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#TheRivalry Through The Decades: From 1887 To 2017

I thought a fun way this season to show off the historic nature of Lehigh and Lafayette's football Rivalry might be to do a jump through the decades.

(If you want to learn more about the Lehigh and Lafayette Rivalry, read my book: The Rivalry: How Two Schools Started the Most Played College Football Series, available in both paperback in Kindle versions.)

Lehigh and Lafayette's Rivalry in football started in 1884, when Lafayette student manager (and founder of the football team) Theodore Welles approached the founder and student manager of Lehigh football, J.S. Robeson, and challenged them to a game of "foot-ball", a ground-based game that resembled more of a cross between rugby and soccer than the modern game of today.

Let's turn back the clock 130 years, and proceed decade by decade, and you'll see how many times Lehigh and Lafayette have played over the years, and hopefully get an appreciation on how the game changed and evolved over time.

130 years ago:
October 29th, 1887: Lehigh 10, Lafayette 4
November 23rd, 1887: Lafayette 6, Lehigh 0

The "Lehighs" got their first-ever win in The Rivalry in October, a game that was marred by accusations from Lafayette that the referees had it in for the away team, allegedly awarding fumbles to the home team and disallowing two touchdowns (then only 4 points) that would have given Lafayette the win.

After Lafayette would win the return game 6-0 (in this era before the automobile, Lehigh and Lafayette would play a home-and-home since the away team was only a short train ride away from the other), the legendary father of football Walter Camp would decide that two paid officials (and not students or local fans) would be allowed to officiate at college football games.  It has never been verified that he had Lehigh and Lafayette in mind when he made this rule, but it wouldn't be any surprise, as Lehigh and Lafayette games already had a national reputation for fights and contentiousness.

120 years ago:
October 29th, 1897: Lafayette 34, Lehigh 0
November 25th, 1897: Lafayette 22, Lehigh 0

Only a year removed from one of the best Lafayette teams to ever suit up for the Maroon and White, the legendary team coached by Parke H. Davis and George "Rose" Barclay, inventor of the football helmet, Lehigh and Lafayette resumed their Rivalry after an eligibility dispute about the amateurism of a Lafayette player that played summer league baseball for pay forced the cancellation of both games in 1896.  But some at Lafayette simply thought Lehigh cancelled the games because they were worried about getting beat, a fact borne out by the fact that they shut out Lehigh in both contests in 1897.  Lafayette's Ed Bray, college football's first "placement kicker", would help revolutionize the game by having one player hold the ball and have him get a running start to kick it.

110 years ago:
November 23rd, 1907: Lafayette 22, Lehigh 5

By this point, Lehigh and Lafayette decided to contest only one game a year for a variety of reasons - mainly for the health of the players, since a ground-based game with the "Flying Wedge" had grown very violent, but also to minimize the energy generated by The Rivalry, choosing to contest it at the end of the year the week before Thanksgiving.

In this game, the new innovation, the "forward pass", led to a defensive innovation: the "pick six" (or in this case a "pick five", for touchdowns were only five points during this season).  Lafayette RB George McCaa, who doubled as defensive back, saw a ball from Lehigh QB Frank Anderson "sail into his arms without moving an inch," the student paper The Lafayette reported.  McCaa then outraced all the Lehigh players, outdistancing them all by the time he reached the 35 yard line.

QB A.S. Herrington
100 years ago:
November 24th, 1917: Lehigh 78, Lafayette 0

"Time and again the Lehigh backs tore through the Lafayette line and circled the ends for long gains amid the rousing cheers of the Lehigh cheering section," The Brown and White wrote in Lehigh's biggest-ever win against Lafayette.  "Ten of the twelve touchdowns came from long runs, and only one was contested by the Easton team, when they held for three downs on the one yard-line only to fail on the fourth."

Of the 12 touchdowns by the Brown and White, four were scored by FB Vincent de Wysocki and another four by QB A.S. Herrington, though it came against a Lafayette team that was racked by defections: with America's entry into World War I imminent, they fielded a team mostly consisting of inexperienced players.  Still, it meant a lot to Lehigh head football coach Tom Keady, who built up Lehigh's programs to becoming relevant on the national scene.

Herb McCracken
90 years ago:
Saturday, November 19th, 1927: Lafayette 43, Lehigh 0

"The College Hill clan is favored by newspaper critics and non-partisan fans to extend its dominance over the Bethlehem collegians to nine consecutive years on the basis of the comparative records of the two teams for the current season," The Brown and White optimistically reported in the run-up to the 1927 game.  Lafayette, who had returned to national prominence in 1926 with head coach Herb McCracken and RB Mike Wilson, were heavy favorites over a Lehigh team that had started to crack down on its athletes and flunk many players that were being counted on to be competitive.

"Pregame expectations by football experts and non-partisan laymen were fulfilled to complete expectations Saturday afternoon when a powerful, smoothly functioning Lafayette team annihilated a fighting but unquestionably outclassed Lehigh eleven, 43-0.  Wilson, who was injured in the first quarter, was replaced by a trio of backs, all of whom bulldozed over Lehigh's front line with ease.

80 years ago:
Saturday, November 20th, 1937: Lafayette 6, Lehigh 0

One of Lafayette's vastly underappreciated teams took the field at Taylor Stadium in 1937, a squad that was unbeaten and untied, and had only one touchdown scored on them all season (by nearby Rutgers) but was overshadowed locally by two Eastern teams they didn't play, Pitt (8-0-1) and Fordham (7-0-1).  Despite shutting Georgetown and NYU, two Eastern powers at that time, the AP didn't even have Lafayette in its Top 25 all season, even though Fordham, at 7-0-1, won by the same margin vs. NYU but didn't shut them out (20-7).

Even though the Brown and White weren't in the same league as Lafayette, they fought hard and seemed to score a touchdown against the Leopards - but the referee said that RB George Ellstrom stepped out of bounds on the way to the end zone, and afterwards Lafayette held the line and preserved the shutout.  Lafayette RB Tony Cavallo would score the only touchdown for the Leopards in the game.

After the game, Lafayette athletic director Henry Clark gathered to let the students know that Lafayette wouldn't accept any bowl invitations for that season, even though the Orange Bowl had them on a list along with Fordham, Lafayette, Holy Cross, Villanova, and Pitt.  This started a trend of Lafayette and Lehigh teams refusing bowl bids from bowl games in the Jim Crow South.

70 years ago:
Saturday, November 22nd, 1947: Lafayette 7, Lehigh 0

Though Lehigh was two touchdown underdogs, much of the talk of the game was centered around The Rivlary and the traditions around the game.  "An estimated 3,500 people swarmed all over Grace Hall in the most high spirited pep rally these ivy-covered walls have seen in many a year," The Brown and White reported.  "The pep rally must have reminded the old, old alumni of former times.  Though the lack of students ending up in jail was a little different from former years, the big difference was the size of the parade [down to Moravian] and the pep rally.

In the actual game, after three quarters deadlocked at 0, QB Francis Stanszak found WR Tod Saylor at the three yard line and crossed the plane of the goal line for the game's only touchdown.

60 years ago:
Saturday, November 23rd, 1957: Lehigh 26, Lafayette 13

Behind head coach Bill Leckonby, 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. QB Dan Nolan, a pro prospect at quarterback and TE/DE Pete Williams, a two-way offensive and defensive end,  gave the Brown and White a fearsome defense as well as offense.

In the game, 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 said, "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."

50 years ago:
Saturday, November 18th, 1967: Lafayette 6, Lehigh 0

In a sign of the shifting times, the focus of The Brown and White in the run-up to the big game didn't involve parades (which had been abandoned) or pep rallies (same) but a debate on whether pot should be legalized.  (On the front pages of The Lafayette, under an article about The Rivalry, read the headline "Vietnam Policy Attacked by France, India, Canada.")  It probably didn't help that Lafayette was 3-5 entering the final stanza, and Lehigh, 1-7.

Considering the bubbling cauldron of emotions dwelling in university education at that time - sit-ins were starting to happen around the country about the Vietnam war - this year's pregame riots and brawls, contrary to some years, were essentially left unpunished by the University staff.  In the midst of all of this, Lafayette won 6-0.

40 years ago:
Saturday, November 19th, 1977: Lehigh 35, Lafayette 17

As the season progressed, the 8-2 Engineers approached the game with their big Rivals, Lehigh crept up the Lambert Cup standings, hovering around 3rd and 4th behind UMass, New Hampshire, and Delaware.  A quality win over VMI helped the Engineers stay alive in the Lambert Cup and playoff race, while a surprise 20-0 loss to Rutgers hurt Lehigh's chances.

Under head coach John Whitehead and led by the dynamic duo of QB Mike Rieker and WR Steve Kreider, it was not a foregone conclusion that the Engineers would be playing in the playoffs and winning the Lambert cup.  They would need to beat Lafayette, and see what happened.

With so much at stake, both schools' officials feared a replay of the postgame violence that marred the end of the 1976 game and the worrying traditions of after-game rioting and tearing down the goalposts. But the game itself, a thriller where Lehigh rallied from a 17-14 deficit, was a classic that saw Lehigh win 35-17 and ended up punching Lehigh's ticket to the Division II playoffs - where they won the championship.

30 years ago:
Saturday, November 21st: Lehigh 17, Lafayette 10

It was the final game at Taylor Stadium on the South Side of Bethlehem.  Anticipating bigger-than-usual problems concerning the final game at Taylor, strict rules were announced before the game.  No re-admittance once you leave.  An earlier kickoff time, in order to try to keep people from drinking too much at the tailgates.  All alcohol would be confiscated at the gate - no exceptions.

"I believe the first touchdown of the game was when our fullback, Rich Curtis, took a handoff up the middle for a touchdown," OL Gary Nelson told me.  "The play called for our tackles Lou Charito and Kent Weaver to block the d-tackles inside-out, for our guards Aaron Frantz and Brian Hensel to pick up the linebackers, and for Rich to key off of my block on the nose-guard.   What we were hoping for was a good five or six yard gain actually turned into six points as Rich dodged a few tackles and galloped twenty or so yards across the goal line.  The entire stadium erupted in pandemonium and I remember thinking how incredibly special it was to be part of this historic game."

20 years ago:
Saturday, November 21st, 1997: Lehigh 43, Lafayette 31

Going into that season, the team led by third-year coach Kevin Higgins was thought to have a chance to compete for the title. But a 42-35 loss to Fordham in the Bronx effectively made Lehigh's chances at a Patriot League title (which, for the first time, would allow the winner to compete in the I-AA playoffs) difficult at best.

It got worse. Starting QB Seka Edwards, a senior who had seen some success in 1996, suffered a season-ending injury versus Harvard in a 35-30 loss. (The Crimson would go 9-1 and win the Ivy League.) The answer to the questions about a possible Patriot League title were answered in Week 4, as Ryan Vena and the Colgate Raiders pasted Lehigh 61-28 in their worst loss in recent memory.

To replace him, offensive coordinator Andy Coen worked with sophomore QB Phil Stambaugh as he slowly but surely improved as the season wore on. The young team took some lumps, but did see improvements even if it wasn't in the win column. Some good wins (24-7 over Penn and 46-26 over 8-2 Dartmouth, the Ivy League runner-up) were interspersed with tough losses while playing a brutal schedule. This team kept most of the games close, playing No. 3 ranked Delaware to a close 24-19 defeat at Murray Goodman stadium and losing a 45-38 shootout to 9-2 Hofstra (who played as an at-large team in the I-AA playoffs).

But Stambaugh and RB Rabih Abdullah would not be denied. The Brown & White would score 22 fourth-quarter points to secure a wild 43-31 victory, behind Abdullah's incredible sendoff game: 2 receiving touchdowns from Stambaugh, and two late rushing touchdowns to seal the game for the Mountain Hawks.  (Abdullah would ultimately find a niche in the NFL, playing on special teams and earning a Super Bowl ring.)

10 years ago:
Saturday, November 17th, 2007: Lafayette 21, Lehigh 17

"A frustrating season comes to a close with another loss to Lafayette, as this senior class becomes the first class since 1949 to not enjoy a win against the Leopards," I wrote ten years ago.

"We had a chance to force Lafayette to score a touchdown to beat us," I continued.  "Instead, PK Jason Leo pushed a FG attempt wide left. Our kicker didn't make a play. A cynic may say "hey, it's only 3 points", but the truth is that three points would have changed the whole dynamic of the game and would have forced a kickoff situation and also forced Lafayette to get a touchdown.

"Then Lafayette went on their game-winning drive. The defense made some big hits, and some big plays. But QB Rob Curley, WR Shaun Adair and WR Kyle Roeder made the plays that counted. The Lafayette coaching staff put their Leopards in a position to make the plays, and ultimately, they made it on a designed play that was executed to perfection, with Roeder coming from the far side and slanting inwards, using WR James Dixon as a smokescreen to draw a cover guy and to slow down Roeder's cover guy - and Dixon and Roeder made a play. Our secondary didn't."


Anonymous said…
Thanks so much for that interesting trip down Rivalry Lane. The 2005-2007 stretch was definitely the most frustrating stretch for many of us in the modern era. There were plenty of other longer stretches with consecutive losses to the Pards, but in those days, LU had some really bad teams, and didn't put effort or $$ into improving the FB program. My father used to tell me that way back (20s-40s) a common attitude often was to accept losing to the Pards, if only to prove that LU was the better academic school.
Anonymous said…
2004-2007..god forgot 2004. 4 years of pure misery.

AL PIERCE! Thank you Al Pierce.

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