Sports Illustrated-Harvard vs. Princeton Game turns 100. Who Cares?

Between the Red Sox‘s season-saving victory over Cleveland, the annual Head of Charles Regatta and the Bikram Yoga regional championships (no, this is not a joke), Saturday was heaven on earth for any Boston sports fan. But the most historic event took place with very little fanfare. That’s right, Harvardand Princeton battled for the 100th time on the gridiron.

-Jesse Hardman, Cambridge, MA

I was on hand for the big event and asked everyone I could find — from coeds to old timers — about the significance of the game and most returned my question with a chuckle. Others gave me an empty look and returned to smoking cigars and fixing their VERITAS lapel pins. Needless to say, this wasn’t exactly Ohio State-Michigan.

One exception was Harvard junior Blake Brown, who was flipping burgers and drinking beers with 30 other members of the H-Club, a school sponsored tailgate organization. Brown apologizes for the low turnout. “It’s 12:30 on Saturday, and most students are sleeping or doing homework. We’re trying to not be those kids.”

On the bright side, Brown says the beer was paid for by the University. ” Harvardpaid for this whole tailgate. Our tuition is finally doing something for us.”

All told there are just over 100 people gearing up for the game in the tailgate area. I move over to the Princeton side to see if the Tigers are any more ferocious. Pete Allen and Collin Anderson greet me and recount their hijinks from last night.

“We went up to Cambridge and walked through their territory last night. All I can say is go big or go home.”

Pete and Collin are decked in bright orange shirts, orange foam No. 1 fingers and bright orange hunting hats. They look like construction cones. These two friends try to muster a few taunts, calling Harvard fans “lackluster,” and telling them to “Warm up the bus, it’s a long way back to Cambridge.”

But they say the reason they came to the game is to convene with the notable Princeton community. “You’ll get people here who graduated eighty years ago,” Allen says.

Harvard alum Bill Temby is not quite that old, but he did graduate from Harvard just after World War II. “I’ve been to every Yale game since 1946 except for two.”

Temby is loyal to Harvard football in part because it has maintained the spirit of collegiate sports. “These are people who will graduate, take their place in life, not a whole lot different than if they hadn’t played football.”

As I make my way into the 30,000 seat coliseum that is Harvard Stadium, I am struck by two things. First, how can a school with an endowment of around $30 billion have a football stadium with no actual seats, just concrete slabs? Second, how did I buy a ticket to a football game and wind up at a Brooks Brothersfashion shoot?

At just about any other college football stadium, the crowd would be a sea of beer stained sweatshirts and windbreakers. At Harvard, gameday apparel consists of bow ties, tweed blazers and khakis. I sit down in front of a guy named Sumner and a few rows down from a Kennedy (I wasn’t sure which one, but the woman in the row behind me wouldn’t shut up about it). The three gentlemen in front of me are decked out in cardigans and nibble on Ben and Jerry’s ice cream bars. One of them yells at friend who passes in a suit and tie, “You look dapper. You know this isn’t a political fundraiser.”

Laughter ensues, but if I did not know better, I would say that is exactly what is going on here. Much of the crowd is wearing nametags with their graduation year and the years of any legacies they may have produced. Firm handshakes and million dollar smiles abound.

As I watch Harvard‘s lone baton twirler spin and drop her baton for the fifth time, I have to smile. Yes, she’s had more drops than the Crimson receivers, but she’s out there because she wants to be. Nobody gave her or anyone on the field a scholarship to be here. Student athletes do not go to Harvard or Princeton for football, and maybe that is partly why the game is fun. Everybody is an amateur, including the fans. It is competitive, but it’s just a game.

In this century old rivalry the prevailing attitude is that life will go on, which is a good thing when you consider who is in the crowd. If these powerful Ivies got too worked up about a little football game, stock markets might crash, politicians fall, and who knows what other catastrophes would hit. Yes, the world can rest easy tonight knowing that a good natured football game happened this weekend, and few will remember.