On the morning of Nov. 22, 1963, the Harvard football team had one goal in mind: winning an Ivy League title. All that stood in its way was defeating Yale in the 80th rendition of The Game. But when word reached Cambridge and New Haven that President John F. Kennedy ’40 had been shot and killed in Dallas, all football plans for the weekend were abandoned.
At the time of the assassination, the team was going through regular Friday walkthroughs when a cameraman found out that the President had been shot and shouted the news down to the team.
“Just as we left the Yale Fieldhouse there was some kind of murmur [about Kennedy],” quarterback Michael H. Bassett ’64 remembered.
After practice, the team returned to its hotel about a half hour’s drive away from the Yale campus. The news had not yet set in with the team.
“Everybody was wondering, ‘Is The Game on or is it off?’ Nobody really knew what was going on,” Bassett told The Crimson.
That afternoon, The Crimson released a statement saying that the two schools had cancelled The Game, and there was concern that it might not be rescheduled. In place of The Game, Harvard scheduled a memorial service to honor the life of the president, a former Crimson business editor, at 11 a.m. on Nov. 23 in Memorial Church.
The Harvard football team returned that evening to Cambridge and a campus in shock.
FORGETTING THE GAME
After the assassination, the Harvard-Yale tilt was the least of students’ concerns. One girl “sobbed hysterically in the front lobby [of Widener Library],” while another student “stood on the grass in the yard, pounding a tree…with his fist.”
But the two schools decided that the show had to go on, despite the national tragedy. After much thought, the universities came to a consensus and chose to reschedule The Game for the next Saturday, Nov. 30.
Before the assassination, CBS had planned to televise the Harvard-Yale contest on the 23rd. But because of Kennedy’s death and The Game’s postponement to the next week, the Game was not televised after all.
Since The Game was scheduled for the weekend after Thanksgiving, there was decidedly less interest in the contest, as undergraduates already had plans to return home for the break. Harvard offered refunds for all students who had bought tickets but were instead headed home for the holiday.
Yet despite the dearth of enthusiasm at the current moment, The Game was still to be played. Because of the week delay, four Harvard “regulars,” who were injured and would not have played in the Nov. 23 matchup, were able to rest and recover before the tilt against Yale.
Harvard entered the matchup as a slight favorite, with experts emphasizing the need for the Crimson’s defense to step up. Given the Crimson’s successful 4-1-1 record on the year, the Harvard faithful jumped at the opportunity to gamble on the even odds that the Crimson would beat the 3-3 Yale squad.
"I've never put much folding green on a college grid fray,” one anonymous Harvard student told The Crimson nine days before The Game. "But at these odds, I'm tempted to venture at least 20 dollars on a Crimson triumph."
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