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The History of Harvard's Commencement, Explained

The Game through The Ages

NO WRITER ATTRIBUTED

It's been called The Game for all generations, and indeed, the yearly gridiron matchup between Harvard and Yale has gotten its fair share of attention since the two squads first took to the field in 1875. But different generations haven't always quite seen eye-to-eye in their conceptions of The Game. Herewith, a few of the more interesting things that turned up in The Crimson's archives as we surveyed...

1891

ONLY FOUR FRESHMEN HAVE SIGNED the book at Leavitt's to accompany their class eleven to New Haven. This is the most disheartening evidence of utter lack of class loyalty that any class has shown certainly within the recollection of the present generation of college men. Ninety-five has given plenty of evidence this fall that in most respects, it is the poorest class that has entered Harvard for some time. The class has done nothing creditable up to this time into which it has not been goaded by public opinion. In previous years, freshman classes have known the duties which fell to their lot and have performed them fairly well without any urging; when urged at all, their response has been quick and all that could be expected. If this year's freshmen want their class to stand for anything at all in the college life, they must earn the respect of the college. They will certainly never do this sol long as they give their class teams such miserable support. Ninety-five must send a good number of supporters to New Haven with her eleven. More men should sign the book at once.

* * *

A CURIOUS FACT WAS NOTICED during the Harvard-Yale game, according to a dispatch from New Haven to a New York paper. Just before Yale made her second touch down, an engine on the Connecticut River road which stood on a siding near the grounds blew out an immense ring of smoke. It floated over the field a perfect O. As it sailed over the Harvard eleven, Yale scored the touch down, and as McLung kicked the goal the ring gradually broke and spread into a distant Y over the Yale team.

1913

THE RIDDLE of a Harvard-Yale football game is one which the wiseacres of the football coterie have never been able to solve. If they cannot explain results that have been, surely they cannot predict what the results will be. "The odds are on Harvard," some say with a finality that spells a Crimson victory. But who ever heard of odds on Yale, reasonable or unreasonable? "Harvard has a better record," say others, forgetting that games are not won on records. Harvard tried the record policy in 1911, and neither won. "Yale has the old Yale spirit," say still others, who do not know that that there is a Harvard spirit of less fame, but no less power. Spirit counts, but who can say, "Here is a true fighting spirit; there, is none?" In the end, it is a question of faith, and we place ours in Harvard as Yale men place theirs in Yale.

Yet in placing our faith, we hope, as the sportsman always does, that the better team will win. And when all is said and done, the better team probably will win, for failures and flukes are as much a measure of a team as splendid gains and wonderful charges. If a team fails in a crucial test, it is not the better team at that time, whatever it may have been before or may be after. But, to be frank, the philosophy of hoping that the better team will win is curiously involved with a good deal of believing that we (and Yale men feel this, too) shall be found to have the better team.

This afternoon, we shall expect Harvard men to support their teams as they never did before; and we shall also expect the team to play football that will make it famous in Harvard history.

1922

THE PRELIMINARies of the final and greatest case on the Harvard 1922 football docket were concluded yesterday with a parade that surpassed even the "record-breaker" mass meeting. Never have more Harvard men marched to to Soldiers Field to cheer a football team in its last practice. The briefs, "We are going to win" and "We'll beat Yale" reflect unmistakably the attitude in Cambridge. And every Harvard man who is going to witness the trial tomorrow will support the team with the same conviction.

Precedent favors Harvard. For many years Princeton has been at its best against Harvard; Yale at its best against Princeton; and Harvard at its best against Yale. And only one Yale victory over Harvard in thirteen years bears proof that the precedent has a solid foundation. And precedent in this case: John Harvard vs. Eli Yale is to be maintained.

1931

HARVARD AND YALE HAVE MET for the fiftieth time in a football game. A crowd of 60,000 persons is dispersing in small, excited groups which bear with them the spirit of a rivalry firmly based on friendship.

There are players, who have furnished the competition, who have exhausted themselves in a great match of wit and abilities. They are to be congratulated for their noble contributions to the history of Harvard and Yale. It is the teams which met today, as well as their predecessors in the Stadium and in the Bowl that have supplied the meetest realization of the rivalry and friendship that has ever existed between Yale and Harvard. The conduct of all such delegates of the two institutions has built up a festive tradition that has long been regarded by Harvard and Yale men much in the same light as the Fourth of July.

1947

IT IS COMMON KNOWLEDGE that the Volstead Act, several depressions, and the invention of four-wheel brakes have become part of history since a Harvard-Yale Game settled a major championship or demonstrated the best in football. Almost unendingly one hears that these late November meetings are self-sufficient entities--complete, whole football seasons synthesized into three hour, red and blue capsules, to be swallowed only in the Yale Bowl or Harvard Stadium. What more can be said? The 75,000 spectators, the sounds and colors, the brandy and Chanel-scented air--all the riotous and mellow components of the Weekend are, above all, tributes to a football game that, year after year begins with little, brews for sixty minutes, and produces greatness.

This year, the familiar pattern has been unwillingly but faithfully followed. The Harvard and Yale teams have fallen far short of preseason hopes or expectations. But, as in the past, both conscious strategy and the insidious but unconscious aura of the the game inexorably combine to save the special play, the hardest tackle, the all-out effort, for today. The explosion that inevitably follows produces exciting football, unexcelled football. It is touched off when two ordinary teams suddenly find their niche in the unpredictable common denominator that is football and become part of a legend.

At kickoff time, 75,000 individuals will jam the huge Bowl for the first "formal" New Haven Harvard-Yale Game since before the War. Together with their colored feathers and old fur coats, they bring traditions and memories of Mahan and Heffelfinger, Booth and Wood, Frank and Struck--great names of ten or thirty years ago. But more than that, they come anxious to bask in the spirit and participate in the festivities of the occasion; to join with the two teams in writing a new chapter in the unique legend of this day.

1948

BETWEEN 1:45 AND 4 P.M. today 57,000 otherwise steady individuals will blow their tops. The mud flats of Soldiers Field will tremble under the poundings and stampings of the huge audience, and the groans and yips will travel downstream on the Charles. The gentleman who yesterday called the Harvard-Yale game stuff for kids will overnight turn into the noisiest and naughtiest kid in the territory. After the game, the breath of liquor will hang over the Square like a smog; blond hair and strapless backs will glitter through the night; and Cambridge, seat of culture, will be undistinguishable from any city where the American Legion is raising hell.

Why all the fuss over a game of football? Ever since the big series started in 1875, men have tried to discover the special charm of the late November classic. Bright-eyed moralists, for instance, have gone into a happy glow at the sight of a real cleam, healthy American sportsmanship, 57,000 fans haven't paid $4.80 and upward to see a demonstration of the Golden Rule.

Other thinkers have listed football--and the Yale Game--with what William James called "the moral equivalents of war," the safe ways of working off man's aggressive tendencies. Perhaps football is a moral equivalent which will someday save us all, but even this happy prospect cannot account for the standees on the stadium roof and the 10,000 extra olives at the Ritz.

Some Harvard Yale fans have credited the cosmic aspects of this certain Saturday to the high quality of the football. Both coaches and both teams have certainly sweated long and hard over drills and diagrams, and deserve the backing of the fans. But this year, as in many years past, both teams are slamming each other to gain next-to-last place in a slightly dubious Big Three championship. The men who left the middle West for Harvard Stadium this week could have seen a finer brand of football by staying home.

So we are left with no answer for it all. Some will only shrug their soldiers and tip their snifters. But others will continue to ponder the mysteries of the Yale game, remembering the words of the late Professor George Lyman Kittredge '82, "There must be something to this Yale game, they do it every year."

1966

THERE ARE A FEW LINES of fine print on the back of Harvard football tickets which, if anyone took them seriously, would put an end to one of the biggest booms in Boston's economic history: ticket scalping.

"Under Massachusetts laws," the fine print reads, "this ticket is a revocable license. If sold or offered for sale at a premium, it becomes void." During most of the year, this warning is about as relevant as the Nineteenth Amendment. As the Yale game approaches, ticket scalping becomes hysteric, and nothing can stop it.

This year, according to seasoned observers, the ticket situation is tighter than ever. People at the Harvard Ticket Office, who (seem to) sigh with longing for a return of the bad old days, point out that the team is good this year and alumni want to see it. Yale tickets are not made available to the non-alumni Boston public, but the local newspapers have built up the hometown boys as the heroes of the Hub.

The search for tickets, on bulletin boards, in the Crimson, by the grapevine, began early this year. "Feel free to think in terms of $15," one classified said optimistically. There was no surprise when a reporter masquerading as a scalper called and offered a pair for $45.

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