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A tradition spanning many towns and generations

When Lehigh's football team takes the field Nov. 19 against Lafayette, school spirit will soar from coast to coast.

A key third-down completion or a timely sack by Lehigh's defense in the 141st meeting with archrival Lafayette on Nov. 19 will be greeted by thunderous roars at Goodman Stadium.

But there will also be plenty of hooting, hollering, and high-fiving in sports bars and restaurants literally from coast to coast as a growing number of Lehigh University alumni chapters gather together on the Saturday before Thanksgiving to watch the nation's most played rivalry.

The annual get-together at Aussie's Grill in downtown Austin, Texas, draws stares in a college town that is home to one of the nation's most storied Division I-A programs (The University of Texas). But it's something that Bob Stewart '73, the leading scorer on Lehigh's 1972 football team and now an environmental lawyer, and his wife, Susan, wouldn't miss for the world.

"I look forward to this because some who attend this party have played in it," Stewart says. "But there are other reasons ... nostalgia, common connection in a 'foreign' place, draft beer, the Lehigh music on the boom box before the game and at halftime, good food, new and old friends, and a good time with interesting people."

David Yussen '99, president of the Lehigh Club of Minnesota who works at the business strategy and IT regulatory compliance consulting company Forward Hindsight, Inc., says the annual football game telecast brings back fond memories, most notably of playing trumpet in the Marching 97 during the rivalry game.

"Watching it, even 1,200 miles away, brings back the good feelings and school spirit. That's why we've had alums as young as the graduating class and as senior as classes from the 1960s show up," says Yussen, who will attend this year's event as a newlywed after getting married on Oct. 1 in Minneapolis to Christine Porter.

Jen Crimmins '96, a vice president and portfolio manager at PNC Advisors in Boston, can't wait to gather with fellow alums at the Harp, a sports bar across the street from the TD Banknorth Garden. Like Stewart and Yussen, Crimmins believes that the Lehigh-Lafayette game is must-see TV, even though she watches the game with both Lehigh and Lafayette fans. Don't worry, says Crimmins, the Lehigh faithful generally out number the Lafayette fans, roughly 125 to 30.

"People love it. It is the day, once a year, that everyone forgets about the Patriots, the Sox, etc., and remembers the good old days at Lehigh," says Crimmins of the Boston event.

These parties are popping up all over the United States, ranging in size from the 600-plus people who attend the New York City chapter's event at Turtle Bay Grill, to the roughly 70 people who will gather for breakfast, lunch, and drinks at Barr 330 in Brea, Calif. (evenly split between Lehigh and Lafayette fans) to the approximately 30 Lehigh and Lafayette fans who will trade barbs at Champps Americana in downtown Minneapolis.

Brad Gillespie '62, a retired CPA who has organized the Southern California party since 1989, admits there's good natured ribbing between the fans of both schools.

"Last year, a guy from the Lafayette group presented me with an appreciation gift at halftime," Gillespie says. "After an appropriate presentation speech, the Lafayette people presented me with a Lehigh T-shirt with the school name written across the front in large letters. It looked great. I put it on, then heard a few chuckles and did not know why until I was told to take it off and read the back of the shirt, which said 'cause not everyone can get into Lafayette.'

"I had to promise to wear it whenever Lafayette defeats us, so I really need Lehigh to come through this season."

--Bill Doherty

Posted on Monday, October 17, 2005

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