This fall marks 100 years of football at the historic Yale Bowl. And on Saturday, in celebration of the centennial, Yale will host Army for the first time in nearly 30 years. In the past century, the Yale-Army rivalry has drawn five of the ten largest crowds in the history of the Bowl.
Cadets will march, the two schools’ bands will play on Friday night and the two programs will square off inside a stadium that was once the pinnacle of college football, a cathedral built to house a game invented by a Yalie.
The tradition of the Yale-Army rivalry and the history of the Bowl both prompted a considerable social media campaign to bring ESPN’s College GameDay to Yale. The enthusiasm for the game that these efforts elicited was refreshing and deserved. And although GameDay has announced that it will not be in New Haven for the contest, that should not detract at all from the excitement surrounding the history and rivalry that will be celebrated on Saturday.
The Yale Bowl was built in 1914 at an initial capacity of 70,896, the largest in the country at the time. When built, it was the first bowl-shaped stadium and its design went on to inspire Pasadena’s Rose Bowl. The Bowl is the original naming source of college postseason “bowl” games and the NFL’s Super Bowl.
In its time, the Yale Bowl has housed the Yale Bulldogs, the 1973–74 New York Giants, the Special Olympics World Summer Games and the Grateful Dead. It was considered as a World Cup venue in 1994 and has played host to several Heisman trophy winners and NFL players. It has seen many wins, and a few losses, against Harvard.
Yale player and coach Walter Camp 1882 has been deemed “The Father of American Football.” Camp invented the line of scrimmage and system of downs, and is credited with creating the game we know today. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, and he remains a testament to the role Yale played in the early decades of American Football. While the Bowl struggles to fill the stands these days, it serves as a reminder that Yale was once the top dog in college football.
The Bowl was not only built with Yale’s role in American football in mind, but also reflected the University’s outlook on the value of athletics. According to the National Register of Historical Places, “The history of the building of the Yale Bowl provides an insight into Yale’s theory of sports as an activity vital to the development of whole individuals.”
This last sentiment speaks to what is really being celebrated on this one hundredth fall of football in the Yale Bowl. There is tremendous history of Yale and football, of rivalries old and new and players come and gone, and the Bowl stands as a monument to all who have been a part of that story for the last century. More than that, the Bowl was built as an investment in Yale athletics. Its conception and construction spoke to the value the institution placed on competition, camaraderie and sport, and the value those things can bring to a university and its students.
Things have changed in the last hundred years, as they so often do: The Ivy League was officially established in 1954, football has grown to be a cultural and national phenomenon, the Bowl lost some seats to renovations, women were admitted to the university starting in 1969 and so on. Through it all, the Bowl has persisted as a reminder of the rich history and tradition of football and athletics at Yale, and a commitment this University made to its students and athletes one hundred years ago. This weekend is a chance to take pride in the our past and celebrate all that the Bowl represents. Let’s fill the stands and make Saturday a great beginning to another one hundred.