In the Fall of 2009, my freshman year at Lehigh University, the football team was not very good. The Mountain Hawks started the season 0-4 and then won 4 of their last 7 including the final two games of the season to finish 4-7. Going into that final game, probably about four years ago to this date, someone told me “It doesn’t matter how the rest of the season went, as long as they beat Lafayette.” Beat Lafayette. A phrase that I would hear and chant over and over again through my four years on South Mountain. A school that is only a short drive down Pennsylvania Route 22 in nearby Easton, PA that we referred to as “that school in Easton.” Not just any rival, THE Rival. 148 matchups so far, the 149th between these historic schools a mere six days away. Tonight, Lehigh/Lafayette Week begins.
This year, The Rivalry does determine how the season will go. If Lehigh wins, they are the 2013 Patriot League Champion. If Lafayette wins, then they are the 2013 Patriot League Champion. The de facto Patriot League Championship Game.
Recently, the meaning of a rivalry has been brought up numerous times. What determines a rivalry? How many times do they need to have played? Does geography make a difference? The list goes on and on. I have mixed feelings on the matter. In my Flyers Update from November 7th, I alluded to NBCSN’s Wednesday Night “Rivalry” Night, which is a point I will write about on a later date. This post is dedicated to a REAL Rivalry and the appreciation of all the real rivalries out there.
Long before 2009, I grew up fascinated by rivalries. No matter what the sport, I lived for watching two teams battle for their spot in the long-standing history, that is their rivalry. At first, it was on a professional level. Growing up in Philadelphia enamored by the Phillies, Flyers, and Eagles it was easy to hate the plethora of foes who would come onto Broad Street wanting a piece of my favorite teams. I really knew nothing of the players or the statistics, only that beating those teams was better than beating the other teams. (although the very literal five-year-old G-Man never understood why a team from Texas played in the Eagles’ division). Eventually, I started really watching sports. Learning the players, the statistics, the history. In fact, during “Library Time” in elementary school, my teachers had to force my to read other books because I was alternating between Matt Christopher books and biographies about Philadelphia Sports Legends. I remember renting the original “Wayne Gretzky 3D Hockey” for my N64 instead of the 1998 Edition because the old one still had the old Winnipeg Jets and the Hartford Whalers in it.
Before I digress too far, let’s get back on track. As I learned more and more about the sporting world, I gained a true level of respect and appreciation for not just my favorite teams, but their rivals as well. I loved connecting myself to this history. When I came to Lehigh, the history of The Rivalry was no exception. I learned as much as I could, from the overall win-loss numbers to more in-depth facts such as The Rivalry outdates the forward pass. However, it wasn’t until Saturday, November 21, 2009 that it all came together. That was my first Lehigh/Laf. When I arrived on the Goodman Campus that morning, met alumni spanning seven different decades of Lehigh University graduates, that connection I made reading, became realer than real. I had been to five games earlier in the season and been apart of the student section, but this was different. This was Lafayette. Being apart of the Lehigh community united against this opponent, that is when Lehigh truly became a new home for me.
It was different than seeing the Phils take on the Mets or Braves, different than the Flyers playing the Devils, Penguins, or Rangers, and different than even the Eagles against their NFC East foes. It’s Lafayette. I have been in attendance for Games 145-148 and will be for 149 on Saturday and #150 at Yankee Stadium next year. I absolutely cannot wait. Happy Lehigh/Lafayette Week everyone.