Football’s OK, but The Game is about camaraderie

I went to my first Harvard game in Cambridge 35 years ago. I don’t remember anything about it. I do remember that I spent the evening and most of the night trooping through various rooms in Harvard Yard with a friend from seventh and eighth grade. And that’s sort of typical of me and The Game. I don’t remember much of what went on at the actual football games I saw, but I remember a lot of the goings on before and after.

The two Games I know the most about were two I didn’t attend. The first was The Tie, in 1968. I was a junior in high school. Everyone knows that Yale and Harvard both went into The Game undefeated, that nationally-ranked Yale was led by its Olympian quarterback and halfback, Brian Dowling and Calvin Hill, and that Yale led by 16 points with less than two minutes to play. I’d rather not talk about the rest. But I also know that my brother (Class of ’71) was at that game, and he didn’t see Harvard score the final touchdown or the tying two-point conversion.

He was too busy tearing down the goalpost at the other end of the field.

The other Game I remember but didn’t attend was my senior year, the fall of 1973. Why wasn’t I there? My brother again. He got married that day, and I was the best man. I was a bit chafed that he and his then-fiancee, also an alum, had scheduled their wedding on the day of The Game. I was even more upset after I heard what had happened on the field that day. Senior quarterback Kevin Rogan, in the only start of his career, led the Elis to a 35-0 victory over the Crimson. Grrr. You only get one chance to go to the Harvard game your senior year, and I had missed mine.

Perhaps that was why, 10 years later, I was overjoyed that my fiancee and I settled on Oct. 29 for a wedding day. I checked the calendar, and the date fit perfectly for an almost three-week honeymoon, a flight back from Italy on Friday, and then the Game on Saturday. My bride claims (none too happily) that we cut our honeymoon short to go to The Game, but I knew that we had to be back several days early anyway before returning to work that Monday.

As for the games I did attend, either as an undergraduate or an alumnus, I can’t remember much. I have a vague impression of Carm Cozza’s predictable offense being outclassed, if not outscored, by imaginative or daring plays devised by Joe Restic or some other Harvard coach. And I remember singing myself hoarse with “Bulldog” after touchdowns and field goals, “Down the Field” at halftime and “Bright College Years” when we won. Details of the games? Not so accessible.

But other things about the weekends come back. I remember having Saturday classes moved to Friday (Friday classes were canceled) so we could travel to Cambridge. I remember tailgating with Uncle Bill (Harvard ’39) and Aunt Bunny, down from Springfield for The Game. That was where I learned what tailgating is — not just a picnic before a football game, but a glorious event that made the outcome of the game secondary. I kept up the practice, although perhaps not with the same degree of elegance, with classmates from Davenport. Later, when my father (Yale ’39) and mother moved east, I would tailgate with them, my wife and children and others, and we would play impromptu touch football. I believe these times were what first convinced my son (Class of ’07) that Yale was the school for him.

I always remember the unique angle of the sunlight in mid to late November at three in the afternoon, as one side of the Bowl, or of Harvard Stadium, waved handkerchiefs at the other.

I always fully expect Yale to win, I know it will come down to a few plays in the fourth quarter, and I know that it doesn’t really matter. The times together with family and friends matter.

Stow Lovejoy is a graduate of Yale College, Class of 1974.