Williams-Amherst rivalry has been an interesting ride

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WILLIAMSTOWN -- There's more to every great college football rivalry than the game itself.

The Williams-Amherst football series is no exception.

Throughout the rivalry, there have been rituals, pranks, memorable pre-game speeches, and even a threat.

The 125th game in the series is today at Amherst.

The following is a list of 10 interesting facts associated with the rivalry, which began in 1884 and has become known as "The Biggest Little Game in America."

1. THE WALK: After Williams upset Amherst 31-14 at Weston Field in 1971, the winners piled into a school bus for the cross-campus ride back to Cole Field House. Fed up with waiting for the bus to leave, offensive tackle Dave "The Tank" Shawan suggested that the team walk back to campus.

Thus was born "The Walk," the Williams football team's postgame walk up Spring Street after a Homecoming Game victory over either Wesleyan or Amherst, depending on the year.

The Walk ends at St. Pierre's Barbershop, where the players smoke cigars and the upperclassmen cut the freshmen's hair. The barbershop portion of the ritual began in 1987 after a Williams victory over Amherst.

In 1992, Sports Illustrated chose The Walk as "The Best Post Game Tradition in America."

Shawan died in 2008 at age 58 after a long illness. Before last year's Amherst game in Williamstown, his teammates dedicated two plaques that hang in his honor in the barbershop.

2. THE THREAT: The week before the 1958 game, Williams star running back Harlow "Chip" Ide, a senior, received an anonymous threat postmarked "Amherst" that was written in a childish scrawl on a tiny slip of paper, according to The Eagle.

"Dear Mr. Ide," the note began. "If you don't want to get hurt, you won't play against Amherst. If you do, your chances are even that you will. I hope that you decide not to play. That will be fine." The letter was signed, "A friend."

Ide, who had gained 896 yards and scored 10 touchdowns that season, put the note on a bulletin board and decided to play. Coach Len Watters used Ide as a "decoy" most of the afternoon as Williams won 12-7.

3. THE RUSE: In 1928, Amherst sent a player into the game wearing a Williams jersey "in hope of utilizing him thus disguised in various trick plays," according to the Williams Record, the campus newspaper.

But the ruse quickly was noticed by the officials, and "the man was forced to abandon all modesty and change jerseys in midfield." Williams won 40-15.

But the ruse quickly was noticed by the officials, and "the man was forced to abandon all modesty and change jerseys in midfield." Williams won 40-15.

4. THE LETTER: Two days before the 1989 game, a letter from Los Angeles Raiders owner Al Davis appeared at Williams.

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Davis, who was a friend of Williams assistant coach Renzie Lamb, wrote that he was going to watch the game on television and urged the Ephs to "win, baby, win."

The Ephs beat Amherst 17-14 to complete the first unbeaten, untied season in school history. A few weeks later, it was discovered that the secretary in the school's football office actually had written the letter on Raiders' stationery that had been obtained by a friend of Lamb's.

5. THE SPEECH: Six months after the United States entered World War I, Williams Latin professor Henry D. Wild, a member of the college athletic council, told an all-school assembly before the 1917 game that "there was enough enthusiasm latent in Williams to drive the Germans out of Venice."

The Ephs drove the Lord Jeffs out of Williamstown, 20-0.

6. THE PRANKS: In "The Great Riot of 1946," 25 carloads of Williams students intent on damaging Pratt Field were met in the town of Amherst by 200 Amherst students, who flooded the town's main street with water, turning it into a sheet of ice that caused cars to overturn.

The incident was so heinous that the two schools agreed to ban pre-game pranks. The truce lasted until 1955, when a small group of Williams students "kidnapped" two Amherst students to speak at a pep rally.

Williams students originally had planned to take only one Amherst student, but they took the second because it was so easy. A Williams dean was forced to write an apology.

7. FINAL-GAME DEFEATS: Three of the winningest coaches in Williams football history -- Charlie Caldwell, Len Watters and Bob Odell -- suffered close losses to Amherst in their final games as Ephs coaches.

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Caldwell's undefeated team lost 12-6 in 1942, Watters' players fell 7-0 in 1962, and Odell's team lost 10-7 in 1986. All three games were played at Amherst.

On the other side, Amherst's legendary coach, the late Jim Ostendarp, had three previously undefeated teams lose their final game to Williams.

In 2008, Amherst dedicated a plaque in Ostendarp's memory at Pratt Field. Before going to Amherst, Ostendarp spent three years as an assistant coach at Williams in the mid-1950s.

8. THE ALMOST EPH: Amherst's star wide receiver, Fred Scott, who played nine years in the NFL after graduating in 1974, told a reporter on the eve of the 1973 game that he almost went to Williams.

A native of Pine Bluff, Ark., Scott said he was one of three players involved in an academic scholarship program who had been invited to visit both schools.

"Two of us were supposed to go to Williams, one to Amherst," Scott said. "I was the one who ended up at Amherst, and I liked it so much I ended up going there."

9. THE LAST TIE: Three of the 124 games between Williams and Amherst have ended in a scoreless tie. The last one, played at Williams on Nov. 11, 1995, also is the most recent tie game played in U.S. college football. The NCAA instituted overtime to settle tie games in 1996.

10. THE BIG TIME: ESPN sent its College Game Day crew to Williamstown in 2007 for the Williams-Amherst game, the first and only time the all-sports network has visited a Division III site for Game Day.

The Williams-Amherst rivalry was first shown on cable television in 1985.

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Today

What: The 125th game between Williams and Amherst in a college football series that began in 1884. Williams leads 70-49, with five ties.

When: Today at noon.

Where: Pratt Field, Amherst.

Records: Williams 7-0; Amherst 6-1.

Last year: Amherst won 26-21. Williams won 24-23 the year before.

TV: NESN; www.teamline.cc

Longest rivalries

The top five in college football, by number of games played (through 2009):

Rivalry Games First year Division

1. Lehigh-Lafayette 145 1884 I-AA

2. Yale-Princeton 132 1873 I

3. Yale-Harvard 126 1875 I

4. Williams-Amherst 124 1884 III

5. Albion-Kalamazoo 123 1896 III

Note: Williams and Amherst met twice apiece in 1884, 1885 and 1886 and didn't meet in 1902, 1903, 1943, 1944 and 1945.


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