In my seminar Yale and America with Jay Gitlin ’71 MUS ’74 GRD ’02, we have recently been talking about the important role that football played in transforming the college into something more than a local Connecticut school, turning it into a national “brand.” Yale football was king of kings — Walter Camp invented the sport as we recognize it today; youth across the nation hung Yale banners in their bedrooms; our overall record by the year 1920 was something along the lines of 324 wins, 14 losses and 17 ties! Although it may seem hard to believe today, thousands of fans filled the Yale Bowl each week in the early 1900s to watch Yale take on the likes of Princeton and Harvard.
Football was an essential part of what Yale was. Yale football was a battle of bragging rights, a game that represented much more than a game.
To go to the Yale Bowl these days just isn’t the same. Obviously, I wasn’t there during the Elis’ heyday — but one need look no further than old headlines and newspaper stories to understand a bit of the fervor that used to surround Yale football.
As part of Yale and America, Professor Gitlin arranged for a visit from Deputy Provost for Academic Resources Lloyd Suttle. Mr. Suttle shared with us a few pieces from his personal collection of Yale memorabilia. The fascinating collection included original china personalized to each college, a copy of the first edition of the Yale Daily News, engravings of buildings that unfortunately no longer exist, a few game-day football programs from games in the early 20th century and much more.
Seeing the incredible attention to detail in the cover artwork of these programs, seeing photos of the Yale Bowl filled to capacity as the Bulldogs took on Harvard, seeing such an integral part of Yale’s not-so-distant past made me appreciate the role football — and athletics as a whole — played in the creation of “what it meant to be a Yale man,” as Professor Gitlin put it. In fact, it intrigued me so much that it is now the topic of the final paper I’m writing for the class.
So as the day of the Game approaches, take a minute to think about what football used to mean to Yale. Then get on the bus, head to the Bowl and watch the Bulldogs kick the trash out of Harvard. Because in the end, that may be what matters the most.