact.

Whether you voted for Hillary Clinton of Donald Trump, all I know is that we all have to live together, and more things unite us than we think.  We may not agree on everything, but maybe, at a game like the one this weekend, we can sit next to each other and realize that people voting for Hillary Clinton supporters are not actively trying to destroy the country, and we can sit next to each other and know that many people who voted for Donald Trump are not white supremacists.

Maybe this truce, this week off from the bitterness of the last nine months, can be the first step in healing the country, or at least the first step in healing Eastern Pennsylvania, the area of the country which may have been rocked the most by this bitter Presidential election.  Less than 67,000 votes separated the two Presidential candidates, and if there is one thing that unites everyone it's that the nation needs to heal.  It seems unlikely that our nation's leaders are going to help in that regard, so we're going to have to do it ourselves.

To put this into a little perspective, Rivalry-style: During the year of 1884, when Lehigh and Lafayette met for the first time on the football field, Grover Cleveland and David Blaine were enmeshed in a presidential campaign where both sides dragged the other into the muck.

Blaine, accused of making secret deals with railroad companies, was tarnished by the discovery of letters of him peddling his influence to make beneficial land deals for the railroad trusts, with the line written on the bottom of them, "Burn This Letter."  As for Grover Cleveland, who would win the election, character was front and center: Republicans accused him of fathering a child out of wedlock, and though Cleveland admitted to an "illicit connection" with the mother of the child, he claimed he was only doing the noble thing in giving the child his surname, while Republicans taunted Cleveland on the campaign trail with "Ma, Ma, Where's My Pa?"

In the end, the country did ultimately get over that divisive election.  The country tossed and turned over the next twelve years, in part due to an economic crisis caused by the highly protectionist McKinley tarriff imposed by president Benjamin Harrison.  But the country, as ever, survived these crises and the terms of these presidents, none of whom ended up with their likenesses on Mount Rushmore.

The Rivalry was born in this political environment, and has thrived through it all, something that should be remembered.

After this week, there will be plenty of time to talk about the state of the country.  But for this week, as Lehigh and Lafayette people have done for more than 100 years, there's a truce.  We unite as human beings, and celebrate a historic football game.  We smack our Lehigh cars, and hit our Lafayette pinatas.  And it's not just silly tradition - it's important for all of our collective sanity.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Fifteen Guys Who Might be Lehigh's Next Football Coach (and Five More)

If you've been following my Twitter account, you might have caught some "possibilities" as Lehigh's next head football coach like Lou Holtz, Brett Favre and Bo Pelini.  The chance that any of those three guys actually are offered and accept the Lehigh head coaching position are somewhere between zero and zero.  (The full list of my Twitter "possibilities" are all on this thread on the Lehigh Sports Forum.)

However the actual Lehigh head football coaching search is well underway, with real names and real possibilities.

I've come up with a list of fifteen possible names, some which I've heard whispered as candidates, others which might be good fits at Lehigh for a variety of reasons.

UPDATE: I have found five more names of possible head coaches that I am adding to this list below.

Who are the twenty people?  Here they are, in alphabetical order.

How The Ivy League Is Able To Break the NCAA's Scholarship Limits and Still Consider Themselves FCS

By now you've seen the results.  In 2018, the Ivy League has taken the FCS by storm.

Perhaps it was Penn's 30-10 defeat of Lehigh a couple of weeks ago.  Or maybe it was Princeton's 50-9 drubbing of another team that made the FCS Playoffs last year, Monmouth.  Or maybe it was Yale's shockingly dominant 35-14 win over nationally-ranked Maine last weekend.

The Ivy League has gone an astounding 12-4 so far in out-of-conference play, many of those wins coming against the Patriot League.

But it's not just against the Patriot League where the Ivy League has excelled. 

Every Ivy League school has at least one out-of-conference victory, which is remarkable since it is only three games into their football season. 

The four losses - Rhode Island over Harvard, Holy Cross over Yale, Delaware over Cornell, and Cal Poly over Brown - were either close losses that could have gone either way or expected blowouts of teams picked to be at the bottom of the Ivy League.

Why the Ivy Le…

Remembering Andy Coen's Time As Head Coach As He Steps Down as Lehigh Football Head Coach To Address Health Issue

I read the announcement that head coach Andy Coen was stepping down as head football coach late Friday evening.

It was an announcement that I was expecting, to some degree. 

Those of use who have been following the program closely knew that something was amiss with Andy. 

And yet, the reason for him needing to step down was devastating.

"Life has thrown me a curveball," Coen said in the press release on Friday, December 7th, 2018. "I am in the early stages [of early onset Alzheimer's disease] and it is best for me to eliminate stress and concentrate on my health and well-being.  My wife, Laura, and my children, Molly, Nolan and Finn have supported me throughout my career and are my biggest fans.  This is a very difficult decision for all of us, but it is what is best at this time."

It was the gutting, pit-in-the-stomach diagnosis nobody wanted to be true.  Just like that, a bigger challenge than simply winning football games faces the man who has been heading …