Joshua Ehrig ‘02, sits back in his desk chair, his gaze fixed on an old ticket stub tacked to a corkboard in his office in Rauch. The Lehigh vs. Lafayette football ticket has started to fade over after 18 years.
Yet, the memories of the infamous Rivalry Week are fresh in the minds of professors Ehrig, Deirdre Malacrea, ‘83 and Robert Gustafson, ’74, from when they were undergraduates at Lehigh.
Malacrea, a professor of practice of marketing, said The Rivalry is typically involved in her conversations about Lehigh. She said first-year students are already “steeped in it,” by the time the week comes.
The heightened sense of anticipation for The Rivalry Week—which she noted was always referred to by its full name, “Lehigh-Lafayette”—has stuck with Malacrea throughout the years.
“We knew it was this legitimate, iconic game,” she said. “Across the college football universe we had these bragging rights about this game.”
Malacrea painted the picture of game day morning in the ‘80s. With the stadium formerly on Asa Packer campus, she said the South Side turned into a parking lot—alumni’s cars and RVs crowded the off-campus streets, sidewalks hosted tailgates and people joined the fun from their porches.
Malacrea said students and alumni packed in “cheek to jowl,” and described the scene as “super cozy.”
She recalls the lyrics of school spirit songs, “The Silver Goblet” and “Lehigh will Shine Tonight,” that echoed across the sea of brown and white piling on buses to Lafayette during the years the game was away.
Gustafson, a senior fellow for leadership development at the Enterprise Systems Center, was the class of 1974’s class president—the last all-male class at Lehigh.
Gustafson said it was up to the first-years to defend the goal posts. He recalled one game when the goal posts were down by the third quarter.
He said everyone had friends at Lafayette, but the week is all about The Rivalry with the “junior college down the street.”
“Generally, Lehigh and Lafayette students and colleagues all get along quite well—but that one week, it’s a different game,” said Ehrig, a professor of practice of management. “Nothing but love and respect for 51 weeks, but you get into that one week and all of a sudden you would think we were playing in the Super Bowl.”
Gustafson said the rival students were “always trying to bust each other’s chops,” and would try to steal something from the other school, such as a mascot or flag. He said it was clean, clever fun that brought the student body together.
Gustafson said the Marching 97 is one of the distinguishable, long-standing traditions, as its members march around campus and break into classrooms.
“They have the best school spirit—you can’t beat their school spirit,” he said.
Ehrig said he thinks the intensity and school spirit from the week has remained the same over the years. Yet, something he said has increased is the creativity of the banners.
Twenty years ago, the banners still adorned the homes of off-campus houses, but Ehrig said the presence has increased. He noted the banners now hang from the president’s house and the LUPD station.
Malacrea said a downside of the week is that it comes at a point in the semester when students are extremely busy. She remembers being a first-year engineering student, taking core introductory classes and trying to balance rivalry engagement with her coursework.
“As somebody who was a student here and now is a professor, I think over the years, you only appreciate the history and tradition behind it that much more,” Ehrig said.
Ehrig said seeing alumni in their 70s, 80s and 90s still embracing school spirit is a testament to not only The Rivalry game, but also to how much Lehigh means to all its students—past and present.
As Lehigh football’s largest season ticket holder, Gustafson has a block holding over 40 tickets. Although he loves all of Lehigh’s football games, Gustafson said The Rivalry Week game has always been special.
The year after he graduated, Gustafson returned for the weekend and threw a big tailgate. Fast-forward almost 45 years later, and that tailgate still happens every year. Known as the “Kings of Tailgate,” Gustafson hosts the large feast and celebration with classmate and close friend Bob Mullholland, ‘74.
The two honor classmate and former Lehigh football co-captain Roger McFillin, ’74, who died on his 50th birthday in 2002, and Dan Mullholland, ’74, Bob’s twin brother and Gustafson’s close friend, who co-ran the traditional tailgate up until his death in 2016.
Gustafson said they try to raise $10,000 in donations to Lehigh each year at the tailgate, all in honor of classmates. He runs a tailgate every home game, yet he said it peaks during Lehigh-Lafayette weekend.
Gustafson said it is hard to miss the Kings of Tailgate, which hosts around 200 alumni and their families over the Lehigh-Lafayette weekend. His classmates come in from all over the country.
Gustafson said some classmates, who did not know each other when they were students at Lehigh have become friends over the years because of this tailgate. He said their class spirit and unity has only grown over the years.
“You see your old friends from 40 years ago, and it’s like nothing’s changed,” he said. “We relive all the same old times and our wives say our stories get bigger and bigger.”
Although the tailgate is a lot of work for Gustafson, he said it’s worth it. He doesn’t want to let it go, and doesn’t want to let his classmates down.
“It’s something that I somehow have stumbled into, and it’s become a big part of my life and big part of many others’ lives,” he said.