Lafayette College's 1896 national collegiate football championship was one of the most surprising and dramatic in the history of college football, and included arguably the first college football 'upset.' Lafayette began their season by tying Princeton 0–0, the first tie in their series, and defeated the University of West Virginia three times in three days by a combined score of 56–0.
At 4–0–1, Lafayette was set to meet the University of Pennsylvania on October 24 at Franklin Field. Penn, coached by George Woodruff, was in the midst of a 34-game winning streak and was only guaranteeing Lafayette $150 for a game that would net $10,000. As an intense media war surrounded the game, Lafayette enrolled Fielding H. Yost, a tackle from West Virginia, whom Lafayette had defeated in the final game of their series on October 17. With Yost, College Football Hall of Famer Charles "Babe" Rinehart, and the inventor of the football helmet George "Rose" Barclay on the field, Lafayette won 6–4. It was the first victory of a 'small school' over one of the Big Four (Harvard-Yale-Penn-Princeton). Penn would win its next 31 games. Lafayette closed its season with an 18–6 win over Navy. Following the season, Lafayette was recognized as national champions along with Princeton (11–0–1) and was the first national champion outside of the H-Y-P-P rotation. However, absent from their 1896 record book was the annual rivalry with Lehigh, which cancelled two games scheduled for November in protest over the eligibility and amateur status of Barclay who had played professional baseball the previous summer.