For most Lehigh students, The Rivalry provides an opportunity for a week of partying and mocking rival Lafayette. But for the members of the cheerleading team, Marching 97 and football team, The Rivalry is the pinnacle of their season.
Cheerleaders remember hyping up the crowd at a sold-out stadium. Marching 97 members recall bursting into classrooms to play Lehigh’s fight song. Football players will never forget their career record against Lafayette, especially if it included a Patriot League Championship.
These moments shaped their Lehigh-Lafayette experiences — the game they each looked forward to throughout the fall — and possibly their entire Lehigh experience.
Lance Haynes, ’94, was a linebacker on the football team throughout his four years at Lehigh. He said the history of the game resonated with him from the time he arrived on campus as a first-year, but it was his senior Le-Laf game that meant the most.
“We were the first-ever college football game on ESPN2,” Haynes said. “My Lehigh-Lafayette game senior year was for Lehigh’s first-ever Patriot League Championship, and we won, and I was captain that year, too, so it was even better. That one meant a lot.”
Haynes started consistently returning for The Rivalry game about 10 years ago. He said each year serves as a reunion for him and his former teammates, and returning for the game allowed him to connect with and befriend players that were on the team before and after him.
Whenever Haynes talks to other Lehigh football alumni, the conversation almost always includes discussing Le-Laf records. He said for most players, a win against Lafayette could make up for a poor season.
Chris Ruhl, ’16, a former Lehigh football tight end, said there is a “learning curve” for players new to The Rivalry, and it wasn’t until he played his senior game that he truly realized what Le-Laf meant to people.
“You hear the stories of the alumni who come back for this week — some of them are 80 and 90 years old, and you can’t hear them unless you lean in and really listen to what they’re saying,” Ruhl said. “Seeing those people that travel so far and come back for this week really puts it into perspective. This team is much, much bigger than anything.”
Ruhl will return to campus for Saturday’s game, and he is looking forward to attending his first game at Goodman Stadium as a spectator and catching up with former teammates.
While The Rivalry was formed around the football game, it’s not just football players who get the chance to experience the importance of Le-Laf firsthand.
Geoffrey Andrews, ’15, who played the mellophone in the Marching 97, said playing at the football games and during Eco-Flame — a tradition where the band interrupts classes the Friday before the game — created some of his favorite Rivalry memories.
“I think any Lehigh student gets into it, but if you’re in the band, it’s almost like a religious thing — the constant hatred of Lafayette and getting into the spirit of Le-Laf,” Andrews said.
The 150th meeting of The Rivalry fell during Andrews’ senior year, and he said playing on the field at sold-out Yankee Stadium for the energetic Lehigh crowd was one of the highlights of his Lehigh career.
Marching 97 alumni sometimes have the opportunity to return to play at the Le-Laf game if the band needs to fill spots to complete the full 97. Andrews and fellow mellophone player Michelle Leon, ’15, have both returned once to take the field with the band during The Rivalry matchup.
“I didn’t join (the Marching 97) my freshman year, so it was kind of like my fourth game,” Leon said. “We won, and it was a home game so that was cool.”
Along with the Marching 97, Lehigh’s cheerleaders serve to hype up students throughout Le-Laf week and excite the crowd during the game.
Emilee Strange, ’17, cheered during her four years at Lehigh, and she said Le-Laf was her favorite game each season. She enjoyed seeing the students dress in brown and white and felt the increased support of the crowd from the field.
“It’s definitely when the audience reciprocated the most,” Strange said. “Whenever we cheered, the energy was super high, and everyone was just way more excited to be there.”
Some of Strange’s favorite Rivalry moments include last year’s win at Lafayette when students stormed the field, as well as the 150th game at Yankee Stadium her sophomore year — something she looked forward to years before she even attended Lehigh.
Strange is excited to experience the Le-Laf game from the other side for the first time but anticipates that she’ll miss cheering from the field. Still, The Rivalry remains important to her.
“I’m celebrating it at home and I’m not even a Lehigh student anymore,” Strange said, “so I’m super excited.”