Tuesday Tradition

Saturday, October 14
The Biggest Little Game in America

On Nov. 13, the Williams College Ephs will meet the Amherst College Lord Jeffs for the 114th time on the Massachusetts gridiron. To call this a college football rivalry would be a huge understatement.

Billed as the "Biggest Little Game in America," Williams vs. Amherst is much more than a contest between two Division III schools of about 2,000 students each. It's a symbol of everything that's right about college football, and its roots burrow deep in the region's history.

Amherst vs. Williams
Amherst and Williams have lined up just like this in 113 games.
Every year, on a late-fall Saturday in New England, non-scholarship players who rarely perform in front of NFL scouts will give everything they have to earn a victory that will help define their collegiate experience. As Ephs coach Dick Farley has been known to say before each Amherst game, "Three hours to play, a lifetime to remember."

The history of the "Biggest Little Game in America" and the intense, yet good-natured, rivalry between the two schools dates to the early part of the 19th century. That's when Williams president Zepheniah Swift Moore resigned his post and -- taking a number of the school's faculty members and students and allegedly some library books with him -- founded Amherst Academy some 50 miles to the southeast.

"Although it's never really been proved, recently the Williams band presented the Amherst band with a bill for about $18 billion in overdue fines," jokes Williams sports information director Dick Quinn. "Really, though, the action by Moore was a real threat to the future of Williams. It led to the establishment of the first college alumni society in the world, which was started in 1821 at Williams to save the school. They raised money and built more buildings, so that today Williams survives. Meanwhile Amherst is known around here as the 'defectors.' I think of it as the purest rivalry because of the defection. Harvard didn't defect from Yale."

The two schools first met on the gridiron in 1884, and throughout its history, the "Biggest Little Game in America" has provided a wealth of anecdotes and memories for fans, students, athletes and alumni. Last year, for example, Amherst won the toss and tried an onside kick to start the game. The Lord Jeffs recovered. In 1928, Amherst tried to sneak a student wearing a Williams jersey onto the field to confuse the opposition. It didn't work.

"We had 48 combined Williams/Amherst alumni associations around the country, in virtually every big city you can name, that watched the game via satellite last year," said Quinn. "Sometimes, the alumni will play a touch football game the morning of the real contest and phone in the scores: 'Yeah, this is the alumni from Minnesota and we just won 12-6. Go Ephs!'"

As it stands, Williams leads the most-played rivalry in Division III by a margin of 63-45 with five ties. And we're fortunate to have that record set in stone. Until Amherst and Williams representatives met in 1964 to settle matters, the two schools' respective record books were at odds on an amazing nine "Biggest Little Game" scores between 1884 and 1925.

Last season's contest marked the fifth consecutive time that one of the teams entered the season finale 7-0-0. The Ephs have denied the Lord Jeffs a perfect season six times while Amherst has spoiled Williams' undefeated streak twice.

"In my 10 years here, I've never seen less than 10,000 people at a game, even at the 0-0 downpour in 1995," says Quinn. "It's just a tremendous event -- in the state, in the region and really across the country."

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