BOSTON — Before freezing through a disappointing 125th Harvard-Yale football game, hundreds of Elis endured an equally cold reception at the scaled-down tailgate.

For two hours before the game, a smaller than usual crowd of students assembled in school colors and shivered in the cold, some of them drinking from illicit flasks — if they were brave enough to take their hands out of their pockets, that is.

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The festivities before Saturday’s game were widely expected to be a flop after Harvard last month unveiled stricter regulations for the tailgate. And while students seemed ready to accept the bans on UHauls, underage drinking and tailgating past kickoff, the 29-degree weather and single-digit wind chill outside Harvard Stadium on Saturday caught many of them by surprise.

Since heavy drinking at the tailgate hospitalized two-dozen students in 2004, Harvard has steadily ramped up its restrictions on what students can and cannot do in the critical morning hours before The Game. This year, after the Boston Police Department pushed them to crack down even harder, Harvard officials sparked outcry with a set of regulations that some students said that turned the pre-game revelry into little more than a glorified buffet line.

Alumni said student turnout seemed smaller than in past years, suggesting that Harvard’s policies may have caused some students to skip the tailgate altogether. Still, others persevered, trying “to have fun with Harvard’s lame rules,” as Michelle Wong ’08 put it.

“It’s a lot smaller this year,” Wong said. “It’s sad. It’s a lot better at Yale.”

Students were quick to attack the student tailgate’s location. Attendees had to walk past Harvard Stadium, a grassy field and an outdoor track to find the several fenced-in tennis courts inside of which students were corralled for the tailgate.

By 11:15 a.m. — over halfway through the shortened tailgate —several hundred students had gathered on the courts, where they huddled for warmth and gripped steaming cups of clam chowder.

“I never thought tennis courts could be used for a lamer activity, but I’ve been proven wrong,” Justin Berk ’10 said of the tailgate.

And Berk had been hoping for better, despite Harvard’s new regulations.

“I felt the tailgate had a lot of potential,” he said. “If people could actually find where it was.”

Harvard’s attempts to keep the tailgate dry appeared mixed. As per guidelines, there were no kegs allowed and underage students were turned away from alcohol service areas. But there was no shortage of booze among the crowd — smuggled in jacket pocket flasks, musical instruments and water bottles — as Harvard officials did not inspect students entering the tailgate as strictly as they did in 2006.

Tailgates by Timothy Dwight and Jonathan Edwards colleges anchored the event for many students, who called those set-ups a bright spot of the morning.

Ilana Seager contributed reporting.