Lehigh-Lafayette rivalry reaches 150 on big stage
NEW YORK (AP) The memories of the last Lafayette-Lehigh game in which George Hossenlopp played still sting 50 years later.
The former Lafayette quarterback was part of college football's most-played rivalry three times, including the 100th meeting in 1964. He never did win one. That last game against Lehigh and his childhood friend, Joe Weis, ended in a 6-6 tie. To this day, Hossenlopp thinks about what he could have done differently.
The two old high school teammates from New Jersey will face off again - sort of - on Saturday at Yankee Stadium, though this time it's only for the coin toss. They will be the honorary captains when Lehigh and Lafayette play for the 150th time.
And if Lafayette wins, Hossenlopp is adding it to his record.
''That's why I'm going to be rooting hard,'' he said. ''It will feel like I was part of it.''
This is rivalry season in college football. Last week, Auburn and Georgia played for the 118th time in the Deep South's oldest rivalry. Southern California-UCLA meet for the 83rd time on Saturday, and Harvard and Yale play for the 131st time.
There's the Iron Bowl (Alabama-Auburn) and the Egg Bowl (Mississippi-Mississippi State), the Territorial Cup (Arizona-Arizona State) and the Apple Cup (Washington-Washington State). There is Army-Navy.
None of have played more often than Lehigh and Lafayette, two Patriot League schools with a combined enrollment of about 10,000, located 17 miles from each other in Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley.
Lehigh University in Bethlehem and Lafayette College in Easton first began playing football against each other in 1884 - twice per season at first and three times in 1891. They didn't play in 1896 because of a dispute over eligible players, but they haven't missed since.
''You can't have one without the other. Salt and pepper,'' said Andy Coen, who is in his ninth season as Lehigh's coach. ''That connection right there gives the staying power to this rivalry. We played through World War I. We played through World War II. We played through the Kennedy assassination. All these different events that have transpired, where other rivalries took a year off, this rivalry has never taken a year off.''
Hossenlopp and Weis grew up in Nutley, New Jersey, played together on the same state high school championship football team, and then headed west to the blue-collar industrial towns tucked in the mountains of eastern Pennsylvania for college. They became captains of the teams, and their personal rivalry meant as much as the one between the schools.
''We kind of laughed about putting a little bit extra into hitting your friend,'' said Weis, 71, who now lives with his wife of 47 years in Salt Lake City.
They both quickly got the message about how important the season finale was to the locals.
''It doesn't matter what we do as long as we beat Lafayette,'' Weis recalled.
Weis' Lehigh team did just that the first two meetings, both one-score games. The 1963 game was delayed a week due to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
In 1964, both teams were completing forgettable seasons. Lehigh had won once and Lafayette not at all entering the game.
Weis, who played halfback and defensive back, doesn't remember all that much about it. He recalls catching a pass for a long-gainer and taking a big hit that left him with a concussion. They're not sure, but Hossenlopp thinks he might have been in on that hit.
Hossenlopp's memory is much clearer. Losses have a way of lingering.
He said late in the game with the score tied, he helped march Lafayette down to the Lehigh 4. Lafayette coach Kenneth Bunn chose to go for a touchdown after his special teams had already missed a field goal and an extra point.
Hossenlopp called the plays and four times called for a run. Lafayette came up less than a yard short.
''I do pretty constantly think about the plays I called in the last series of downs from the 4, when we couldn't punch it into the end zone and Joe's guys stopped us just a couple of inches short,'' said Hossenlopp, 71 and now living in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, with his wife of 49 years. ''I wish I had a more pleasant thought, but that's what I think about. What should I have done? What could I have done differently? I should have thrown the ball up at least once.''
The 150th game has some similarities to the 100th. A year after Lehigh and Lafayette played for the Patriot League title, the Mountain Hawks (3-7) and Leopards (4-7) have nothing but pride on the line. Lafayette leads the series 77-67-5.
There is one huge difference between game No. 100 and No. 150. For only the second time and first since 1891 when the game was played in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, the game will be played at a neutral site.
A crowd of 50,000 is expected at Yankee Stadium. Lafayette's Fisher Stadium, where the game would have been played this season, holds about 13,000. Single-game tickets range from $6-$25. Students get in free.
Specifics of the financial agreement with the Yankees were not disclosed, but the schools expect to make about seven times what they would make for a game on campus.
''We gave up a home game. That was a huge decision obviously, one that in a lot of circles was not popular, particularly the vendors in the Lehigh Valley,'' Lafayette coach Frank Tavani said.
Hossenlopp said he's thrilled to have the rivalry on a ''big stage.'' And the current players know that no matter the outcome they are about to become a part of history the way Hossenlopp and Weis are now.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphdrussoAP