When I looked up at the massive Yankee Stadium scoreboard as the clock struck zero, it read Lafayette 27, Lehigh 7. However, that score is not what I will remember most about the 150th edition of the Lehigh-Lafayette rivalry.
It goes without saying that Saturday night’s defeat to Lafayette was a disappointment. It’s not what we envisioned as we counted sheep on our way to bed on Friday night in the hotel. It’s not what we spoke about in meetings; it’s not what we talked about before the game in the locker room.
While we understood that the trip to Yankee Stadium and New York was a business trip, and that the first objective was to win, we also looked forward to the overall experience. That is what I will remember the most.
This year’s group of guys is the only Lehigh football team to play a football game in Yankee Stadium. We were only the second team to play Lafayette in a neutral venue, and the 150th edition of Lehigh-Lafayette was played in front of a sellout crowd of 48,256 people — an attendance record for a Lehigh football game.
We arrived in The Bronx on a crisp, cool Friday morning. The excitement that permeated the bus was intense. We were all just anxious to get on the field and appreciate our surroundings. We entered the stadium through its rear entrance, where we walked in the tunnel toward the locker rooms.
As we walked through the hall, it occurred to us that legends had walked through there. Yankees legends like Derek Jeter walked through there every day. Baseball stars like Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera make this walk every time they visit New York. It was humbling.
Although we were stationed in the visiting locker room as the “away” team, we saw the Yankees’ locker room first. As a New Yorker and lifelong Yankees fan, this was an extremely rewarding experience for me. From there, we were able to change and head outside for our walk-through. We were truly able to appreciate our surroundings when we got onto the field.
My entire life, I had experienced Yankees games from the stands. In fact, I was sitting in nosebleed seats at the top of the stands behind the plate my last time in the stadium. Now, I was on the field. It was amazing, and I think all of the guys were in awe of the position that we were in.
After our tour of the Yankees museum and Monument Park, we headed to our hotel until game time. It was at this time that I think we all became very anxious for the game after getting a taste of the kind of surreal venue little old Lehigh was playing in.
While we understood the magnitude of Saturday’s game, it was also important for us to keep our emotions in check. It was going to be an emotional game, and we had to strike a balance between being emotional, but not unemotional. That dichotomy can sometimes be difficult to traverse. That, along with the family ethic of our team, is what I stressed to our underclassmen on Saturday morning.
We were surprised with brand-new jerseys as we arrived at the stadium on Saturday afternoon. The pinstripes were a tip of the cap to the New York Yankees and their tradition, as well as Lehigh’s old-school tradition. Running out of the dugout to tons of screaming Lehigh fans (in brown, instead of neon!) was one of the proudest moments of my life, let alone my athletic career. Being able to find my family in section 233 and point them out was something I will never forget.
Unfortunately, we dug ourselves a hole in the first half — a hole that we were unable to escape from. Saturday’s game encapsulated our season, our inability to put four quarters of good football together. We were a young, talented team that was unable to take the next step.
Win or lose, feast or famine, the experience we shared at Yankee Stadium over the course of this weekend was something we will never forget. We were presented with a breathtaking, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Seeing the passion that students and alumni exhibited over the course of the weekend was incredible and reminded us why we first started to play football.