Campus & Community

The Game: A tradition since 1875

6 min read

To see how the 129th Harvard-Yale game played out, with the Crimson beating Yale 34-24, visit

Each year Harvard and Yale vie for bragging rights in a football rivalry dating back to 1875. Harvard vs. Yale is more than just a game. It’s The Game. For many alumni, it’s also a chance to reconnect and reaffirm friendships forged decades ago.

For Bob and Carolyn Cumings of Winchester, Mass., the 2008 game marked the 56th anniversary of their blind date, and each subsequent game adds to their personal history as a married couple.

Tailgating at The Game is an art form. The spreads run the gamut from burgers to caviar and wine served with crystal and silver. On a table between parked cars in 2004, Bob Shaunessy ’59 proudly displayed the game ball he was given as captain of the team that defeated Yale, 28-0. The 2004 game marked the first time that Shaunessy had taken the ball out of his home since he and his mates blanked Yale 46 years earlier.

On the field at halftime, the two marching bands parody each other’s schools with creative mischief and elaborate formations. At the 2009 game in New Haven, four Yale men dressed only in pink undershorts proudly displayed the letters Y-A-L-E, painted in blue on their chests, as they exhorted their comrades to crush the Crimson.

Cymbals clash as the band belts out “Ten Thousand Men of Harvard,” fanatic fans in school colors and face paint cheer wildly, and groups of old grads bundle together for warmth and friendship, all adding to the pageantry that makes this tradition so much more than just a game of football.

— Photographs and text by Jon Chase

Dottie Balkema (left) and Milt Minkema display their divided loyalties before The Game in 2004. Dottie’s grandson Robert Balkema ’06 played linebacker for the Crimson, while Milt’s son is a professor at Yale. Dottie and Milt are old friends who now see each other regularly after being married to different spouses. They first dated 50 years ago in high school.
Bob Shaunessy ’59 pats the game ball he was given as captain of the team that defeated Yale, 28-0, in 1958. The 121st Harvard-Yale football game in 2004 marked the first occasion he’s taken the ball out of his home since the win. Harvard not only beat Yale but also won the Ivy League title in 2004.
In 2009, a Harvard player struggles to score during the Harvard-Yale rugby match, which often precedes the football game. Established in 1872, the Harvard Rugby Football Club is one of the College’s oldest athletic teams and the first rugby club in North America.
Harvard wide receiver Matt Luft ’10 gets wrapped up by Yale defenders Steven Santoro (left) and Paul Rice after a long pass reception. Luft scored two touchdowns and garnered eight passes for 160 yards, as Harvard defeated their rivals, 37-6, in 2007.
Boisterous Crimson fans cheer on their team early in the 2006 game. Their enthusiasm was not enough to carry the day, however, as Harvard lost, 34-13, in only the second Crimson defeat in more than a decade.
Yale running back John Sheffield gets horizontal after catching a pass and being upended by Crimson defensive back Brian Owusu ’13 in 2009. Harvard won, 14-10.
Yale fans had something to cheer about early, but needed consoling by game’s end in 2010, as Harvard won, 28-21.
Crimson running back Gino Gordon ’10 steps over a fallen Yale player as defensive back Adam Money moves in. Gordon gained 168 yards for the day in 2008 as the cold and wind forced Harvard to concentrate on its running game. Harvard won, 10-0, and clinched a share of the Ivy League title.
This tattoo belongs to Crimson offensive tackle Nik Sobic ’07, who broke his leg the previous week against Columbia, and had to sit out the 2006 Yale game.
Harvard Stadium at halftime during the 125th playing of the Harvard-Yale game. Marching bands from both schools go to great lengths to parody and ridicule the other side with skits both funny and bizarre. Harvard won the 2008 game, 10-0, and shared the Ivy League championship with Brown.
Archie Epps, Harvard College dean of students, conducts the Harvard University Band during half time at the Harvard-Yale football game in 1998, as band director Tom Everett looks on. Epps served as dean for 28 years, while Everett has been the longest serving director of the Harvard University Band since coming to Harvard in 1971.
Yale students prove that real men aren’t afraid to wear pink at The Game in 2009. Outlandish behavior and pranks such as stealing school colors from the opposing side are part and parcel of the H-Y tradition.
Harvard wide receiver Corey Mazza ’08 makes an acrobatic catch — against a winning backdrop — while bracing his fall with one hand during the game in 2007.
Dick Bennink ’38 get a peck from Sylvia Hollister, wife of Vic Koirvumaki ’68, before The Game in 2010. Bennink has attended every H-Y game since he graduated, except for the years when he served overseas during WWII. Bennink was 93 when this photo was taken and still travels to The Game from his home in Franconia, N.H.
Handsome Dan XVII, the Yale bulldog, sits for an impromptu portrait. Handsome Dan is part of a long-standing tradition dating back to 1889, when Yale’s Handsome Dan I became the first live college mascot in America. Handsome Dan XVII is a bit of a celebrity and has been photographed with former President George Bush and Paul McCartney of the Beatles.
Crimson wide receiver Levi Richards ’11 tries to break away from Yale defensive back Paul Rice during the 125th playing of the Harvard-Yale game in 2008. Harvard won, 10-0, and shared the Ivy League championship with Brown.
Harvard fullback Kyle Juszczyk ’13 rejoices as coach Tim Murphy lets out a shout after being given an ice-cold Gatorade shower at game’s end in 2009. Harvard won, 14-10.
Crimson linebacker Conor Murphy ’10 receives a well-deserved hug at game’s end in 2009. Murphy holds the ball he recovered from a Yale fumble that ensured the victory as the clock wound down. Wide receiver Adam Chrissis ’12 is at left.
Yale students commiserate after the game in 2009. They had reason to feel blue after losing yet another edition of The Game, their eighth loss in nine years, as they fell to the Crimson, 14-10.
A Crimson fan riding a wave of ecstatic students on the field shrieks out in jubilation as Harvard defeats Yale, 28-21, in 2010.
At Harvard Stadium in 2008, Bob (whose allegiance is to Yale, not Harvard) and Carolyn Cumings of Winchester, Mass., celebrate the 56th anniversary of their first blind date at a Harvard-Yale game. They have been together ever since.