Cambridge, USA: Punch-drunk hate at Harvard-Yale



The time had come in my HLS career to show some school spirit: I was going to Harvard-Yale.  I’m not normally a school spirit person, and even growing up in Texas had not made me interested in socializing around football.  But my year at Cambridge University had changed me into a person who enjoyed engaging in petty rivalries alongside hordes of affiliated University revelers.  So, I decided that there was no time like my last semester to engage in this supposedly quintessential Harvard experience.  And with that, we were off to New Haven, dressed in Crimson and ready to wave our white and red pompoms.  I didn’t even have to feign excitement; I was genuinely psyched to go.

We arrived late.  We had ambitiously promised a friend that we would drive down at dawn to catch the traditional 9am Harvard-Yale Law Review game of (flag) football.  We were obviously hallucinating when we said this.  We hit the road around ten, and began seeing signs for New Haven around kick-off time.  No problem, we said to ourselves.  We’ll still see plenty of action, if there was any action to be seen; after all, Harvard and Yale are not the country’s premier football schools.  But whatever happened, we were going to be there, screaming and chanting while juggling our funnel cake and beer.

There is something inherently hilarious about a football rivalry between Harvard and Yale.  The real rivalry between the schools is of course the question of who is smarter, more elite, more prestigious, more likely to take over the world.  There’s also the Cambridge-New Haven rivalry, in which we hate on each other’s cities.  But, fine, let’s pretend its about football for a minute.  However you want to classify it, we were looking forward to acting like pro-Harvard anti-Yale jerks for a few hours.

It was a stunningly sunny day—an auspicious beginning. We walked into the stadium grounds (the Bulldog’s den!) and were met by civilized teasing.  A golf cart of blue clad men trundled by, clutching Budweisers.  “Go back to Boston!” they yelled, laughing. Come on, that was all they had in them? “We will!” I yelled back. “In about five hours!”  As we left the tailgating area, a few couples attempted to come up with something witty and harsh and could only stutter, “Ew, is that Crimson?”  I turned around. Were we being referred to as a personified color? “Barf!” they giggled.   I waved my pompoms in their face and they broke out laughing.  On the way into the stadium, two Yale men asked me to pose for a picture with them in front of the giant inflatable Bulldog.  Just to show they meant business, they attempted to give me bunny ears. 

This was hardcore rivalry, alright. Across the stadium, a friend of mine doing a PhD at Yale was at the Forestry School’s barbeque. She gushed to me that they were roasting oysters sprinkled with cilantro. 

Arriving late was the accidentally smart thing to do.  We loaded up on fried food and piled into our seats at the end of the third quarter.  Depressingly, the score was Yale: 10, Harvard: 0, and the mood was pessimistic.  My friend turned to me in angst. “What do you think they’re going to do?” he said, gesturing at Harvard’s team.  I am not the right person to ask about these questions.  I follow the game by mimicking what the rest of the crowd is doing.  “I think they’re going to play football,” I said. “I mean what will they DO?”  I stared back at him, and then I offered up a distraction.  “Funnel cake?” He does love funnel cake.

We tried getting serious about footstomping, but the mood was not contagious.  A group of our LL.M. friends abandoned hope just before the start of the fourth quarter and left to tour Yale’s campus.  What they missed was a surprising and triumphant comeback. Harvard capitalized on poor playcalling by Yale to win the game 14-10. 

This was it! This was the reason we drove all the way down to New Haven on a Saturday morning! The crowd poured onto the field.  We filed out to the funnel cake stand, again.  No sense in getting in their way.

We shuffled back into town with the masses, high on the victory and sugar, and I was feeling particularly obnoxious. “Stinks to be you!” I laughed at a man in a Yale shirt.  “Do you want to get punched in the face right now?” he asked, glaring at me.  Uhm, NO.  “Do you want to learn to take a joke right now?” I asked.  This man was threatening to punch a girl in the face because she was lording a football victory over him?

He wasn’t backing down.  “I play on the team,” he growled. Well that explained things.  I sized him up.  Apparently, Yale had recruited some very small football players that like to punch girls in the face. But victory had been destined to be ours from the very beginning.  “Yeah, okay,” I responded.  “So you play on the team. Sorry.”  He kept glaring.  “Hey man—don’t worry!” one of my friends reassured him, in a cheery voice.  “You’ll come back next time!”

Traitor! Why was he even speaking to him? This little person had just threatened to hit me! He was psychotic! “Whatever,” the small angry football player spit out, stumbling into the forest on the side of the road.

“What the hell was that?!” we asked each other, before deciding to head for pizza, the one thing that New Haven may do better than Cambridge.  But the day was ours.  Victory was delicious, and not even hostile miniature football players could take that away from us.

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