In that misty era before brittle quarterbacks and 300-page playbooks, a rugged brand of football was played between the Lafayette Leopards and the Lehigh Engineers in the rolling hills of Eastern Pennsylvania. Legend has it that the colossal Leopard linebackers could strip an Engineer halfback naked with a single sweep of their paws and pull off his toes as if they were daisy petals. It's said that the officials in those days were usually prison wardens, and instead of meting out yardage as penalties, they decreed sentences varying from two days to 25 years.
Of course, not many people think of Lehigh and Lafayette as football schools anymore, but a few relics survive from that time. The Lehigh-Lafayette series, which dates from 1884, can claim the all-time greatest fan anywhere in Howard Foering, who had seen 99 games in a row before he died nine years ago at 106. (The teams played twice a season through 1901, and in 1943 and '44.) Lehigh has a dozen alumni who have witnessed at least 50 Double-L games. Heading the list is a retired steel-mill superintendent named Albert Chenoweth, 91, who saw his first Big Game in 1912, the year he was a backup quarterback as a freshman. He missed the 1918 game because he was in France serving with the U.S. Army. Since then he has been to 67 consecutive Double-Ls.
Chenoweth, however, lags behind Roger Conners of Lafayette. Conners, who attended Lafayette but never graduated, has seen every game in the series since 1912. "There doesn't seem to be the enthusiasm there used to be," he says. "But because of this record, it's hard to miss. Besides, by going to college football games, you meet a nice class of people."
Conners, 82, lives in Easton, the Leopards' den. He spends much of his time between games hanging out at the insurance company he founded, which is now run by his son and grandson. Conners remembers that he went to his first Lehigh-Lafayette game with his father and Dr. Arthur Fox. He treasures a souvenir ticket that he keeps in his wallet. Unfortunately, it's from his second game, in 1913. Conners almost didn't make that game because Dr. Fox's Model T lost the plug in its oil pan. Dr. Fox jammed a corncob into the hole, and they made it to Taylor Field in time for the kickoff. Chenoweth threw a touchdown pass to give Lehigh a 7-0 win.
Conners remembers the old players best. Like Joe DuMoe. "Joe was sort of a tramp athlete from Syracuse and Ford-ham," he recalls. "They found out he was a professional hockey player and tossed him out of school." And Doc Elliott, a freshman who took over as fullback midway through the 1921 season and scored every Leopard touchdown in a 28-6 rout of the Engineers. "After the season Doc got mixed up with a bad crowd," says Conners. "He and some guys cleaned out the York Restaurant and threw a safe out the window. Doc was thrown out of college, too."
The one game Conners didn't particularly care for was the Engineers' 78-0 win in 1917. "We always claimed all our boys went to war," he says, "and theirs stayed home and went to Lehigh."
The Leopards have won only three times in the past 13 years, but they still hold a 65-49-5 edge. "We're so far ahead that they'll never catch up while I'm alive," Conners says. "At least I have that satisfaction."
WES SCHULMERICH AND CHARLES THARP
Wes Schulmerich seems as tall as a Douglas fir and has a booming laugh that sounds like an eruption at Mount St. Helens. He's 83 and his face has a crisp ruggedness to it. Charles Tharp, who is 79, is a rotund, short-legged former Chrysler dealer with steel-frame glasses that make his ears bug out. His hair has thinned considerably, and his face has some well-earned lines.