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House on the Hill: Exceeding Expectations

Jan. 14, 2014

From the moment the decision was made to hold the 150th meeting of Lafayette and Lehigh at Yankee Stadium, Bruce McCutcheon held his breath.

Two months ago, Lafayette College's athletic director finally exhaled and then he breathed a sigh of relief which culminated with a gasp of excitement.

It's all been well deserved.

During a 10-day stretch in November when tickets to the 150th meeting between Lafayette's football program and rival Lehigh went on sale, the institutions combined to sell more than 30,000 tickets to the game set to be played at Yankee Stadium on Nov. 22, 2014. The number currently stands at more than 42,000.

“There was honestly a pretty significant financial risk to the whole thing,” McCutcheon said. “The deal with the Yankees was all based on tickets sales. We were thinking long and hard about going through with the deal.”

McCutcheon, unlike administrators at Lehigh, knew he'd face criticism from alumni about moving the game out of Easton and to New York City. They barked at McCutcheon, whose school leads the series 77-67-5 and won last year's game 50-28, for giving up home field advantage.

“I get that,” McCutcheon said. “But when Army and Navy played [at Lincoln Financial Field this year], they didn't play their last game at home. [In fact] those seniors never play their last game at home. They always play on the road.”

With everything McCutcheon and Lafayette had on the line, why take the chance?

“For me it was to provide a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the students who would participate in the event,” McCutcheon said.

“If we held the 150th meeting at Fisher Stadium, it would have been outstanding and we would have filled the stadium. But my view at the end of the day, it wouldn't have been a whole lot different than Game 148 or 152 [at Fisher Stadium].

But if you take it to one of the most iconic sports stadiums in the world, then it's a game to remember.”

Director of Athletics Bruce McCutcheon talks about the 150th Meeting at Yankee Stadium.

McCutcheon admitted the two schools originally set their sites at selling a combined 30,000 tickets, a number that would allow them not to take a big hit financially. And because McCutcheon and Lehigh's athletic director Joe Sterrett weren't certain how long it would take to reach their target goal, they opted to start selling tickets a year in advance. McCutcheon never envisioned that the only tickets Lafayette would have left at this point would be the ones that will go on sale to students in April. Now, both schools stand to turn a small profit from this game.

“Frankly, I'm amazed at how huge this thing has gotten,” McCutcheon said. “The closer we get to this, the more excited people are getting.”Elisabeth MacDonald '81, a member of Lafayette’s Board of Trustees, and her father, Edward Hughes ’52, were ecstatic from the onset.

“My first reaction was ‘oh my gosh, that’s over the top and I love it,’” MacDonald said.  “This is an outstanding opportunity to showcase the College and raise the profile on a national level.”

MacDonald quickly admits that she is not nearly the football fan that her father is. “He is truly living for this game,” added MacDonald.  He has said that he will be there even if he has to be taken in a wheelchair.”

Joe Maddon '76, a former Lafayette football and baseball player who is the manager for the Tampa Bay Rays, is also one of those looking forward to the game. One of Maddon's fratenity brothers from Zeta Psi bought a block of tickets. Maddon will bring his wife, Jaye, and will be sitting with the rest of his fraternity brothers and their families.

Although he doesn't know the exact location of his seat, Maddon will be there, in the stands cheering on the Leopards in a stadium where he has stood in the visitors dugout countless times, and that's all that matters to him.

“The only thing I can compare this to was when I played summer ball in the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League in the summer of 1974 and we played the Cape Cod League All-Stars,” Maddon said. “Normally that game is played at Fenway Park, but that summer, we played on some field in Cape Cod and I was disappointed. I totally agree with the memory component of playing at Yankee Stadium for the coaches and fans and players. On a personal level it does benefit everyone who is playing.”

Lafayette and Lehigh opted to turn the historic game into an extended weekend of memorable gatherings for alumni, faculty, staff and students. On Thursday, Nov. 20, the Presidents of each institution will ring the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange. There also will be a welcome reception at the Marriott Marquis, Times Square, where Lafayette and Lehigh friends can mingle and network.

On Friday, Nov. 21, the two schools join forces for coffee and conversation followed by a panel discussion featuring alumni and faculty experts from both institutions at Morgan Stanley & Co. World Headquarters.

Blocks of rooms have been reserved at several hotels throughout the city. Those interested in staying at one of those hotels should mention Lafayette College when booking to receive one of the discounted rates, which are available until predetermined reservation deadlines.

“We'll go out to dinner with some friends and stay at least one night,” Maddon said. “We're not just driving in for the game to watch and leave. I have a lot of pride in Lafayette.”

By Mandy Housenick

House on the Hill