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Mike Lopresti | | September 19, 2017

7 of the most-played college football rivalries of all time

After a fourth quarter comeback, Cincinnati Bearcats win their 12th game with rival Miami (Ohio).

OXFORD, Ohio – One of college football’s most glorious rivalries already in the books for 2017? Yep, and this is what losing it for the 12th consecutive year looks like. Every syllable from the beaten coach comes with anguish.

We’ll hear from Miami’s Chuck Martin in a minute. But first, here’s to the kings of college football rivalries, and only the longest-running need apply. Michigan-Ohio State? They’re relative newcomers, at a paltry 113 meetings. Also, because of conference realignment, such venerable couples as Kansas-Missouri and Texas-Texas A&M have gone the way of the pay telephone.

These, then, are the magnificent seven, in reverse order by number of meetings:

No. 7 Cincinnati vs. Miami (Ohio)

The southwestern Ohio neighbors, Cincinnati and Miami, just went at it Saturday night for the 122nd time, and Cincinnati put up two touchdowns in the final 2:52 to pull out a 21-17 win, going ahead on a pick-six at 1:07. Longest-running series west of the Alleghenies, as the saying here goes. The two have been playing since 1888, the year Jack the Ripper terrorized London and Vincent van Gogh sliced off part of his left ear. That’s a long time for two schools who have not been in the same conference since the 1950s. And since they just extended the Battle for the Victory Bell through 2029, they’ll be seeing a lot more of each other.
“You never want to see rivalries go away,” Martin said. “That’s not good for college football.”
Those words were in the hopeful glow of last week. But this was a stunned Martin Saturday night, after the Victory Bell had gone poof in the last 172 seconds.

“They played their hearts out, deserved a better fate. The coaching staff deserved a better fate, the equipment people deserved a better fate, the media people deserved a better fate, the strength staff deserved a better fate...most difficult defeat I’ve had in 25 years, probably by a wide margin.”

Rivalry games. They can hurt.

New Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell told his players last week he wouldn’t even put a finger on the Bell until he had earned it, out of respect for those who came before him. “I didn’t touch that Victory Bell until that game was over, because I didn’t feel like it was right.”

It was his quarterback, Hayden Moore, who mentioned, “It’s in the back of your head, you don’t want to be that team to let the Bell go.”

So rivalry game season is underway, Most come in the late-season November chill, but as non-conference opponents, these two play early, before a crowd of short pants. Cincinnati’s streak has cut Miami’s once-mighty lead in the series to 59-56-7.

They will soon be tied for No. 7. When North Carolina and Virginia play in October, and Brown and Yale meet in November, they’ll also be at 122.

No. 6 Cornell vs. Penn

This onced ranked right up there with the balloons in Macy’s parade as a regular sight on Thanksgiving. Penn has had its way in the 123 games, by a 72-46-5 margin.

No. 5 Minnesota vs. Wisconsin

Minnesota vs. Wisconsin, with 126 games. To the winner goes the spoils, which in this case is Paul Bunyan’s Axe. The last time they didn’t play was 1906, and that’s because President Theodore Roosevelt, appalled at the growing casualty rate in football, put a temporary hold on heated rivalries.

You want even? They're 59-59-8, but the Badgers have needed 13 victories in a row for that tie. If they win in November, they’ll be leading the series for the first time in history

No. 4 Richmond vs. William & Mary

Richmond vs. William & Mary, at 127. Once, they played for the I-64 Trophy, since the road goes by both Richmond and Williamsburg. But someone decided the Capital Cup – denoting the past two capital cities of Virginia – was more appealing than something named after a freeway. It’s been close, too, with William & Mary barely ahead 62-60-5.

No. 3 Harvard vs. Yale

The game has its own timeless aura, but is only No. 3 in seniority at 133. They’d have played more often, but they had to call a pause to the series and let temperatures cool after seven players were carried off on a stretcher in 1894. Yale snapped a nine-game losing streak last November and leads the series 66-59-8.  

No. 2 Princeton vs. Yale

Their first of 139 games came only eight years after the Civil War. Yale leads the series 76-53-10, including a 10-0 victory in 1888. But that was something of a moral victory for Princeton, since that Yale team was on the rather dominant side – as in a 13-0 record, by a combined score of 698-0. If only there had been computers, imagine Yale’s power ratings.

No. 1. Lafayette vs. Lehigh 

The granddaddy of them all, at 152 meetings, between two schools 20 minutes apart in eastern Pennsylvania, who together barely amount to 10,000 students.

Lafayette can claim two pretty important innovations in the sport. It was player George Barclay in 1896, concerned about protecting himself from cauliflower ears, who came up with the idea of a football helmet. And it was coach Herb McCracken in 1924, worried that Penn had studied his team enough to steal its signals, who concocted something called a huddle. Both gimmicks stuck.

Lafayette leads the series 78-69-5, but Lehigh has won seven of the last nine – far different than the dark days of the 1940s, when seven Lafayette victories in a row came by a combined score of 232-7. The Lehigh coach back then probably sounded a lot like Chuck Martin Saturday night.

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