It is Oct. 25, 1884. The device you are probably reading this on is over a century from being created and Thomas Edison just invented the light bulb a few years ago.
This day saw the first gridiron meeting between Lehigh University and Lafayette College. Fast forward to today, and The Rivalry is now the most played game in college football history.
On Nov. 19, 2022, Lehigh and Lafayette are set to meet for the 158th time, 14 more times than the next most played rivalry between Yale and Princeton.
With a game this extensively played, Jeffrey Frase, ‘90, a Lehigh football alumnus, said there is deep history, culture and passion associated with The Rivalry.
“The passion that the student body has for the game and the passion that everyone around Lehigh has for the game is what makes it special,” Frase said. “It never mattered how the season was — the game meant everything.”
Kent Weaver, ‘90, another Lehigh football alumnus, said the game has always been hugely important to both schools.
“It was the ultimate culmination of the season,” Weaver said. “The Lehigh Lafayette Rivalry was the game to be played.”
In the first meeting in 1884, just one year after the standardization of football rules in 1883, Lehigh lost 56-0, with just one Mountain Hawk wearing cleats in the game.
Lehigh wouldn’t get its first win against Lafayette until 1887, when it won 10-4 in the first of what used to be two annual matchups. Although Lehigh lost the second matchup that year, 1887’s matchups kicked off a 8-0-1 record over the next four years.
This culminated in 1891, the only year where the Rivalry was played three times, with the final one taking place in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, instead of Bethlehem or Easton. Lehigh won this game 16-2, completing the sweep for the year.
A few years after Lehigh’s victory in Wilkes-Barre, Lafayette was able to establish Rivalry dominance, going 11-1 in the game from 1895 to 1901. The final year of the winning streak also marked the end of The Rivalry game being played twice annually, as it has been mostly an annual tradition ever since, save for 1943 and 1944.
From then on, the Rivalry went back and forth, with a few dominant stretches from each side. Lafayette went on a 9-0 stretch from 1943 to 1949, while holding Lehigh scoreless in six straight matchups from 1943 to 1947. More recently, Lehigh went on a 7-0 tear from 1995 to 2001.
All-time, Lafayette leads with a record of 80-72-5, but Lehigh has closed the gap as of late, with an 18-9 record since 1995.
1987 was the last year the teams played at Lehigh’s Taylor Stadium. For Lehigh students and players of the time, this marked the final year in their beloved stadium.
“Taylor Stadium was a great old place,” Charles Lieb, ‘70, said. “When it was packed full — and I mean packed full — the place was rocking.”
In that year’s game, Lehigh won 17-10 in minus 17 degree wind chills, after a scoring drive late in the fourth quarter sealed the victory. Weaver said after the game, fans stormed the field, stole the goalposts and any other piece of Taylor Stadium they could find to take home.
“I remember them telling us, ‘Keep your helmet on, and get the heck off the field as fast as possible, because fans are gonna be tearing parts of the stadium — people were even ripping the bleachers off,” Weaver said.
27 years later, the teams played in their 150th game.
The game was played at Yankee Stadium in New York City, marking the first time The Rivalry was not played at Lehigh or Lafayette since the Wilkes-Barre game in 1891. This marked the second largest crowd for a college football game at Yankee Stadium ever, with 48,256 fans in attendance at the 2014 game. Lafayette won the game 27-7.
Last year, Lehigh won 17-10 in a defense-oriented matchup in which the Mountain Hawks were able to hold off the Leopards throughout the second half.
This year, Lafayette enters the game 3-7, and Lehigh sits at 2-8. However, as Weaver said, records don’t matter going into the Rivalry game.