With the Harvard-Yale football game only weeks away, Yale students will soon be engulfed in the oldest college football rivalry in the country. Collegiate rivalries can be divisive and have the power to ruin friendships, but for Robert Hetherington ’64 LAW ’67 and Edward Katz, a rivalry created a lifelong bond.
The two met in Hackensack, N.J. during the early 1970s where Hetherington was working as a lawyer and Katz as a trust officer. They came to be friends and, upon discovering that they had attended rival schools, decided to travel to New Haven with their wives in 1973 to see Yale play Penn in football. The Elis won 24–21, a single dollar bill changed hands from Katz to Hetherington and a tradition was born.
Every year the host couple prepared a tailgate lunch, the four would gather for dinner after the game and single dollar bills continued to pass between losers and winners.
“We bet a dollar on each game, but it’s the best dollar you can win,” Hetherington said.
Yale enjoyed great success at the beginning of the tradition, and those dollar bills kept flowing into Hetherington’s hands. The Bulldogs won the first five meetings and had no losses and only a single tie in the first nine. But in 1982, the Quakers finally broke the streak with a 27–14 win at home.
Hetherington did not take the loss well, and was withdrawn at dinner that evening, said his wife, Rebecca.
“Well I’m told that I was very sullen after the first game that Penn won,” he said. “After that I grew a lot more accustomed to it.”
Penn has enjoyed considerable success during the past three decades of the rivalry and had won seven of the past nine meetings before this year’s contest.
Yale’s reversal of fortunes notwithstanding, the tradition carried on, disturbed only by a particularly rainy day in October 1980.
“I have to confess there was one year that it rained so badly that we didn’t want to go,” Rebecca Hetherington said. “And so we decided whoever won the Yale-Penn game that year could choose the venue to go to later in the year.”
The Bulldogs prevailed, 8–0 in Philadelphia, and the couples reunited later in the year for Yale’s win over Princeton in November.
But in 2000, the Katzes retired to Scottsdale, Ariz., and the Hetheringtons expected the tradition to fade sadly away after almost 30 years. Katz, however, insisted on flying back east every year and the four continued their annual gathering, most recently on Saturday to watch the men of Yale overcome the loss of starting quarterback Eric Williams ’16 and defeat the Quakers 27–13.
“I’ve seen a lot of Yale football games going back to the ’50s when my brother was there, and that was one of the best games that I’ve seen,” Hetherington said. “Not necessarily that it was the best quality of football … but [without Williams] you had to think we would never score.”
The first autumn after the Hetheringtons’ son, Alex Hetherington ’06, graduated from Yale, he and a high school friend who had attended Penn joined the older couples in the tradition. Though the reunion has not been repeated, Alex, now an associate director at the Yale Investments Office, vows to keep trying, his mother Rebecca said.