11 historic tidbits about The Game

Here are 11 historic tidbits about the Yale-Harvard football game, which this year will be played on Saturday, Nov. 23 in New Haven.

Amidst the lore that surrounds “The Game,” as the Yale-Harvard football rivalry is known, the game of 1968 is particularly memorable for many on both sides of the Blue-Crimson divide.

The cover of the program for the Yale-Harvard football game of 1950.

At three minutes before the closing whistle, Yale — undefeated all season — was ahead 29–13. Fans streamed out of Harvard Stadium, even as the action continued on the field. Then Harvard scrambled from behind with two touchdowns to tie — prompting the Harvard Crimson student newspaper to print the now-infamous headline: “Harvard beats Yale 29-29.”

Yale running back Calvin Hill ’68, who went on to win two Super Bowls, has said of that match-up: “I’ve never seen a comeback like that in all my years of playing football. I remember how sore I was afterward. I played 13 years professionally, but I don’t think I’ve been in any game that’s been more competitive from a physical standpoint.”

Halfway around the world, former Yale lineman John Downey ’51 was in solitary confinement, having been shot down over China on a CIA mission in 1952. His captors allowed him to receive sports magazines, and he had been following the Bulldogs’ winning season. A friend of Downey’s — one of the people who left the stadium early — sent Downey a postcard saying that the Bulldogs were undefeated champions, having won 29–13. When Downey received the news, he was thrilled. It wasn’t until Christmas Eve that the alumnus received the magazines with the whole story.

Downey has said of that moment: “I was probably the last guy on earth who really cared about the game to learn the score. In a way, that was my most memorable Harvard game.”

The Game 2013

This year is the 130th time that the Yale and Harvard teams have faced off. The Game is taking place in the Yale Bowl on Saturday, Nov. 23; kick-off is at noon.

Those unable to attend in person can watch The Game on the NBC Sports Network; or listen to the action on the Yale Radio Network (former Yale coach Carm Cozza will give color commentary) or on WYBC 1340 AM. You can also tune into WELI’s coverage on your mobile device by downloading the iheartradio app.

For more information about this year’s contest — including ticket prices and parking information — visit the Yale Athletics website.

11 historic tidbits about The Game

  1. It wasn’t football that sparked the rivalry between Yale and Harvard. The first intercollegiate sporting event was a crew race between the schools in 1852 (which Harvard won).
  2. Before 1875 Yale had been playing soccer and calling it “football,” while Harvard’s version of “football” was closer to rugby. In the years that followed, Yale adopted Harvard’s ball and its running game — then added a few innovations of its own.
  3. The first Harvard-Yale game took place on Nov. 13, 1875. Admission was 50 cents, and 2,500 fans showed up at New Haven’s Hamilton Park to witness the match-up (which Harvard also won).
  4. The Game is the second-oldest ongoing rivalry in college football (after Lehigh-Lafayette, 1884) and the third most-frequent match-up in college football history (after Lehigh-Lafayette and Yale-Princeton, 1873).
  5. Walter Camp, known as the “Father of American Football,” played football at Yale 1876–1882, briefly studied at Yale School of Medicine, and was head coach at Yale 1888–1892. It was Camp who invented both the line of scrimmage and the system of downs that are now fundamental to the sport.
  6. The Blue and The Crimson might have been known as The Green and The Magenta had votes on the schools’ colors gone differently. Harvard undergraduates chose crimson (over magenta) in 1875, while Yale adopted blue as its color in 1894 after a half-century of being associated with green.
  7. In 1890, Yale introduced “cheerleaders” at a football game, a first in college sports.
  8. At the 1894 game— alternatively known as the “Hampden Park Bloodbath” or the “Springfield Massacre” — nine players had to be removed because of either injury or ejection (two players got into a fistfight) and one player lapsed into a coma for several hours. As a result of the bloodshed, Yale and Harvard broke off relations, each blaming the other for the violence. The schools did not meet again on the football field until 1897.
  9. Harvard Stadium, built in 1903, is the oldest stadium in the country. The Yale Bowl, built in 1914, was the inspiration for The Rose Bowl.
  10. The 1952 match-up is remembered for the “ultimate insult,” when Yale’s student team manager was put in the game to catch a two-point conversion that culminated a 41-14 Eli blowout at Harvard Stadium.
  11. In addition to Hill and Downey, former Yale football players include the poet Archibald MacLeish 1915, writer John Hersey ’36, and the late Senator William Proxmire ’38.
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