Boosters Celebrate Stadium Centennial

On the same day that the University indicated that it is considering building a bubble over Harvard Stadium (see story, page A-1), historians and Harvard boosters celebrated the horseshoe amphitheater’s 100th birthday at a panel discussion Friday.

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.

Clasby contrasted his experience with that of his son, who went to Notre Dame in pursuit of an NFL career. Clasby said his son had difficulty fitting classes he wanted to take around the football schedule, a fact which he said he found regrettable. “Players who come to college should get an education,” Clasby said.

John L. Powers ’70, a noted Boston Globe columnist and the final panelist, spoke more directly on the history of Harvard Stadium. Football during the sixties was an important social event, Powers said. Men wore jackets and ties, their dates wore heels and pearls, and in what Powers called the “social event of the season,” the Yale game was largely about what people were wearing and who had the best tailgate.

Powers went on to discuss the various events that made use of Harvard Stadium, including the Olympics, student protests during the 1970s, a Harvard presidential inauguration and several Class Days.

Powers calls the 1968 Harvard-Yale game the greatest game ever played in the stadium, a 29-29 tie, in which the Crimson made a furious 16-point rally in the final minute. The pressure on Harvard coaches was enormous, Powers said.

“Blowing the Yale game would leave one in a situation similar to that of [current Boston Red Sox manager] Grady Little,” Powers said.

The Harvard Athletics Department last celebrated the stadium during its 50th anniversary, and will have two more events for its 100th anniversary. During halftime of this weekend’s Princeton game, former captains and Hall of Famers of Harvard football were on the field, and there was a special Stadium Centennial Dinner Saturday night.

Dartmouth, the first opponent to play the Crimson in Harvard Stadium, will be in town next Saturday, and the Athletic Directors of both schools will be on hand to officially dedicate Harvard Stadium as a national landmark. A commemorative plaque will be placed in front of the historic stadium.