Participants tracked the importance of the stadium throughout the century, describing the evolution of football, Ivy League sports and athletics at Harvard.
Ronald A. Smith, a sports historian who edited the diary of turn-of-the-century Harvard football coach Bill Reid, described Harvard’s part in the early rivalries that resulted in the formation of the Ivy League.
According to Smith, Harvard was a pioneer in the administration and institutionalization of football.
Along with Princeton, Harvard led the way in forming an athletic committee, which kept alumni involved in Harvard athletics, Smith said.
“Alumni were a key to the direction of athletics at the university,” Smith said.
Alumni support allowed the construction of the stadium, which then Harvard President Charles W. Eliot, Class of 1853, had called “a useless expenditure,” Smith said.
Built in 1903, Harvard Stadium was the first steel-reinforced, concrete collegiate stadium in the world.
Harvard was again a pacesetter in athletic developments, as its decision to build a stadium led to the construction of similar stadiums at Yale and Princeton. “It was sort of an arms race,” Smith said.
The stadium itself was modeled after a Greek amphitheater, ensuring that there is not a single bad seat and making it seem large and overwhelming on first sight, but cozy and close to the action once inside, he said.
The stadium was built, ironically, as many faculty members discussed banning the game of football.
Mark Bernstein, author of a new book called Football: The Ivy League Origins of an American Obsession, described the tensions between Harvard and Princeton which led to an eight-year suspension of play between the teams.
Leading up to the 1926 Princeton game, there was talk of snubbing the Tigers from the schedule because of their rough play; they had won overwhelmingly in the previous two years.
According to Bernstein, The Harvard Lampoon—a semi-secret Sorrento Square social organization that used to occasionally publish a so-called humor magazine—pushed already inflamed tempers over the breaking point, when they mocked Princeton students and spread rumors of Harvard’s decision to snub Princeton in their magazine.
After the game, which the fired-up Tigers won 12-0, Princeton decided to pre-empt Harvard, and cut off all relations with the Crimson. The rivalry resumed in 1935, after Yale had stepped in to mediate the discussions.
Richard Clasby ’54, a rare nine-time letter winner who played on the football team, described the differences between football now and football then. Clasby discussed the aggressive tactics involved in recruiting during the 1950s, when coaches were able to offer recruits money or even jobs for relatives.