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Last fall, thinking of it as a kind of Christmas present given in advance, I offered to take my 9-year-old daughter, Medora, to her first Harvard-Yale football game. Actually, it was a selfish idea—an excuse to see my alma mater play against the Yales—and, as I expected, her enthusiasm was guarded. She has other ideas about Christmas. She has seen The Black Stallion six or seven times, and a horse, steaming in the winter air out on the lawn, is what she hopes to see through her window when she awakens on Christmas morning. It was easy to tell the Harvard-Yale game wasn't even on her "list." She looked at me gravely through the gray-green eyes she has inherited from her mother and asked, "What is it?"
"It's a football game," I explained, "so important that it's called The Game. There is no other The Game. A Yale coach named Ted Coy once told his players before The Game that they would never do anything quite as important in their lives as what they would be doing that afternoon." I went on to say that Percy Haughton, the Harvard coach from 1908 to 1916, had tried to get his players pepped up before The Game by hauling a bulldog, the Yale symbol, into the locker room and actually strangling the animal.
"He did what? Killed a dog?" Medora's eyes blazed. I had made a bad error.
I explained that it was just a legend. "He never actually did that," I said. "He couldn't. A bulldog hasn't got a neck." I went on to say that what Haughton had done was ride around Cambridge dragging a papier-mâché bulldog from the rear bumper of his car. That was how the legend had started.
Medora wasn't placated in the least. "That's even grosser," she said, "pulling a dog around from the back of a car!"
"More gross," I corrected her, and tried hurriedly to explain that papier-mâché—a word she had apparently not heard in her young life—wasn't the name of a bulldog breed, as she suspected, but meant that the dog was fake.
I assumed that was the end of things. The Harvard-Yale game as a Christmas present was out. But the night before The Game, just after her supper, Medora appeared at my study door and announced, "I'm ready. I've packed."
I was delighted. I retrieved the two tickets I was planning to give away, and early next morning we took the shuttle to Boston. The plane was crowded—many aboard, judging from the heavy coats and the predominance of blue and red in their attire, were on their way to The Game. Medora and I sat together. She was wearing a yellow jumpsuit, but the rest of her outfit, somewhat to my dismay, was blue—the Yale color. Her woolen hat was blue, and so were her parka, scarf, socks, shoulder bag and sneakers. "My favorite color is blue," she said simply.
It worried me. I had ulterior motives (besides the chance to see The Game) in taking Medora to Cambridge. My vague hope was that she would become impressed enough with Harvard to think about working hard at her studies so she might go there one day. I knew it wasn't important where she went as long as she approved of the choice herself. But I hoped it wasn't going to be Yale. After all, it would be one thing to sit in the stands and root for her as she performed for the Smith College field hockey team, or the Rutgers gymnastic squad, or whatever, but to think of her across the football field joyfully waving a blue pennant and yelling "Bowwow-wow!" with the Yale team poised on the Harvard goal line, while I raise a feeble "Hold 'em!" across the way, is a possibility too intolerable to consider.
"I should tell you something," Medora was saying beside me in the plane. She pointed to a tall blue feather a man a few seats in front of us sported from his hatband. It had a white Y on it. "There's my favorite letter." When I asked her why, she said it was because the yacht club where she is learning to sail has a blue pennant with a Y in the center and she likes to see it snapping in the wind from the bow of the club launch.