The Syracuse Orange and Princeton Tigers were never meant to be a rivalry with so much history.
The schools met on the lacrosse field for the first time 101 years ago in Syracuse during the 1922 season. They met again in Princeton the very next season to complete the home-and-home, but then went a quarter of a century before playing again in 1947. That was nothing compared to the almost 30 year gap that followed until they met again in 1976. That meeting also proved to be a one-off as the sides went the entire ‘80s without playing each other. It seemed to be a matchup that was destined to happen every now and again whenever they could squeeze each other in to their respective schedules.
And then, the early ‘90s happened, and a string of unplanned postseason meetings turned Syracuse vs. Princeton into the game in the sport.
It all started in the 1992 season. The Orange were coming off the massive success of the Gait era three-peat, while the Tigers were just starting to establish themselves under young head coach Bill Tierney. ‘Cuse, of course, was coached by the legend, Roy Simmons, Jr. The schools met on Memorial Day that year in an epic, double overtime title game won by Princeton on a goal off the face-off.
That game kicked off an incredible stretch in which the two met in the postseason 10 times in 12 years from 1992-2003. Four of those games were played to decide the National Champion, including three in a row from 2000-2002. The schools split those four title game matchups.
A huge factor in the rivalry was the fact that over that same stretch, the two programs were dominating the sport overall. Between them, they won 11 titles in 13 years from 1992 to 2004. For a 12 year period from ‘92-’03, every single Princeton season ended with either a national title or a loss to Syracuse in the NCAA Tournament. There was no other option.
Their mirrored success had created something incredible out of virtually nothing. A series that been played four times in 70 years was all of a sudden the hottest ticket every single May. It had become, unequivocally, the best matchup between the two best programs of the era.
After meeting in the postseason five times in a seven year span (‘92, ‘93, ‘95, ‘96, ‘98), the schools decided it was time for them to start playing each other in the regular season, as well. The most consistent stretch of regular season meetings between the two began in 1999, and they would meet in both the regular season and post season every year from ‘99 to 2003, including the three straight title games.
The schools have not played in the postseason since the 2003 quarterfinals, but they did play every year from 1999 through 2013, the most recent meeting before ‘Cuse’s move to the ACC halted the proceedings.
The two are no longer the dominant superpowers of the sport like they were during that run of the ‘90’s and early 2000’s, but no amount of downturn can dim my excitement to see these two put an end to their dormancy. As someone who came of age as a lacrosse fan around the turn of the century during the height of Syracuse-Princeton, I am absolutely thrilled the game is back, at least for one year.
A decade away from each other may have lost the enthusiasm for some, but I will always love seeing the Syracuse orange and blue on the same field as the Princeton orange and black.