From white handkerchiefs to rowdy tailgates, the annual Yale-Harvard game is steeped with more than a century of long-standing tradition and excite- ment. And this weekend, Yale students making the trek to Cambridge will be following the footsteps of past students in a long line of history.
The Harvard-Yale game has drawn large crowds to both schools for more than a hundred years, as students and alumni of the two schools battle out their school pride at the Harvard Sta- dium or Yale Bowl. Alumni from various classes throughout the years say that the traditions surrounding the game will always have a fond place in their memories of college.
Eric Kemmler ’69 fondly recalled the tradition of waving white handker- chiefs during the game. When it was clear that a school’s team was about to win, its students would raise a “sea of white handkerchiefs” in the air — and hopefully they would be “on your side.” Kemmler added that the games used to draw crowd of fifty to seventy thousand people.
“It was an enormous deal,” he said. “From what I can tell, I don’t think the level of interest is nearly as great as it used to be.”
Kemmler also remembered the game of 1968, when the final score ended with a tie of 29–29 and Harvard printed the infamous headline of “Harvard Beats Yale 29–29” in The Crimson. That year’s game in particular sticks to his mind because he soon felt ill afterwards and discovered that he had the Hong Kong flu.
“I blamed it on the game,” Kemmler said.
For some students, friendships played a large role in the memories of the game. Melanie Glinter ’78 remem- bered taking trains out of Union Station early in the morning, when “everybody would pile up and head out.” During her time, the residential colleges of Yale would also meet with the houses of Harvard for intramural sports during the day, she said, which fostered friend- ships with people she is still in touch with to this day.
Glinter said it was also exciting to see what pranks MIT would pull, each year — whether it would be something bur- ied in the ground to go off in the third quarter, or planes flying overhead, it would always be well-planned, fun and disruptive to both teams.
In the 80s, despite a changing social landscape, the tradition of the Harvard- Yale game continued to play a major role in the undergraduate experience of Yale students.
Sarah Aikenhead ’83 recalled tak- ing the train up to Massachusetts with friends to show the Yale spirit on Har- vard’s campus. Even if you didn’t attend any football games throughout the sea- son, she said, “you still attended The Game.”
“A lot of people would tailgate,” Aikenhead said. “When I went to Yale, the drinking age was lower than it is now — students bought beer and had parties outside of the game. It was as much about being there as about the football game itself.”
To Aikenhead, the traditions of the game “shaped the background” of the Yale undergraduate experience at the time — even though, looking back, she sees the game as just one of many ele- ments of the four years.
Years later, the excitement towards the game was still high, said Alfred Cra- mer ’87, despite a 1983 game at the Yale Bowl when Harvard student Margaret Cimino was seriously injured by a fall- ing goalpost.
Other than the tragedy, however, Cramer recalled positive memories suchasprankingHarvardbyplastering the campus with posters, in blatant vio- lation of the school’s rules. It was “all very cloak and dagger,” he remembered, chuckling.
Fast forward almost a decade: The traditions still continue. Students in the twenty-first century celebrate the game just as enthusiastically as they used to, if in smaller numbers. For Drew Baldwin ’03, the best part of the games was the spirit of camaraderie.
“I love the idea of piling into a car with my friends and driving to Bos- ton,” he said, recalling late-night par- ties and weekends spent at friends’ dorms. “You’ll notice that in the end, that’s really the lasting impression you have — and it’s something you can never do again.”
Baldwin said he attended the game once after he had graduated and felt a deep sense of nostalgia at the sight of young students preparing to leave for the game. It “reminds you of how valu- able those experiences are,” he said.
The one true tradition he remem- bers from his experiences at the games, Baldwin mused, is that Yale students going to Harvard’s campus implicitly understood that they had to wear their colors, represent and generally “have a presence.”
“You need to remind Harvard that not only does their team suck, but they suck,” Baldwin said. He was half-jok- ing. And half not.