Campus & Community

Live from the stadium: Saturday night lights

4 min read

Crimson outshine Bears, 24-17, in home opener/inaugural night game

Crimson football fans and Harvard history buffs might be surprised to learn that Saturday’s (Sept. 22) night game wasn’t, strictly speaking, the first time the stadium field was illuminated. In fact, for former Harvard footballers and current Crimson boosters Bob Brooks ’68, Chris Burns ’68, and Matt Donelan ’67, all of whom were in attendance for this past weekend’s showdown with Brown, playing in the dark (or at least surrounded by it) was something of an old hat. Though one particular night at the stadium over 40 years ago still resonates with the trio as being highly unusual.

When the great Northeast blackout of 1965 wiped out the portable lighting poles then used by the team for evening practices, the coaching staff called out a clever play: pull up some cars on the sidelines and illuminate the field by headlight. Perhaps to the disappointment of Brooks, Burns, Donelan, and the rest of that 1965 Harvard team (5-2-2 overall), practice was salvaged.

Barring any major power outages in the future, it’s unlikely the Harvard football program, which aims to hold a single night game at the stadium per season, will again have to rely on high-beams to light up the hash marks.

Installed last October as part of a facility renovation, the stadium’s now permanent lighting system consists of 116 fixtures fit snugly into the railing cove just above the colonnade section. Their placement, in fact, makes them remarkably unobtrusive. When switched on, the lights — operating at 400 watts each (roughly the equivalent of a household freezer) — radiate a clean, white hue with minimal spill-off. That yellow haze immortalized in ’70s NFL films, not so much.

Besides the annual night game, the lights have greatly extended the usefulness of the facility by allowing play and practices for multiple sports and events into the evening. A huge plus particularly when daylight saving time ends in the fall.

Meanwhile, for the bulk of the 18,898 who turned out to see the Crimson defeat the Bears, 24-17, the evening game afforded a range of experiences. The sheer excitement surrounding football’s inaugural nocturnal foray, in fact, was enough to pull college senior Danielle Williams from across the river and into the stands, a first for Williams.

“It feels like more of a typical college experience, so, kind of unlike Harvard,” Williams said. “But I’ve been more motivated to come out and a lot more of my friends have, too,” she added, referring to the convenient 7:30 p.m. kickoff.

Playing catch with family friends outside the stadium prior to the game, Richard Rock of Brockton, Mass., was most impressed with the inconspicuous nature of the lights. “They way they did the lighting, too, you don’t even notice it,” he observed. The grown son of a Harvard alumnus, Rock should know: He’s been attending games at the stadium since he was six.

“I think they got the right approach. They’re probably only going to do one a year [host a night game],” Rock said. Still, that being said, Rock offered a neat endorsement for the traditional Crimson football experience: “An afternoon at Harvard Stadium is still a great afternoon.”

For all the fanfare surrounding the night lights, there was still a football game to be played. With a solid defensive effort, including a pair of fourth-quarter interceptions courtesy of senior cornerback Steven Williams, the home team refused to allow Brown to spoil the good vibes. Coupled with the pickoffs, the Harvard defense held the opposing offense to just 62 total yards (11 yards rushing) in the latter half. On the night, meanwhile, Harvard helped thwart 11 of Brown’s 12 third-down conversion attempts. Offensively, senior quarterback Liam O’Hagan recorded a game-high 72 rushing yards, while orchestrating three first-half touchdowns, including a one-yard sneak to give Harvard a 21-17 edge just prior to halftime. At the 3:07 mark of the fourth quarter, sophomore kicker Patrick Long tacked on a 23-yard field goal to set up the 24-17 final. With the victory, the Crimson evened up their record to 1-1 (1-0 Ivy). Next up, the team travels to Bethlehem, Pa., to face Lehigh — in the day — on Sept. 29.