Looking back at my first Game experience, I can’t help but laugh at my foolish naivete. As a freshman, I was still caught up in the intoxication of Yale lore. I circled The Game on my calendar as the ultimate Eli experience. Even better, my friend from home was visiting, and I was excited to show him all the sights and sounds of Yale. It would be a weekend of frat parties and tailgates destroying his preconceived notion of the square Yalie, culminating in the football team’s domination of our athletically-handicapped counterparts on the hallowed grounds of the Yale Bowl.
My bright-eyed enthusiasm quickly gave way to unresponsive grief. As I saw Harvard score after Harvard score I finally knew what my first-grade soccer coach must have felt like when I scored on my own goal twice in one game — a mixture of anger, disgust and utter confusion. I aged five years that day.
And as if it wasn’t bad enough, my friend turned to me and smugly delivered a fatal blow. “Man, Harvard DOES own you, like, in everything.” And while I exacted my revenge later, the words lingered in my mind. It hit me that it wasn’t just that we lost a football game. It was more than that. Our social reputation and essential identity were on the line.
Over the years we have worked diligently to create the image of Yale as “the cool Ivy.” Sure, Harvard may hold a monopoly on the popular consciousness as the premiere institution of higher learning in America. But who cares, we’re kick-ass. We stuffed Harvard kids in lockers on our way to AP English. We hate to be associated with those nerds from Cambridge. They were the shunned outsiders in high school, but no, not us. We were the ‘cool smart kids’; our social mobility was unparalleled, allowing us to migrate seamlessly from the jocks to the preps to the Plastics. No matter how delusional this might be, our sacred identity is nonetheless under siege. Now I know what you’re thinking (“Take it easy, Seagal”), but few seem to realize that our recent failings in The Game threaten our existence as the Zack Morris to Harvard’s Screech.
Sports is the universal symbol of cool, and football is the supreme sport in America. It’s a complex game that pushes your mental capacity with strategies, formations and audibles. But more importantly, its savage physicality has enabled it to become the ultimate test of strength, power and masculinity. So while we may triumph over Harvard in several country-club sports, how can we hold onto our top spot on the Ivy social totem pole without football?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to put down the athletes from these aforementioned sports. They are fun to watch, add to the rich diversity of Yale school spirit, and who am I to judge anyway? I did marching band in high school and was cut from JE IM Hoops — B Team. But let’s be honest, the squash and fencing kids didn’t get invited to all the unreal parties in high school. It was the football players.
This is why The Game does matter. Especially now that our tailgating traditions are under attack, The Game itself takes on even more symbolic importance. And I think most of you know this but just don’t want to admit it. I don’t really blame you either. It’s hard for us to show enthusiasm for The Game when none of us have sniffed a Yale victory since we’ve been here. We stay outside the stadium and drown our sorrows in warm beer. Why go inside and see the enemy score at will, as some four-eyed Harvard geek erroneously refers to the latest touchdown pass as an “alley-oop” and compares it to the thrills of receiving a new edition of Philosophy Now in the mail? Why put ourselves through that shame, when Milwaukee’s Best is being so good to us outside? So we downplay the significance of The Game, print t-shirts that say “Tailgate ’05” and perform passive-aggressive pranks that involve handing out signs to Harvard fans revealing a self-degrading put-down for the whole world to see (no, wait — just us). Oh yeah, Harvard, we went there.
But really, who are we kidding, besides ourselves? I would love to see Jeff Mroz ’06 throw a bullet through the Crimson secondary to Ashley Wright ’07 for a score. Or watch Jordan Spence ’07 dance past the Harvard defense into the end zone, then promptly whip out a No. 2 pencil and a Blue Book, Yale’s rendition of a T.O. celebration. Or better yet, I’d trade it all in a second to witness defensive end Brandon Dyches ’06 Rock Bottom a meek Harvard running back then raise an eyebrow to assert his physical supremacy over the mangled body. And I think you would too.
I’m not going to lie, I have a personal stake in all of this. My insanely overachieving sister went to Harvard, setting the stage for her less-accomplished brother to follow suit. But I didn’t get in, and instead happily went to Yale. So while definitely proud to be a Bulldog, it’s not fun to see my mom happily sport her Harvard sweater as my dad waxes his car with the Yale shirt I bought him last Christmas. Nor is it reassuring when at the end of every semester my mom still asks me if I want to transfer to Harvard.
But I’m not bitter. Really, I’m not. It’d just be nice to see the football team finally get the Cambridge monkey off its collective back so we won’t have to hide behind our tailgates and pranks and finally acknowledge that The Game is important to us. So we can reclaim our well-deserved position as the kick-ass kids on the Ivy block and take Kelly Kapowski to the Screw. Or at the very least, so I can stick it to my dad, who after the past two Games has called me lamenting “Saw the score — well, at least you get to come home now.”
Winston Hsiao is a junior in Jonathan Edwards College.