The Game, This Game, Our Game



Notable moments in the history of the H-Y rivalry.

While there are many rivalries between Harvard and Yale (for example, Harvard leads 5-3 in number of presidents), there is one rivalry that rises above all else and consumes the spirit of November. Anticipation has been mounting steadily all fall and the long–awaited occasion is now upon us. This week brings the 131st meeting of the Harvard – Yale football teams to our very own Harvard Stadium. Boys will become men, girls will swoon, and proud Harvard alum will stand on tiptoes to hear our cheers of victory! Pull out your Crimson hats and scarves (and gloves and face masks and long underwear) for on this chilly Saturday, The Game is played!

Over the ages, The Game has grown into both a rite of passage for students and an annual mecca for Harvard and Yale alumni and families. It remains to this day a test of the strength of the athletes and of the loyalty of the fans. Student preparations for the event include not only picking up tickets, but also scoping out the best tailgates to attend with friends, compiling Crimson gear to wear (a task made easier if your parents visited recently), and looking back on the most notable moments in The Game’s history.

The very first game played between the Harvard Crimson and the Yale Bulldogs took place on November 13, 1875. The game played then was much different than what we call football today, what with rule and uniform changes. Nevertheless, Harvard won 4-0 at Hamilton Field in New Haven. Since history has a habit of repeating itself, I am of the opinion that we won the very first game, we will win this game, and we will win the very last game. Even so, the current standing for The Game is Yale leading 65-57-8 as of last year. This is no cause for alarm, for our Harvard men come to the field with the confidence of an undefeated season and the support of fans at their home field.

The series is the third most-played in college football, and Sports Illustrated has named it the 6th best rivalry in college athletics in 2003. The rivalry is as much a part of all American football’s history as it is part of Harvard and Yale’s respective histories. Both Harvard and Yale have played a large role in creating the American football game, though at times not through the best of conditions. During the 1894 Game, which came to be known as the “Springfield Massacre,” seven players had to be carried off the field in “dying condition” and two others were removed because of a fight. The unprecedented violence of that game led Harvard and Yale to terminate relations for two years. Despite blame being placed on both teams for the brutality of the 1894 Game, Harvard and Yale were able to put the past behind them and resumed competition in 1897.

Other lore The Game has produced includes the introduction of the flying wedge, a V-like formation used in military maneuvers since ancient times, to football by Harvard assistant coach Lorin Deland in the 1892 Game (which was actually made illegal two seasons later because of injuries to the defense). It is rumored that Harvard coach Percy Haughton strangled a bulldog in the locker room prior to the 1908 Game. Some say it was a live dog, some say it was a doll that he had dragged around from the back of his car, but all have no doubt that whatever his motivational methods were, Harvard won 4-0 (a lucky score perhaps?). In a similar vein, Yale coach T.A.D. Jones told his players before the 1923 Game, “Gentlemen, you are now going out to play football against Harvard. Never again in your whole life will you do anything so important.”

Also frequent in the history of The Game is a series of pranks, insults, and other tomfoolery (surprise, surprise). Prior to the 1961 Game, The Crimson sent out a parody of The Yale Daily News stating that President Kennedy would be in attendance. Then, one student wearing a Kennedy mask walked out onto the Yale field while the Harvard Band played “Hail to the Chief”… fooling thousands of fans. It is perhaps comforting to know that Harvard students have always been clever and mischievous. Before the 1933 Game, the Yale bulldog mascot was kidnapped (allegedly by The Lampoon) and a picture of him licking John Harvard’s feet was circulated. Oddly enough, there also seems to be some sort of strange inferiority complex among MIT students that compels them to drop stuffed beavers on our field and cover our motto “Veritas” with the words “Huge Ego.” Oh well, they lack the qualifications to take part in their own rivalry so we permit their involvement in ours.

One of Harvard’s lowest moments in the history of the game came in 1952 when Yale happened to be ahead by enough that they allowed their team manager to come in and catch the two-point conversion. The game ended 41-14 to Yale. We do not speak of it often, except to fuel our hate fires. One of the best moments came in 1968 — a game that is rated one of the top college football games ever played. Both Harvard and Yale entered the competition with 8-0 records and fans had even begun to leave the stadium as the clock wound down and it seemed as if Yale would emerge victorious. Harvard shocked the Yalies (those wearing Crimson that day were dutifully unsurprised) by scoring 16 points in the last 42 seconds! A documentary was made in 2008 about that fateful day titled, Harvard Beats Yale 29-29.

Year in and year out, The Harvard-Yale football game proves to be an indispensable experience for Harvardians and Yalies alike. Let us all hope that Harvard will continue its 21st century domination this year; let us trek to the stadium and cheer on our team; let us don our crimson colors and show our spirit; let us rise again on Sunday morning no matter the outcome…

Caroline C. Cronin’18 ([email protected]) will certainly do so for her first H-Y Game!