SI Vault
Dan Jenkins
September 09, 1968
No one has ever been able to figure out how old the sport of football is, except that it goes back at least 2,000 years, which means that the Chinese may have invented it, and therefore they also may have come up with the first traditional rivalry: the Hoys vs. the Hos for possession of the Old Oaken Egg Roll, or something like that. What we do know is that Princeton and Rutgers played the first American version of the game exactly 99 years ago this November, and that, even then, as people watched from their frost-coated buckboards in New Brunswick, N.J., the collegiate sport had something extra that no other athletic endeavor would ever have—something that reaches mysteriously beyond exercise for its own sake, or honorable shin splints.
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September 09, 1968

The Joy Of Having A Foe You Know

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Yale and Harvard compete in a league called the Ivy, the championship of which, they now claim, is important enough. If this is true for them, it is because they had a 50-year head start on almost everybody else. The Crimson and the Bulldogs began playing football back in 1875; they were, one could say, the original traditional rivalry. Until the mid-1920s few teams outside of a small, select group of Eastern schools—Yale, Harvard, Princeton and Penn, mainly—ever impressed Walter Camp enough to gain a rating among his Big Four at the season's end. Walter Camp was the original AP poll.

One reason Yale and Harvard may have quit competing in the big time is that they grew weary of turning out legendary names. Yale, after all, produced Walter Camp himself, "the father of American football," who gave us the down system, the idea of 11 players to a side and modern scoring. Yale also produced Amos Alonzo Stagg, Pudge Heffelfinger, T. A. D. Jones, Ted Coy, Bill Mallory, Bruce Caldwell, Albie Booth, Larry Kelley and Clint Frank, along with an occasional Archibald MacLeish and John Hersey.

Harvard was just as busy. Coming out of Cambridge were the likes of Charles Daly, Hamilton Fish, Charlie Brickley, Eddie Mahan, Edward Casey, Barry Wood and a guard with the most perfect Ivy League name of all: Endicott Peabody. There were also a few Kennedys along the way. One of them, U.S. Senator Edward, scored Harvard's only touchdown in the 1955 loss to Yale.

Times have changed for the game. Fifty years ago, even 40, even 30, the men who played were considered the noblest examples of manhood. There was nothing bestial about them. They were gentlemen of courage, bravery and daring who lured 70,000 into The Bowl at New Haven. A star was instantly taken into the social élite, and the old grads liked nothing better than to sit around the fires of their private clubs and dredge up memories of the day in 1913 when Charlie Brickley booted five field goals to beat Yale 15-5, or discuss, cut by cut, every scamper of Albie Booth.

Now it seems different. The nostalgic hero for today's students is more apt to be men like Charlie Yeager, the Yale manager of 1952 who slipped into the game, as preplanned, to catch a pass for a conversion against poor Harvard. It is someone like the impulsive young girl in 1960 who dashed into the end zone to embrace Harvard's Charlie Ravenal as he scored his last touchdown in a rout. And it is someone like the Harvard student who arranged to let loose several greased pigs in the Yale Bowl during the 1953 game—and did.

For all of its deterioration as a game of importance to the outside world, there is still a color and an atmosphere to a Yale-Harvard weekend that few other rivalries can match. For example, there are intercollegiate competitions between the two schools on all levels—varsity, junior varsity and freshman. There are also tackle games between all dorms. Thus, more than 700 students participate in football either Friday or Saturday, and there is soccer and touch football going on. It is difficult to walk down a street in either New Haven or Cambridge without being thrown a pass. And then on Saturday afternoon, between fraternity parties, with class reunions going on in candy-striped tents all over the parking lots, the two varsities get down to the more or less important business of the game...oops, the game.

If Yale vs. Harvard can best be described today as an intellectual rivalry, the Texas-Oklahoma game is just the opposite. It is raw, rugged and deadly serious. Fights frequently break out in the stands as well as on the field. It features some of the most aggressive hitting in the sport. At the moment of the kickoff the players are jumping up and down, as if they've swallowed something from the chemistry lab, and waving their arms in the manner of John Wayne leading his troops in a charge out of the trenches. The bands are simultaneously bursting forth with The Eyes of Texas and Boomer Sooner, and more than 75,000 maniacs, pretty evenly divided, are standing and screeching. This is fairly amazing, for most of them are awfully hung over from the night before when they just turned downtown Dallas into a garage. A couple of years ago a new record total of 352 Texas and OU rowdies were jailed for disturbing the peace in a No Man's Land known as the corner of Commerce and Akard streets, a plot of ground separating the Baker and Adolphus hotels the evening before the big game.

While the Longhorns and Sooners have been playing since 1900 and while the game has been a special attraction of the State Fair since 1915, it is only since the end of World War II that the rivalry has become intense.

What started it, aptly enough, was a near riot during the 1947 game, which Texas won behind Bobby Layne. A referee's decision caused several thousand beverage bottles to be hurled down onto the playing field—and the State Fair has sold beer and soft drinks in paper cups ever since. Then Oklahoma started to win the game too often under Bud Wilkinson, sometimes winning it with prized recruits from Texas. From '48 through 1957, the Sooners won nine of 10 from Texas. This was during Oklahoma's glory days when Wilkinson coached five undefeated teams and won three national championships. It was only after Texas hired Darrell Royal, a former OU star, that things changed. Royal has now won nine of 11 from Oklahoma. The ironies are obvious, and they add heat to a rivalry that would boil all on its own, thanks to memories of such confrontations as the 1963 game.

A year before Texas had won 9-6 and a gang fight between the two benches had been judged about a tie. Now, Oklahoma was No. 1, just like a few years earlier, but Texas was rated No. 2. The Cotton Bowl was a pandemoniacal sellout as always, with the usual number of people having tried to slip in at dawn and hide under benches or, as a drunk successfully did in 1949, shinny up a light tower, hide and enjoy an aerial view of the game.

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