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One of the strangest tribal rites in American society is the Harvard-Yale weekend. The most traditional of rivals, these two colleges have been playing one another in football since 1875, and in the old days their game was often of importance in settling the national championship. It was a game that brought out the ferocity in everyone. According to dark legend, a turn-of-the-century Harvard coach deeply inspired his players without saying a word. As they watched in mounting fascination, he slowly and silently choked a bulldog to death, then tossed the carcass at their feet. Perhaps the most rabid Harvard cheerleader of all time was John Reed, '10, the Bolshevik sympathizer buried within the wall of the Kremlin. Nothing aroused Reed like the Yale game, and he wrote a song proposing to "twist the bulldog's tail" and "call up the hearse for dear old Yale." (Later Reed taught striking Paterson, N.J. silk workers Harvard songs with proletarian lyrics.)
Nowadays, the Harvard-Yale game is no longer of importance as far as college football standings are concerned, and much of the ferocity has departed. Nonetheless, the game remains the focal point for all sorts of curious folk practices. For instance, whenever it is played at Harvard, as it was November 24 last, representatives of the New Haven tailoring establishments—J. Press, Fenn-Feinstein, Chipp, Arthur Rosenberg, et al.—entrain for Cambridge to render biennial obeisance and to see what the young gentlemen are wearing. The tailors themselves wear velour Alpine hats, double-breasted, tweed topcoats and blue oxford shirts to offset their sallow complexions. By custom they do not speak to one another, and, upon arrival, each goes his separate way. Following tradition, Paul Press descends into the basement of J. Press, where he stands his Cambridge branch employees to a buffet luncheon of cream soda and hot pastrami imported from New Haven.
Harvard College has 4,700 students, each of whom is, as anyone of them will tell you, an individualist. "What we're after is not the well-rounded boy but the lopsided boy who will make up a well-rounded class," says F. Skiddy von Stade Jr., the freshman dean. As a result, says von Stade, "You don't get the whole college doing any one thing and that simply is extended to athletics, football included."
The freshmen live in the Yard, the upperclassmen in nine glorified dormitories called houses. (At Yale the houses are called colleges.) Each house, like Harvard itself, is stereotyped. Eliot House, for example, is "preppie," with an admixture of "jocks." Preppie and jock are two of the sociological pigeonholes into which Harvard students are forever thrusting one another. Preppies are prep-school graduates. If they are social enough, they may go on to become "clubbies," members of the handful of "final" clubs of which Porcellian is the most exclusive. Jocks are athletes. There are beatniks who hang out in Hayes Bickford Cafeteria on Harvard Square. There are "wonks." A wonk, sometimes called a "turkey" or a "lunch," roughly corresponds to the "meatball" of a decade ago. Like the jock, the clubbie and the beatnik, the wonk is free to go his own way. Harvard fosters a live-and-let-live philosophy. Mike Foley, a jock who plays end on the football team, says of the wonks: "You have to respect them. One of them might come up with an invention in 20 years that will save the world." Similarly, the wonks, when they stop to think about it, do not look upon the jocks as animals. There are animals in the Big Ten and at Dartmouth but not at Harvard.
Serious preparation for The Game begins a week beforehand at Harvard. (The Yale game is simply called The Game. Other games are called the Princeton game, the Cornell game, the Brown game and so on, but Yale is always The Game.)
At 2 on Sunday afternoon, November 17—six days before The Game—Harvard Coach John Yovicsin put the phone down in his office. It was his third call of the day, all from the same Boston paper. "I get three calls a day from them, from three different reporters, and each one of them wants something new," he said. "In fact, all the papers want something new every time.
"At Harvard," he continued, "we play two schedules. We've finished our first one now, and our second one starts this week." Both Harvard and Yale attach such importance to The Game that they scout one another all season. "When I first came here I didn't believe how important the Yale game could be," Yovicsin said. "Of course, there are so many areas of interest here that groups can become so wrapped up in their own interests that they are not concerned with the team. But generally we have fine support. Harvard is different, but it's nice."
Outside Yovicsin's office Buzz Gagnebin, the varsity manager, said that in order to get the players up for a game he "must appeal to their intelligence." It was not unusual, he said, for a player to ask him to remove a pep sign from the locker room on the grounds it was childish. Gagnebin was trying to decide what movie to show the players on Friday night. "We try not to get anything with lovey-dovey parts," he said. "We like to have one with lots of action."
At 5 Sunday afternoon Bill Grana, fullback, and Charlie Kessler, guard, were watching the Boston Patriot game on TV in Grana's room in Winthrop House. Grana, a junior from St. Louis, is majoring in biochemistry, and he is a group-three student (a B average). "I want the grades, sure," he said, "but during the fall I think an awful lot about football. I'm glad I'm playing here. I really enjoy it. I have friends in the Big Eight and the Big Ten who love football, but they quit. They just couldn't stand it."
"Football sure doesn't unite the campus here," said Kessler. "There are guys in the stacks at Widener Library who never come out, and the crowd that hangs around Hayes Bick is like a thing that came right out of the wall."