In the 56 years since its construction, the Harvard Stadium has seen more football games than any other arena in the United States. Since the Harvard-Dartmouth clash on Nov. 14, 1903, more than 360 contests have been played in the Stadium, including some of the most memorable in football history.
There are two main reasons for the Stadium's ascendency in this realm. First, the Crimson annually schedules more home games than most other teams--often as many as six or seven a season. Second, and most important is the obvious reason: Harvard Stadium is the oldest structure of its kind in America.
A gift of $100,000 from the Class of '79, along with $75,000 supplied by the H.A.A., provided the money needed for the project, which would cost at least ten times as much today. A new stadium had long been the dream of those concerned with Harvard athletics, and it took only the $100,000 to start construction immediately.
For many years before work began in the spring of 1903, demand had been growing for a new stadium. Sensitive souls were offended by what they called "a forest of columns supporting a rambling and irregular structure," and felt, with the increase of traffic in the Soldiers Field area, that the former grandstands were a poor advertisement for the University.
A more serious objection to the old seats was that they were of wood. With the great crowds that football and baseball attracted the weak wooden stands were no longer safe. And there was the ever-present danger of fire. The H.A.A. had a crew of firemen and often a fire engine at every contest. During the spring of 1903, only the quick thinking of an usher avoided disaster when a section of the grandstand caught fire during a baseball game. The heroic usher restrained a panicked spectator from spreading the alarm through the packed stands.
Further, the grandstand cost what was then an enormous amount to maintain. As the March, 1904, issue of the Harvard Graduates' Magazine indignantly pointed out, "The yearly outlay for repairs amounted to not less than $1000."
After thorough testing, "concrete with a small amount of steel" was chosen as the most durable and practical material. Thus the Stadium became the first large reinforced concrete structure built in this country. The design had been established several years earlier by Professor L. J. Johnson, following the general plan laid down by the H.A.A. Final drawings called for a stadium 573 feet by 420 feet on the outside, enclosing a field whose overall dimensions were 478 feet by 230 feet.
The Stadium consists of 4,800 concrete slabs, each weighing 1,200 lbs, placed on steel-concrete girders. In the arena, which many still consider the best for viewing a football game, seats range in altitude from seven to 50 feet, and the top of the colonnade is 72 feet above ground. With temporary seats in the open end, the open end, the Stadium's capacity can be raised well above 40,000; the report of a 1929 meeting with Dartmouth puts the crowd at 60,000. In the entire structure there are 250,000 cubic feet of concrete--a mixture of Portland cement, sand and broken stone.
As the first of the great football fields, the Stadium influenced the shape and size of every other arena, and even made its mark on rules of the game. When public indignation over football's "roughness" forced President Theodore Roosevelt to institute a new set of rules in 1906, one of the proposed changes was to make fields a full 40 yards wider. This move would have changed the whole character of football, turning it into a Rugby-type game, with more lateral passing and sideways running. Harvard protested, however, that such an innovation would outdate its six-year-old Stadium, and the rule-making body decided to institute the forward pass instead of the wider field.
On Nov. 14, 1903, Harvard met a strong Dartmouth eleven in the first game ever played in the Stadium. Seats on the curve to the south were still unfinished, and temporary stands were erected in the Stadium's north end. There was real fear among the public, despite the many years of testing, that the concrete stands would weaken and crumble as soon as they came into use. To allay these doubts, the construction superintendent prominently walked around under the stands while the spectators found their seats.
In a dull and unequal contest, the Crimson bowed to the Indians, 11 to 0. Dartmouth's Turner, the starting right tackle, scored both of the Big Green's touchdowns out of the "tackle-back" formation. Vaughn kicked the goal after Turner's first tally, and that was all the point-making either team could manage. The unusual final score can be laid to the fact that touchdowns were then worth five points. Judged by the standards of the Crimson teams of the early 1900's, the 1903 squad was only fair. Before the Dartmouth encounter, the Crimson had dropped a 5-0 decision to Amherst, and in the last game of the season, the varsity lost to Yale, 16 to 0.
As the end of the 1913 season approached, the Stadium had yet to witness a victory over Yale, but one of the greatest individual performances in the history of football soon remedied that situation.
The once-beaten, thrice-tied Bulldog eleven that came to the Stadium in 1913 was not the team that had dominated the Harvard-Yale series for so long. Further, the Crimson was undefeated, and needed only a win over Yale to become undisputed Eastern champions.
Crimson headlines after the game proclaimed, "Harvard 15, Yale 5. Brickley's 5 Goals from Field Wins (sic) Football Championship. Stadium Looks on a Yale Defeat After Eight Years Waiting." The greatest drop-kicker the game has ever known, Charlie Brickley, scored all 15 Harvard points on field goals ranging up to 40 yards in length. Brickley earlier that season had tallied the field goal that edged Princeton, 3 to 0.
Other epic contests have followed. One of the most famous was the 1929 Army contest, in which the Crimson tied a West Point eleven led by all-time great Chris Cagle, 20 to 20. Putnam and Barry Wood, then a substitute, completed seven of 12 passes for 168 yards, including a list-ditch aerial to end V.M. Harding for the tying touchdown.
In 1959, the Stadium remains a sturdy and well-designed example of a good football arena, and the modern behemoths, most patterned in some detail after it, with all their showy extravagance, can not eclipse the history it contains.