When Carl Shedd was a freshman at Yale, he took a trip to Cambridge with his roommate for the annual Harvard-Yale football game. Shedd’s father had given the boys a bottle of Canadian Club Whiskey and told them to have a good time. A few hours of raucous cheering, excitement and a bottle of whiskey later, the two crawled out of the stadium and decided to nap in the car. By the time they woke up, famished, they were devastated to realize Harvard Commons was closed and drove to Shedd’s uncle’s house in Milton, Mass., for a hearty meal.
Shedd’s freshman-year Game story could well have happened last year in Cambridge. But Shedd was a freshman over half a century ago.
Many things about The Game have changed over the years, including how students get to it, how many spectators attend and how much time students spend at the tailgate. But Shedd’s story from 1950, along with those of many other alumni, show that the spirit of The Game — its wild adventures, mischievous atmosphere and general debauchery — has survived throughout the years.
John Calhoun Jr. ’48 said during his undergraduate years, the Bowl was full of people for every game, not just for annual contest with Harvard. The male cheerleaders always whipped up everyone’s energy, he said, despite the fact that there were no microphones or electronics to project their voices.
“There weren’t any agile lady cheerleaders, of course, but they still got an awful lot of response,” Calhoun said. “One of my friends was the head cheerleader, and he would get them up to a fever pitch.”
During one game, Calhoun said a former captain of the Yale football team tried to assault the Harvard bass drum, head-first.
“He thought this was an icon that should be flattened,” Calhoun said. “He was lucky he didn’t break his neck because the drum didn’t fall.”
The spirit of rivalry has led many passionate Yale men to violence throughout the years. David Honneus ’62 observed this competitive fire during his junior year. Yale was ahead by about 30-6, he said, and Harvard had the ball. It was fourth down and 25 yards, and the Harvard punter was about to kick. Then three Yale players — Ben Balme ’61, Hardy Will ’61 and future Chicago Bears center Mike Pyle ’61 — crashed through Harvard’s defensive line and bore down on the punter. Honneus said it was clear the punt would be kicked long before they got to him, but the three Yale men did not slow down.
“I saw Will and Balme look in at Pyle, and he just nodded,” Honneus said. “Then the three of them ran at him with fire in their eyes. We were clearly going to win, and they crushed this guy knowing the penalty wouldn’t matter. I was sitting midfield, and I saw that nod very clearly.”
In another Game a decade earlier, Yale was once again winning comfortably. Tom Shutt ’54 was an assistant to the manager of the Yale team, Chuck Yeager ’53. Yeager was a huge football fanatic, Shutt said, and always had the quarterback throwing passes to him.
At halftime, the coach told Yeager to go put on his uniform. Then, after Yale had run up the score, the coach sent in Yeager, who caught a pass and scored an extra point.
“Harvard was furious,” Shutt said. “Nobody knew who this guy was. His name wasn’t in the roster. The score was horribly one-sided, and they thought it was rubbing salt in the wound. It wasn’t that at all, though. It was just giving a guy who loved football a chance to play in The Game.”
Over the years, students have taken different forms of transportation out to the Yale bowl.
Calhoun said that in the 40s, a street trolley ran along Chapel Street, bringing students to the game. There were no aisles, and it was not enclosed, he said, but students crowded onto it anyway.
Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jeffrey Brenzel ’75 said that when he was an undergraduate, students all walked out to the Bowl along Chapel Street.
“It was a mass movement from campus,” Brenzel said. “It seemed like a huge hike when you were thinking about it ahead of time, but it really went quickly and was great going out and back with friends.”
When The Game is in Boston, students today usually travel by car or by buses hired by the school. But Abby Roth ’90 said that when she was a freshman, everyone traveled to Boston by train.
The train was filled solely with Yale students, she said, and it was, in a sense, the first party of the weekend.
“I remember people hanging upside down in the train doing Jello shots,” she said. “It was like a party train.”
Another aspect of The Game that has not changed through the years is the problem of the cold weather.
Brenzel said the Harvard stadium was always incredibly freezing.
“You sat on concrete seats, and the U-shaped stadium functioned like a wind tunnel,” he said. “Anyone going there for the first time and wearing reasonably warm clothes found themselves in the Arctic.”
In recent years, students have still struggled with the cold. When Caroline Stephenson ’05 was a sophomore, she went out in Boston the Friday night before the Game and lost her friends. She ended up staying in a hotel with many other Yale students, but realized when she woke up that she would be at the tailgate in a tube top, jeans and sandals.
“It was 7 a.m. when we got out there, it was snowing, and the tailgate wasn’t even open yet.” Stephenson said. “I just kept stealing other people’s clothes.”
Stephenson said many of her best Harvard-Yale memories involved staying late at the tailgates. She and her friends would come in and out of the stadium and stay until it got dark, she said.
“I would stay there until 6 p.m. playing football with somebody and then look up and see that nobody was there and be like, ‘I guess it’s time to go home,'” she said.
Stephanie Wei ’05 said that The Game was always more fun at Yale, and that a lot of the fun is more about the tailgate than the football.
“Most people spend more time outside at the tailgates, reminiscing and seeing old friends,” she said. “It’s a time for people who have graduated to see each other. It’s really just a big lawn party.”