Fear and Loathing in New Haven

Alex Weck and Peter Griffith

Arriving at 10:30 a.m. in the shadow of the Yale Bowl, you know you are part of something special. We have just been packed to double capacity in a school bus with close to a hundred Harvard and Yale students and alums – all of whom are hungover from the previous night’s shenanigans or already drunk again. Everyone has come for the tailgate, some for “The Game.”
Albeit an element of the majority of college football games, this particular tailgate is otherworldly. The obligatory trucks full of kegs and grillables, avenues of roaming students, and decrepit alumni (who do, in fact, wear the classic cheesy sweaters with an H or Y on them) are all there. Unlike your average college rivalry, however, this one is marked by the presence of many of the greatest minds of the future … wasted off their asses.
There is an interesting feel to the rivalry. It is best described as “gentlemanly.” The fact that Harvard and Yale don’t actually hate each other is openly admitted. All the attendees are civil with each other and the parking lot is dotted with crimson and navy friendships. “The Game is really a bunch of nerds trying to be Alabama-Auburn,” says Harvard student Kevin Bombino, referencing one of the nation’s most intense football rivalries. “It is the one time of the year we act like sports fans.”
And act like sports fans they do. The tailgate is defined by its ridiculousness. Shirts reading things like “Huck Farvard” and “Eat poop, drink piss, go to Yale” appear with ubiquity. In the Yale crowd, students are seen standing atop a U-Haul, yelling, “Fuck the Crimson.” Everyone is happy with this, and most are completely drunk. The crowd combines some of the best young minds in the country, copious amounts of alcohol and a common sports attitude that is much more ironic than hooliganistic. This cocktail incites a mob into the positive, healthy competition of sports rivalries without any of the animosity seen, for instance, in Alexander Gym on a Ripon gameday.
The tailgate is nonetheless separated into two camps by roughly 50 yards of parked cars, though differences – beyond shirt color – are difficult to discern, at least to an outsider. Yale senior Paul Gleason is quick to note that Harvard students are overworked and dull. Harvard students respond with claims of their school’s superiority based on it being in an intellectual metropolis while Yale is in a smaller city with a history of crime and segregation.
Harvard is the oldest university in the nation, Yale has a Gutenberg Bible. Harvard has won the last five football contests, Yale embarrassed Harvard fans last year by distributing placards that were raised by the crowd to read “WE SUCK.” So the dispute rages on.
What separates the Harvard-Yale rivalry from others lies within the realm of history. The rivalry began 153 years ago as the two met in the nation’s first intercollegiate competition: a crew race won by Harvard. The first ever football meeting came 22 years later. Countless traditions have emerged over the course of their 122 meetings but the most important development has been that both sides see The Game as, by far, the most important sporting event of the year.
Nonetheless, why would a guy studying in Wisconsin and a guy taking a term off in Newfoundland travel to Connecticut to see a football game? Probably out of sheer youthful exuberance and curiosity, but by the end of the game we were more than convinced of the merits of our travels.
Yale’s defense was consistently overpowering in the first half with a key interception and third-down sack to prevent promising drives by the Crimson. The home team’s offense showed conviction and strung together multiple gorgeous receptions to go into halftime with a 14-3 lead.
The Bulldogs extended their lead to 18 on the first drive of the second half and looked to be headed toward their first victory since the 2000 game. Harvard, however, came right back with a touchdown that shifted the momentum to the east side of the Bowl. With Yale only one field goal more, the Crimson tied the game with 3:37 to go.
After the teams exchanged scoreless drives in the final minutes, the true action began. With the sun all but gone, The Game entered its first ever overtime. “We’re never going to see anything like that again,” commented Yale QB Jeff Mroz afterward.
It was all a nervous blur. Yale fumbled, Harvard missed a field goal. Harvard threw an interception, Yale fumbled again. Yale was miraculously intercepted, Harvard went in to score. Three overtimes, Crimson fans rush the field, Yale players shocked, crestfallen, teary-eyed.Rarely does one college OT go scoreless. There could have been no better climax to an incomparable experience in southern New England. Incredibly, this unprecedented playing of The Game was just that, only one part of the overall experience. Over dinner, we were awestruck, talking as much about the tailgate and the previous night’s party as about The Game itself.
The experience, for most, is just a whirlwind of intoxicants surrounding an unparalleled tradition that just so happens to produce an utterly unbelievable football game. Such a phenomenon is exactly what some people live for.