The Williams-Amherst rivalry has been fierce ever since the second president of Williams, Zephaniah Smith Moore, left Williams in 1821 to found Amherst College. In essence, Moore was in support of a resolution to move Williams to somewhere less remote, and when this resolution failed, he decided to move anyway. Since then, the two schools have tried to one-up each other in a most epic sibling rivalry extending to almost every conceivable arena, but nowhere more explicitly than on the football field, starting in 1884. The annual game has come to be known as “The Biggest Little Game in America”; although the Ephs fell this year, they lead the overall series 71-50-5. The game has been surrounded with great tradition – both of the innocuous and devious sort.
Retired Williams football coach Renzie Lamb is famous for his pre-game speech to the team in which he said, “If you wish to be happy for an hour, get intoxicated. If you wish to be happy for three days, get married. If you wish to be happy for eight days, kill your pig and eat it. If you wish to be happy forever, beat Amherst.” That sentiment has led to the creation of a number of traditions. When Williams won against Amherst in 1971 after losing for three straight years, players were so energized by the win that it didn’t even faze them when their bus from Weston Field to Cole Field House wouldn’t start. Dave “The Tank” Shawan ’72 was credited in Sports Illustrated with shouting, “To hell with the bus, let’s just walk back!” Indeed, this is what they did, walking up Spring Street, which was lined by the team’s overjoyed, screaming fans – a journey that has subsequently become a football tradition known appropriately as “The Walk,” which the Ephs now make every time they claim a Homecoming victory. Typically, the Williams-Amherst game has attracted the attention of major newspapers and sports channels, and even U.S. presidents. “This rivalry, perhaps the longest running in small-college football, represents the best of this country’s tradition of scholar-athletes,” President Ronlad Reagan said in 1985.
Both Williams and Amherst also have a history of playing jokes before the big game, and some of their pranks have become the stuff of lore. There was the 1938 prank in which Williams students broke into the Amherst art museum right before the big game to steal a famous bronze statue, “Nude Sabrina.” Unfortunately, the statue was set in a cement foundation, so the Ephs recognized their failure with a self-effacing inscription on the statue itself: “We tried hard, anyhow – Williams ’39 and ’41.” (In 1946, their attempt at theft was more successful when Ephs stole the goalposts from Amherst’s Pratt Field.) There was also the amusing 1970s prank when Amherst students spray-painted a giant “A” on Weston Field and Williams students returned the favor by painting a huge “B+” on theirs. Or there’s the 1981 prank at a basketball game, where a Williams student, Ted Cypiot ’81, managed to nab the hat of Lord Jeff, the Amherst mascot, and ran out of the gym with it. When Lord Jeff tried to follow Cypiot, the football captain from the year before, who was visiting for the game, tripped him at the door.
Other pranks are remembered for their sheer audacity. In 1955, a group of Ephs temporarily “kidnapped” two Amherst students. “The group originally intended to kidnap only one student, but it was so easy to do that they went back for another,” the Record reported (“Ephs vs. Jeffs: a wild rivalry,” Nov. 9, 1982). The students were safely returned and an embarrassed Williams dean sent them both letters of apology. In 1996, the Mucho Macho Moo-Cow Marching Band presented the Amherst marching band with a bill for $1.6 billion in library fines for the books that Moore (known as “The Defector” for leaving Williams for Amherst) supposedly took with him. In 2005, the marching band again taunted Amherst, this time with the hilariously inappropriate chant, “Amherst, Amherst don’t be blue. Oedipus loved his mother too!”
That said, Williams has had its share of being pranked too. In the mid-80s, a band of Amherst students self-titled “Rubber Chicken” broke into the Williams equipment room and stole all of the Ephs’ home jerseys and took a picture of themselves in them, with the jerseys pulled up to hide their faces. (The jerseys were eventually returned in a covert exchange between the two schools’ Security departments on the Mohawk Trail.) Eph pranks on the Jeffs have also completely failed, like the so-called “Great Riot” of 1946, where some Williams students drove to Amherst before the big game for some friendly sabotage. Unfortunately for the Ephs, Amherst was forewarned and the Jeffs pelted their cars with everything from “lead pipes to potatoes” (“Unsurprised Amherst students wield novel weapons in Eph-Jeff fracas,” Nov. 22, 1946), and made a thin film of ice on the main street so that one of the Ephs’ cars flipped over (though no one was hurt), according to the Record’s subsequent report.
Ultimately, all of the Williams-Amherst football rivalry is in good fun. As President Falk noted last year in an interview, “These rivalries allow us to indulge passions that are very human, and because we can walk away at the end and return to our real lives, [they’re] safe … [and they] also knit us together in ways that almost nothing else can.”