The Art of The Rivalry: Lehigh-Lafayette

Posted by Carly Novek

In the spirit of the start of Lehigh-Laf week, this year hosted at Lehigh, I thought it was appropriate to cover the “art” of this noted rivalry. This year will be the 149th meeting between the two. It is the longest and most uninterrupted annual rivalry that has been ongoing since 1884. The game is pretty much always sold out, and tickets for next years 150th anniversary game at Yankee Stadium are already one of the hottest tickets to get on the sports market.

Though games and matches between us and Lafayette are heated in our nature as rivals, nothing beats the annual football game. This game on Saturday is even more special to me personally as it is my first as an actual student here at Lehigh. (Mind you i have been to past Lehigh-Laf games.) The entire week is full of spirit and events the range from starting up fun school spirit-like last nights Lehigh-laf-a-palooza- to philanthropies-food drives, bash for cash- and finally to general tradition like bed races, rallies, wearing lehigh garb, etc.

Coming from a Big Ten- and a very solid Big Ten- Football program, this is an entirely different experience. I had gone to Pasadena, California for the Rose Bowl championship against Oregon my freshman year, and also woke up at 8 am with friends to attend ESPN’s College Game Day for the game at Wisconsin against Nebraska-which by the way ended up being a TOTAL bust as the Badgers creamed the Corn Huskers- so you’d think Lehigh-Laf would seem like no comparison. But that’s just the thing, and perhaps it is in-part because I am from a “Lehigh Family,” I much prefer the Lehigh-Laf experience-and mine is just beginning. How can this be? I love the sense of community and tradition that surrounds the game. And being a huge college football fan- which i even thank Lehigh for because it is truly where I grew up learning the game itself with my dad- its refreshing to experience something SO major, but yet incredibly historic and homey. Yes, Wisconsin-Madison is a school that is a MUST in terms of college football and experiencing traditions that occur at Camp Randall Stadium and yes it is VERY cool knowing that Russell Wilson, the starting quarterback and one of the top qbs in the NFL, was MY qb my freshman year, but nothing beats Lehigh-Lafayette and what it does to our campus-and probably Lafayette’s as well. My fellow students question me coming here based on the fact that i had chose Wisconsin for the sake of football. What my peers don’t realize is that Lehigh does have a namesake in football, especially because of our famous rivalry. They also don’t realize the magic Lehigh-Laf puts on our school in terms of the sport of football. We practically become a Big Ten school. We may even become more spirited as this is a once-a-year upburst of desire to truly come together as a campus and crush our opponent in the classic American game. With Thanksgiving always on the horizon, it is a time for everyone to get together, celebrate Lehigh, and pray we beat those Leopards from Easton. It is truly a beautiful thing to see the transformation of students here. They go from claiming “no one cares about sports or football here” (which by the way i find somewhat false based on what i have seen at games and tailgates) to being so obsessed with the weekend and the game that we beg professors to extend our papers and move our exam dates, which by the way they do. Having had the experience of an ultimate football school, my peers don’t realize what we have is insanely special.

The only time the rivalry game was never played was in 1896, and until 1901 the rivals met twice a year. The games were even played in 1943 and 1944 during WWII. The Rivalry is so old, it began before football trophies were even a “thing.” Books and documentaries have covered the Rivalry, and guess what, so has ESPN and Sports Illustrated.

So how did this rivalry start exactly? Supposedly, it began even BEFORE Lehigh was founded as a university. Asa Packer had come to Mauch Chunk, PA (now Jim Thorpe, PA) and joined a local Presbyterian Church, but felt he didn’t fit with the congregation. He eventually became MUCH wealthier (he was a carpenter when he first came) and Ario Pardee had approached Packer in matter of the engineering wing at Lafayette. At first, it was a positive deal, but once learned Lafayette was under the Presbyterian CHurch, Packer became not so pleased, and said he’d have nothing to do with it.

The rivalry spurred as football began happening at the schools. Because the game was not widely played yet, let alone having travel teams like we see now, schools played other schools that were close by. Lehigh-Lafayette would play twice a year- with each team hosting one of the times. And the rest is history…

So let’s celebrate this famous rivalry and join together as a community and school that has this long-standing tradition. Let’s beat the Lafayette Leopards as we have the past few year and “protect our home.” It should also be noted that this game is not only HUGE for the obvious reason that it is Lehigh-Laf, but even more significant in the spectrum of college football overall. Because Lehigh beat Colgate last Saturday, and Lafayette had managed to earlier in the season, this weekend’s game is even BIGGER. Colgate was one of the stronger teams in the Patriot League, so now that both Lehigh and Lafayette had beat the school, this weekend is a essentially a playoff game to get into the playoffs for college playoffs/bowl games. Let’s keep our fingers crossed!

Go Lehigh!