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Circling the Square

The Big Bowl

By Philip M. Cronin

Two miles outside of New Haven, sitting like the saucer of a giant teacup, lies the Yale Bowl. From the outside it is unimpressive. There is no mighty iron fence nor massive concrete sides to mark it at a distance, but only a mound of shrubs with hollow portals peeking out.

By building the field below ground level, the architects had two ideas: first, to make a bowl with the largest seating capacity possible, and second, to arrange the entrances so that there would not be "excessive congestion of people at any one point." Combined, these two thoughts produced one of the most unusual bowls in the country: constructed like a hill and valley; shaped like an ellipse.

Plans for the Bowl started early in 1912 when the Yale Corporation "recognized the serious embarrassment caused by refusals of applications for tickets on account of lack of room to the baseball and football games held every year." Yale officials decided that the Bowl should be financed on a pay-as-you-build plan and a subscription committee induced alumni to contribute by offering them free tickets to all Bowl games.

Excavation for the $800,000 Bowl began in 1913 and was completed in time for the Harvard-Yale game of 1914. Architect Charles A. Ferry in a dedication speech termed it "the perfect stadium." But according to the Boston Globe, "Yale did the dedicating and Harvard did the playing (November 21, 1914) when the Crimson dealt the Blue a 36 to 0 trouncing."

The playing field itself is 27 feet below ground level and the top tier of the stadium is 26 feet above grounds. To prevent the field from turning into a lake, architect Ferry provided the Bowl with an extensive drainage system. He designed the Bowl so that it slants west to east, the western side being 11 feet higher that the eastern. Of the Bowl's thirty drains in the portals leading towards the field some slant away with the slant of the ground, but those that slant into the Bowl are drained in to water pipes.

The field comes to a crown in the center and the water flows off into ditches at the side of the Stadium. But despite the crown, the field still has to be covered with tarpaulin when rain falls.

Although the Bowl seats 74,786, it has not had a crowd of more than 66,000 in recent years. The last sell-out was in 1946, but even then, the Bowl's 18 miles of seats were not filled because many seats brought under the general admission plan were not actually used. The crowd for that Harvard Yale game was estimated at 65,000.

Yale officials are proud of their saucer-bowl and they make sure it is well protected. A week before every Harvard-Yale game large details of policemen are assigned to patrol inside and outside the Bowl. Powerful floodlights skim the field to watch for pranksters.

These officials have due cause for alarm, too. The big Bowl has been the victim of several paint and fire attacks. Several years ago a group of undergraduates painted a crimson "H" in the center of the field; fast work by a team of Yale grass-cutters had the "H" removed by game time. Last year some Princetonions managed to elude the guards and searchlights to burn a large "P" on the field. This time the brand remained throughout the game, and Yale doubled the Bowl's police guard. But the most extensive damage was done before the Hill-house-West Haven High School champion game of 1947. A Hill house partisan, equipped with a liberal amount of red paint, daubed the walls of the Bowl with "Hillhouse" and "Beat West Haven." Yale's athletic director deplored the action, and said he thought that the deed had been done "by an irresponsible bunch of kids who were probably influenced by Harvard's painting in the Bowl last year."

But to many, the greased-steel concrete-embedded goalposts are the most outstanding features of the Bowl. They are also the most fought over. Every year, there have been attempts of mutilate the posts in some way. After the 1949 Harvard-Yale game an eager Harvard student climbed the goalpost and proceeded to paint the uprights red. Only through the efforts of the New Haven police department was the student prevented from completing his act; he escaped and left part of the goal-post a brilliant crimson.

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