The H-Y Game: 120 Years Of Change

from Harvard's ARCHIVES An occasional series on University history

The Game, two words which warrant no more explanation in Cambridge or New Haven, has changed more in the last century than most of the Elis and Harvard students who will be sitting in the stands on Saturday can realize.

It was exactly 120 years ago, on Nov. 13, 1875, that the two schools played the first Game in New Haven. The tickets back then sold for 50 cents each, and an audience of 3,000 cheered as the two teams played a game which blended soccer and rugby. Since the Elis were on their home field, the Crimson team set many of the rules which were adopted in the course of the game.

Harvard won it, 4-0, though Yale would go on to beat the Crimson in 21 of the next 28 Games.

For the first few years the game was played in Boston, New Haven, and New York City. Then, in 1889, Springfield, Mass. was established as the location for the annual match-up, chosen as neutral territory between the two schools.

Though the tradition and the capitalization of the name of The Game continue, much has changed, including logistical aspects such as the uniforms, which were made of leather in the nineteenth century.


Harvard and Yale claim their Game is 120 years old, but in fact, it has not happened every single year since 1875.

Precisely 100 years ago, there actually was no contest on the gridiron between the two arch-rivals. A bitter dispute over a violent 1894 matchup caused a two-year feud that prevented the 20th and 21st Games from going forward.

In a statement released October 8, 1895, the chair of the Harvard Athletic Committee announced that "October 5 having passed and Harvard having received no invitation from Yale to play football, it is now defi- nitely settled that there will be no football game this year between the elevens of these universities."

It seems that Yale was too miffed, after a literally bloody 1894 contest, to allow the Crimson on its fields. And Harvard, with several casualties of its own from that battle, reacted with the annoyance of a spurned suitor.

"If Yale felt that Harvard's conduct had been such that she could not meet her in football, then Harvard felt that it would be impossible for her to meet Yale in any sport," said "Professor Ames," who chaired the Athletic Committee. But he trumpeted "that in taking this ground Harvard was not actuated by any spirit of hostility nor of retaliation."

About 30 graduate and undergraduate students gathered on the night of October 8 at a restaurant in Boston to discuss the "negotiations between Harvard and Yale," but decided to hold their ground and back Professor Ames's stand.

The Crimson reported that "the sentiment of Harvard men was well nigh universal that no other course was open to them without a sacrifice of self-respect."

At that time, the Harvard-Yale game, only 20 years old, was the big event in an athletic season that dominated University and Cambridge attention. Football topped the four-column Crimson pages every day, along with SPORTS-related items like the formation of a "Varsity Banjo Club." Even happenings at varsity practices made the front page.



So the negotiations over the 1895 Game were approached with the delicacy of the Balkan peace discussions. But the talks broke down in the end, and after Yale's missed invitation, Harvard refused to compete against the Elis in any sport for the rest of the year.