THE GAME: A look back at six consequential years in the Yale-Harvard football rivalry
The News combed through records detailing the 147 years of Yale–Harvard history to highlight six games that have made the biggest headlines.
Robbie Short, Senior Photographer
Steeped in history, the Yale–Harvard game is one of the oldest collegiate athletic events. The Blue and White have been meeting the Crimson on the gridiron since 1875, completing 137 total meetings to date.
The Bulldogs have claimed 68 victories, leading Harvard by seven.
“We take legacy very seriously in this program, so to be able to build upon that is very important to us,” team captain Nick Gargiulo ’23, who will play in his fourth game on Saturday, told the News. “It’s always a major game for us. Personally, for our senior class, as you are a part of these games you realize how special they really are. You appreciate them a lot more as you get older in this program.”
The News has combed through records detailing the 147 years of Yale–Harvard history to highlight six games that have made the biggest headlines.
1875: The “Foot Ball Match”
Yale and Harvard donned the first team uniforms in an American intercollegiate football event on Nov. 13, 1875, according to Connecticut records.
The football rivalry began in an unusual fashion for the time at Hamilton Park, the first home field for the Bulldogs. Using a mixture of rugby and soccer guidelines, the first playing consisted of 15 players per team and established that a point was secured after each team successfully scored a touchdown and the kick afterwards.
As a prize, Yale guaranteed the Crimson $75 to play and tickets sold for 50 cents to the 2,000 spectators, according to Yale archives.
From his time at Yale to his death, Bulldog football coach Walter Camp ’81 — known as “The Father of American Football” — served on various committees that developed guidelines for the American game.
Harvard won the first game 4–0, but the Crimson did not claim another victory until 1890.
1914: Yale Bowl christened
Nearly 40 years into the rivalry and 22 victories later, the Bulldogs had outgrown their wooden, 33,000-seat home at the Yale Fields. As a replacement, Yale commissioned a stadium with nearly 70,000 seats uniquely surrounding the field — the Yale Bowl.
The federal government designated the Bowl as a national landmark in 1987. Since its completion, the grounds have hosted Harvard on odd-numbered years, with few exceptions.
One year after ground was broken, the Bowl opened its doors for the 35th playing of The Game on Nov. 21, 1914. The following morning’s New York Times’ issue described the event as a “real spectacle,” which drew in a crowd of 70,000 spectators.
Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, Crimson player T.J. Coolidge, Jr., completed a 95-yard run — the longest run in Harvard history at the time, according to the NYT.
Harvard won 36–0. The Bulldogs claimed their next victory in 1916.
1934: Handsome Dan kidnapped — twice
On the eve of the 53rd playing of The Game, Handsome Dan II was dognapped by a group of Harvard students, according to Yale Athletics.
Morning newspapers captured a photo of Handsome Dan at the feet of John Harvard’s statue. No records included the aforementioned photograph.
Accounts of the event differ. Yale Athletics writes that Handsome Dan simply ate “‘a hamburger,’ and quite joyously, at the feet of the John Harvard’s statue.” But an archived Yale Bulletin post and a 1950 article published by The Harvard Crimson places the mascot in a more compromising position — licking the statue’s feet after being lured with hamburger grease.
The mascot had been the victim of the same crime earlier that year. The NYT ran an article on March 16, 1934 detailing the first kidnapping.
“Return Handsome Dan within thirty-six hours or take the consequences,” said the Eli freshman committee, who had raised funds to purchase the mascot the previous fall. “Handsome Dan is a sick dog and the veterinarian says he may die unless he is provided with proper diet.”
Handsome Dan II died three years later after sustaining a leg fracture from a jump.
The Bulldogs began a three year winning streak in 1934 after defeating Harvard 14–0.
1968: Yale Beats Harvard 29–29
The 85th playing of The Game resulted in a 29–29 tie after Harvard miraculously scored 16 points in the last 42 seconds. On the following morning, The Harvard Crimson published the now-infamous headline “Harvard Beats Yale 29–29.”
In an article published in 2019, the Crimson detailed the story behind the headline, which inspired a documentary in 2008.
William M. “Bill” Kutik, Crimson editor in 1968, told the newspaper that even if the headline was clearly inaccurate, it “captured the emotional sense of the game.”
Kutik described the moments before the clock struck zero at the game to his fellow editors in hopes of convincing them to run the headline.
“Two half-minutes before the game ended, Yalies were unspooling rolls of toilet paper from their side of the stadium, cheering and screaming because they knew for sure that they had won the game,” Kutik told the Crimson. “And then when those unbelievable 16 points were scored in the last forty two seconds, emotionally, they all felt they had lost.”
Yale came into the game with high hopes after completing the season with a 16-game winning streak. For the first time since the 1909 season, the Bulldogs and the Crimson both boasted perfect 8–0 records.
This game marked the final tie in Yale-Harvard history, as rules later eliminated ties from college football by mandating an overtime period.
The Bulldogs claimed a 7–0 victory the following year.
2004: The “We Suck” prank and the airplane
During the 121st game, Harvard students graciously accepted red or white fliers from the “Harvard Pep Squad,” who ran up and down the stadium with painted faces and megaphones encouraging a crowd of 1,800 to hold up their papers. They were told the sign would read “Go Harvard.” Unbeknownst to them, the “Pep Squad” was 20 Yale students in Crimson disguise.
The crowd of Harvard students, faculty and alumni proudly held up the papers spelling “We Suck” to the rest of the stadium.
Pierson students Michael Kai ’05 and David Aulicino ’05 originally engineered the prank for the 2003 game, where they planned to tape the papers to the stadium seats. But their attempts were thwarted by security guards, who asked them to leave the premises after a pre-game bomb scare.
“It was almost sad,” Dylan Davey ’05 GRD ’13 MED ’14 told the News in a 2004 article. “There were all these grandfather and grandmother types — and they all had big smiles, saying, ‘Oh you’re so cute, I’m so glad you’re doing this.’ I felt bad for about two minutes. Then I got over it.”
According to the article, the Harvard crowd held up the sign for 4 minutes and 47 seconds before halftime. They proceeded to hold it up several more times after that — prompted by Kai and Aulicino, who “ran up and down the aisles, cheering them on.”
The prank made national headlines, but it was hardly the only one orchestrated by Yale students. The senior class hired an airplane to fly over the stadium with a sign that read “Too Many Can Tabs, Not Enough Kegs, Love, Yale ’05.” Other Bulldogs stole the Harvard flag as a decoy ran around the field with a residential college flag to distract security guards.
Harvard added another victory to its four-year streak with a 35–3 win. The Bulldogs broke it in 2006 before the Crimson began a nine-year streak the following year.
2019: “Nobody Wins” Protest
As the halftime show ended, 150 people flocked to the field at the Yale Bowl demanding that Yale and Harvard divest from fossil fuels, private prisons and Puerto Rican debt. Their banners read “Nobody Wins: Yale and Harvard are complicit in climate justice,” “Presidents Bacow and Salovey: Our future demands action now” and “This is an emergency.”
“We planned to remain there until Yale and Harvard met our demands to divest from the fossil fuel industry and cancel their holdings in predatory Puerto Rican debt,” Nora Heaphy ’21 and one of the organizers of the protest, told Grist.
Urged by the Yale and New Haven police departments, most of the protesters left the field after half an hour, according to the News. But a small number of them remained and were later arrested. The protest delayed the start of the second half of the game.
The protest made national headlines and received mixed reactions throughout the media. Harvard football captain Wesley Ogsbury supported the protest in a video statement posted afterwards. U.S. Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Julian Castro — as well as U.S. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and celebrities including George Takei, Kenneth Cole and David Hogg — congratulated the protestors via Twitter.
In April 2021, Yale created new principles for divesting from fossil fuels. In September 2021, Harvard announced that it would end all investments in the fossil fuel industry.
The Game went into overtime and culminated in a 50–43 Bulldog victory.
In their last game before Yale-Harvard — this past weekend — Team 149 handed Princeton their first loss of the season, moving the Bulldogs into tie for first place in the Ivy League Conference with the Tigers.
“I’m incredibly proud of Team 149,” Gargiulo said. “It is a group of hardworking, selfless individuals who have relentless pursuit in what we are trying to accomplish. We have a really talented roster.”
This Saturday, the Bulldogs will travel to Cambridge for the first time since 2016 in hopes of securing the Ivy League title in the 138th playing of The Game.