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House on the Hill: Field of Dreams

December 10, 2014

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A couple of years ago when Fran Mustaro '72 got wind of the plan to have Lafayette College play Lehigh University at Yankee Stadium for the football teams' 150th meeting, he was beside himself.

The venue, in his eyes, was all wrong. It was too big, too impersonal and lacked the home-field advantage the Leopards would have when playing the marquee game at Fisher Stadium.

"I went as far as writing a letter to Jim Dicker and Friends of Lafayette Football, and I said the whole tailgating experience would be curtailed," said Mustaro, Class of '72. "The idea of coming into New York City would be a challenge, particularly for older alumni. It just didn't give me a good feeling.

Head coach Frank Tavani presents President Alison Byerly with a game ball for all of her efforts to make the 150th meeting of Lafayette-Lehigh a success

"I 100 percent missed it. I thought several times since then, 'Boy, how could I have had so little vision?'"

The game, which the Leopards won 27-7, and all the festivities surrounding it, were a huge success.

President Alison Byerly was pulled in countless directions in the days leading up to and during the game. But she didn't allow that to take away from the experience of it all.

"I could not be prouder of Lafayette as a whole," said Byerly, who has received many compliments from her cohorts at other colleges and universities. "You spend so much time with the planning and the logistics, and often you think nothing will be a surprise. But in the moment, it felt so much more magical than I had anticipated. I thought, 'This is it. I'm at Yankee Stadium, but it's us.'

"It seemed amazing to me that we had pulled it off. Yankee Stadium felt like our neighborhood. I actually felt quite awestruck with it myself. That's something I will cherish forever."

More than 49,000 tickets were sold for the game, which greatly surpassed anyone's expectations. The college's "Live Connected, Lead Change" campaign, which is aiming to raise more than $400 million, kicked off the public phase at the American Museum of Natural History on the eve of the game with about 500 people in attendance. During the event, it was announced that an anonymous donor had recently made a $10 million gift that would go toward financial aid for students.

"It seemed amazing to me that we had pulled it off. Yankee Stadium felt like our neighborhood. I actually felt quite awestruck with it myself. That's something I will cherish forever."

-- Alison Byerly

The two schools also collaborated to light the Empire State Building and agreed to celebrate the rivalry by lighting it maroon, brown and white.Lafayette alumni and fans from all over the country, both young and old, gathered on Lafayette Street on Thursday. And when Saturday afternoon, Nov. 22, rolled around, the area surrounding Yankee Stadium was filled with fans donning tons of maroon and white.It was a scene that overwhelmed athletic director Bruce McCutcheon.

"There were people who came back for that game in New York City and the festivities, that frankly, would not have been here if the game were in Easton," McCutcheon said. "I thought that was terrific. My wife and I left Grand Central Station on Saturday morning to go to the stadium and as we walked up 42nd Street, the street was just filled with people in Lafayette gear. That was just a cool thing. It was just awesome."

So, too, was everything else that transpired before, during and after the big game.

Led by Scott Morse, director of athletic communications and promotions, and his team, Lafayette had full use of Yankee Stadium's numerous video boards to promote everything the institution has to offer.

Morse and his staff led a team of numerous administrators in Lafayette's Communications Division that collaborated for more than a year with a group of Lehigh staff to develop informative, yet catchy pieces to be shown on-screen for the sell-out crowd. In addition to vignettes about Lafayette and Lehigh and hearing from alumni who were sending messages to their respective schools, tweets popped up on-screen from viewers across the country who were sending their well-wishes.

"Scott and his team did a superb job with that," McCutcheon said. "My only position on all that was that I wanted it to be a balanced product between the two institutions, who they are and what they do. I wanted to make sure we positioned ourselves in a positive light and make sure Lehigh had that same opportunity. So even though it was a home game, we put it together more like a bowl game."

For McCutcheon, Byerly and Mustaro, it was better than any bowl game, though.

"It blew the doors off my expectations," McCutcheon said. "I knew having it at Yankee Stadium would be a big deal. I knew we would have to work hard. My personal goal was to have 35,000 to 36,000 people there. That would have filled the lower level. But the way it caught fire was beyond my wildest dreams. My takeaway from that was I thought big, but clearly not big enough."

By Mandy Housenick | House on the Hill