Courtesy of Marissa Sanghvi

For 362 days out of the year, the Yale community and the athletics department stay mostly separate. The annual Yale-Harvard football game, however, changes everything.

School spirit reaches an all-time high in the days leading up to the game. Students who don’t know the difference between a home run and a touchdown spend their days tailgating and proclaiming “Beat Harvard!” Tailgating, that nearly-lost tradition on Yale’s campus, makes a grand revival every year at The Game. During the football season, only about 40 students will make the trek to the Yale Bowl to partake in burgers and beer before each game. Against Harvard, however, most of the student body partakes in some form of tailgating. 

Linton Roberts ’24, President of Yale’s tailgating club, the Whaling Crew, spoke about the environment at the game.

“Every student group on campus is throwing parties before and after the game,” Roberts said. “The alumni association typically throws a massive tailgate… If I was a student going to the game for the first time, the best thing you can do is just show up to everything. That’s the most fun part.” 

The Game –– along with the tailgates and parties that come with it –– is one of the biggest community events of the year. To many, the actual athletic competition is far outweighed by the time spent with friends and fellow members of the Yale community.

Most groups hold open Yale-Harvard events. Students do not have to plan out their day, but can float between groups enjoying various activities and social scenes. Carla Sanchez-Noya ’22 spoke of the welcoming and fun nature of these events.

“It was really great when I was there, [the official tailgate] was organized by college,” Sanchez-Noya explained. “Everybody really wanted to be there. And you’re hanging out with people in your college… Everybody just wants to have a good time and beat Harvard.”

While Sanchez-Noya and Roberts have experienced Yale tailgates before, a large segment of the Yale community has not. First-years and sophomores who did not take gap years have not attended Yale-Harvard before.

For them, the week marks an entirely new experience. Some, like Eli Buchdahl ’25, expressed excitement about experiencing the tailgating and pageantry surrounding the game.

“I’m really excited for the experience of the entire school coming together in a spirited way where we are really one community with one goal and one enemy,” Buchdahl said. He also explained that he was excited “to get some of that big-school football Saturday vibes that Yale isn’t exactly known for.”

According to Judy Schiff — Yale Library’s chief research archivist — the tradition of tailgating ahead of sporting events started at Yale. 

“Not only did football start at Yale with Walter Camp… but also the custom of tailgating,” Schiff told NBC Connecticut in 2019.

Then, those who wished to see the Bulldogs take on the Crimson would either take the train or drive their newfangled automobiles to New Haven and potluck ahead of the kickoff.

Yale tailgates can be traced back to 1906, eight years before the Yale Bowl was constructed.

Andrew Cramer | andrew.cramer@yale.edu

ANDREW CRAMER