Marisa Peryer

With just 22 seconds left, The Game was suddenly Harvard’s. Graduating Yale seniors lost their final Yale-Harvard game in November but basked in the school spirit that attracted 49,500 fans to watch it for the 137th year. 

During their time at Yale, the class of 2022 witnessed one of Yale’s most enduring social traditions being rattled by the COVID-19 pandemic, student protests, controversial lodging policies and unwieldy ticket lines. Graduating seniors also witnessed historic comebacks for both Ivy League schools, as spirited students, alumni and community members rattled the Yale Bowl and Fenway Park with Crimson-clad cheers and Bulldogs in blue barking Boola-Boolas. 

“We are excited to see travel demand climb to pre-COVID levels, and this weekend is no exception,” The Graduate New Haven’s General Manager Dominic Ruggieri wrote to the News. “The Harvard-Yale rivalry brings travelers from across the country to New Haven, and after a challenging year, this year’s game feels especially significant for the community.” 

November’s game marked milestones on multiple fronts — it was the first time both Ivies have been represented by female athletic directors at the helm for The Game, and it marked a strong return from the first gap in Yale-Harvard games since World War II. In place of the 2020 game, the Yale College Council and Harvard College Events Board collaborated to throw a virtual “Harvard-Yale Roast-Off.” 

A brand-new mascot for Yale also presided over November’s game. Handsome Dan XIX, or “Kingman” as known around campus, stepped in in March 2021 to fill the collar of his predecessor Handsome Dan XVIII, who retired to New York. Students who had not yet had the pleasure of running into Kingman around New Haven, outside Koffee? or in Silliman’s courtyard had the chance to greet the healthier, more muscular and less wrinkled Dan at The Game. Some students remarked that the new Dan was not as cute as previous Dans, while others acknowledged that Kingman’s breed, Olde English Bulldogge, is an “acquired taste.” 

In October 2021, ahead of The Game, Yale Head Football Coach Tony Reno also crossed a historic threshold, becoming the sixth coach in school history to earn 50 wins. During a press conference in November, where he discussed the approaching Yale-Harvard game, Reno called the Yale-Harvard rivalry “one of the greatest rivalries in all of sports.” 

This spirit of rivalry has led University games against Harvard to reach the highest crowd turnouts relative to other Yale competitions. 

When Harvard hosted 2018’s game at Fenway Park due to restoration at Harvard Stadium, Yale was given a smaller allotment of student tickets than in past years. Yalies waited for hours in lines wrapping around the Payne Whitney Gymnasium to snatch the 2,500 available student tickets. The University offered special, early access to Yale-Harvard game tickets to the most loyal sporting events fans who had attended four specific Yale games. 

After braving frigid temperatures in ticket lines, Yalies still faced an ultimate defeat at Fenway during the 135th edition of The Game. Yale lost to Harvard 27-45, squashing Yale’s previous two-year winning streak. 

Ahead of the 2019 game, Yale looked to spread the spirit, distributing tickets for The Game to students who showed up to other sporting events on campus.  

“We have many successful, strong and fun programs to watch here at Yale so we are always trying to find different ways to get the word out about our Bulldogs and entice people to support our teams at different events and venues,” Associate Athletic Director for Strategic Communications Mike Gambardella told the News at the time. “The Game is always a huge draw and a great way for fans and students to see more of our teams. At the women’s hockey game this past weekend, 400 students picked up their tickets at Ingalls [Rink].”

As current graduating seniors were immersed in their sophomore year, the Bulldogs made a comeback. Yale beat Harvard 50-43 in a stunning triumph after straggling behind with a 17-point deficit late in the game. The Game attended by 44,989 fans stretched into double overtime, lasted four and a half hours and even outlasted sunset in a stadium without floodlights.

Apart from double overtime, The Game was extended due to a half-time interruption by protestors demanding Yale and Harvard divest from fossil fuels, private prisons and Puerto Rican debt. Hundreds swarmed the field with signs and chants positioned for University leaders to take notice. A few arrests were made after the protest, and 42 protestors were issued misdemeanor summons for disorderly conduct as police cleared the field. 

This fall, students again protested — this time ahead of the game — in a march against the genocide of the Uyghur ethnic group in China. The march was organized by Yale Students for Uyghur Freedom. 

Entering the Yale Bowl for The Game this November, linebacker Micah Awodiran ’22 had recorded a season-high of 13 tackles in a game against Penn. Off the field, Awodiran also tackled the issue of voter registration in early November. He created the Bulldog Ballot Challenge, an initiative that successfully got every eligible Yale student-athlete and coach registered to vote. 

The evenly-matched teams rushed onto the field at the Bowl tied for third place in the Ivy League. Yale averaged nearly 30 points a game, while Harvard averaged over 32 points throughout their nine games in the fall.  

Alumni flocked and Harvard students frantically booked rooms as hotels filled for the weekend. In late October, Harvard students received notice that they would be barred from staying in Yale dorms over the Yale-Harvard game weekend due to COVID-19 concerns. The Study at Yale was completely booked for The Game, with an “extensive” waitlist for rooms, The Omni was sold out months in advance for game-day and The Graduate New Haven was fully booked for both Friday and Saturday nights that weekend. 

With a massive crowd attending The Game’s comeback in November, Yale tailgating was also revived. In the morning, community members unpacked cars and trucks filled with drinks, snacks, charcuterie boards and lawn games outside the Bowl. Some students told the News that it is this school spirit rather than strictly the sport that draws fans.

The Yale Bowl was constructed in 1914.

Sophie Sonnenfeld covers cops and courts. She is a first-year in Branford College majoring in anthropology.