Yale Daily News

It’s that time of year already, when the foliage starts to fall, Thanksgiving break is around the corner and the annual Yale-Harvard football game would normally be on the forefront of every Yalie’s mind. Yet, with no game for the first time since World War II, there is no grand culmination of the fall semester for Cambridge and New Haven sports fans alike. However, Yale students and New Haven business owners expressed excitement at the news that The Game will be held at the Yale Bowl, as opposed to the Harvard Stadium, in 2021.

Last November, the Bulldogs took down the Crimson in an historic double overtime thriller. The stadium was filled with just shy of 45,000 fans cheering on their respective teams. Alumni, faculty, students and football fans all gathered to watch one of the most historic rivalries take place.

Looking back, defensive end Brett Gerber ’22 vividly remembers his experience on the field that day. His teammates and coaches were triumphant, catapulting themselves to the top of the Ancient Eight table in a dramatic display of grit and determination. After the recent announcement to play the 2021 Yale-Harvard game in New Haven, both juniors who are currently enrolled and seniors on a gap semester will be able to play their final rendition of The Game on home turf.

“It’s going to be really special,” Gerber said. “The environment last year, getting a chance to play a double overtime game, win the Ivy League Championship in front of the home crowd, was one of the most incredible athletic experiences of my life. Being a senior, and hopefully getting a chance to defend that crown, will be just as cool.”

The annual matchup is typically the final game of the Bulldogs’ season. For many players, it’s more than just a couple of hours on the field — it’s the end-all-be-all of their athletic careers. With the cancellation of fall 2020 competition, seniors who did not choose to take this year off will have to forgo their final stint against Harvard.

Josh Chough, Contributing Photographer

Wide receiver Seun Omonije ’22 is grateful that he will have one more chance to take down the Crimson at the Yale Bowl. As he progressed through his years at Yale, Omonije came to realize the emotional magnitude of the Yale-Harvard game.

“You understand what it’s about — it becomes more sentimental and it becomes more important and you’re not just playing for yourself,” Omonije said. “You’re doing it because you have your whole team, you have your brothers that you have to look after, you have the school, and you have all of your friends who are watching you. I feel like that last game is a culmination of the journey.”

Although sport and school tradition are major components of The Game, the day is about more than just football.

When Harvard affiliates arrive in New Haven, they fill hotels to capacity and pack into restaurants before the tailgates. The lines are long, the crowds are massive and the energy is electric. The visitors bring lots of business to New Haven’s local stores. While the idea of crowding into tight spaces with people seems unimaginable these days due to the pandemic, it was a reality only a year ago.

“It’s a good thing for the community because it brings so many visitors and alumni and friends to town,” Dean of Yale College Marvin Chun said. “Having all the business is going to be very exciting. Having The Game in town is all good for New Haven — it shows people what a great town we are.”

The Elm City has worked hard to combat the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, stores, restaurants and hotels can only do so much. Although college towns around the country are fortunate to have a built-in set of customers, this year has not been easy.

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The Omni Hotel at Yale, located in downtown New Haven, typically sees an influx of visitors around this time of year. According to general manager Fletcher Williams, the service industry benefits from the annual rivalry.

“Anytime you have a special event like the Harvard-Yale Game, it’s going to attract travelers, and it’s going to improve the economics of the downtown area, with restaurants and hotels,” Williams said. “The travel industry, restaurants, feel totally different with that kind of volume hitting the city. I just see it as all positive.”

For pizza restaurant Yorkside, located in the heart of Yale’s campus, The Game means increased revenue, as well the return of some familiar faces. For about a half-century, the restaurant has served locals, Yalies and tourists. The weekend of The Game, owner George Koutroumanis not only sees a boost in revenue, but also reunites with alumni who once frequented the restaurant. According to Koutroumanis, the 1979 Yale men’s football team gathered at Yorkside for their 40-year reunion last fall.

“A lot of nice things happen,” Koutroumanis said. “It’s very stressful and everything but it’s good, a lot of fun, and good to see all the old faces, and then all the new faces also.”

The 2021 rendition of The Game is scheduled to take place on Nov. 20, 2021.

Rehan Melwani | rehan.melwani@yale.edu