After missing only one Harvard-Yale football game in the last 65 years, Paul I. Lee ’46 will be recognized tomorrow with a prize that is the exclusive preserve of the University’s most loyal fans—the so-called Little Red Flag.
Lee, who went to his first Harvard-Yale game as a sixth-grader in 1935, and has been absent for only one of the storied showdowns since the end of World War II, is set to become not just a decorated fan but a standard-bearer for a revived tradition when he receives the flag before kickoff.
Between 1950 and 2000, the Flag was passed between the fans who had attended the most Harvard-Yale football games. But 10 years ago, the Varsity Club changed the tradition and it was instead occasionally presented to a “superfan”—a particularly devoted alum whose engagement with the school extended beyond football.
Last year, Spencer Ervin ’54 sent a letter to Harvard Magazine in hopes of putting the Flag back in the hands of the most regular fan. Among those involved was Jeffrey P. Lee ’74, Paul Lee’s son, who put Ervin in touch with his father.
Lee said that he and his father were piqued that devotion to Harvard Athletics would be judged on criteria other than attendance. With the help of other alums, the group made arrangements to produce a replica Flag that could be presented to a long-time attendee.
Jeffrey Lee—who himself has seen every Harvard-Yale game since 1960—said that his father has retained a passion for Harvard athletics throughout his adult life, and that for years, Paul, a Woodstock, Conn. resident, attended every Harvard football game, both at home and on the road.
It’s very nice,” said the elder Lee of his recognition. “I knew two of the fellows who had it before...It was disappointing to see that the flag was not going where it should have gone, and the fact that it has been revived is rather satisfying.”
According to his son, Lee’s attendance figures are a pure indication of his commitment to the sport of football. Unlike many of the students today, he said, Paul Lee partakes in the social scene minimally.
“I don’t even know if he knows people drink liquor at the Game,” Jeffrey Lee said.
Before 2000, the Little Red Flag had nine different owners. The tradition began with Frederick Plummer, class of 1888, who attended the Harvard-Yale game 59 times between 1884 and his death in 1948. According to the Harvard Magazine, an editor of the Harvard Alumni Bulletin suggested that it be passed down to the longest-attending fan of the Game.
Still, both Ervin and Jeffrey Lee emphasized that the recognition is informal and of little real importance.
“It’s the kind of quaint custom that’s fun just because it’s meaningless,” Ervin said. “It’s not any matter of great significance.”
—Staff writer E. Benjamin Samuels can be reach at firstname.lastname@example.org.