Urban legend holds that in the era of our grandfathers, the Game was a different place. Where today we have tailgating, beer and barbecues, they had restaurants, cocktails and fancy dates. If we’re to take the social reminisces of JD Salinger’s “Franny” seriously, football games put a stamp of permanence on relationships with the same strength as a modern-day plus one at a wedding. Fast forward to the new millennium and you know the drill. Gone are the white tablecloths and seersucker suits.
But there’s another category of alum: slightly shier, more confused about football, and proud of it. More satisfied with protests and politics, many alumni who attended Yale in the late ’60s and early ’70s had as much apathy for the Game as we do for well, any other football game.
“I think athletic boosterism was uncool in the ’69 to ’73 era,” Kerry Fowler ’73 said, recalling the relative lack of Game-related festivities.
In Fowler’s times, traditions surrounding the Game were slowly modernizing, while awkwardly clinging to their stern past. He once brought an out-of-town date to the game, but she wasn’t a serious girlfriend. He doesn’t really remember tailgating, yet he was drunk during the game.
But for other alumni from the same time period, politics actively replaced old Game traditions.
“I seem to recall I brought with me a copy of — wait for it — “[The] Critique of Pure Reason,”’ Chris Larson ’73 said, “to study and/or prove that I wasn’t a slave of the military-industrial-football complex.”
As if to prove Yale’s stance against a perceived subservience to football culture, the Yale Precision Marching Band added controversy to the Game. One alumnus, Dave MacGillis ’73, said that he attended only one Harvard-Yale game despite his pre-collegiate passion for football, mostly to see this infamous band in play.
“My interest [in football] waned immediately before and during my years at Yale beginning in 1969,” he said. “[But] the band’s political commentary and vaguely obscene antics got Yale football banned by the national television networks.”
This “political commentary” included attacks on President Nixon’s manhood, MacGillis said. Not even Yale alumni pride could save the band from reproach, as older alumni nationally rebuked their antics. Not only had interest in football waned, but a fight over generational lines had also developed — a divide somewhat unfamiliar to recent Yalies who mix so frequently with alumni at tailgates (or steal their alcohol).
But the marching band’s mischief was not entirely serious. According to MacGillis, it even included “fornication formations.” When Ricky Schneider ’73 MED ’77 was in the marching band, show scripts had to be approved by the faculty. As rumor had it, the marching band of 1968 had formed a “Y,” and marching toward their designated end-zone, tried to penetrate the Vassar “V.” At the time, Yale and Vassar were considering a merger.
Unsurprisingly enough, several of these late ’60s alumni reminisced about the place of drugs in the Game’s culture. Where generations before and after have associated heavy drinking with both Friday night and Saturday morning, those students who did still choose to attend the Game brought a different vice along with them.
“Marijuana — and other drugs — had a much bigger place vis-à-vis drinking then than they do now,” Larson said.
An alumna who graduated in 1974 and asked to remain anonymous said that drugs like LSD and mushrooms were also extremely prevalent at the Game, often in place of hard alcohol.
Maybe this generation of alumni had the most unadulterated fun at the Game. As Schneider put it, they were not too concerned about winning or losing. There was no pretense that partying was for anything but partying’s sake.
And for those on the slightly more off-beat side of the field, they look back at their approach to the Game with humor.
“Could I have been so ridiculous?” Larson asked. “Absolutely.”