This weekend I am heading back to New Haven for The Game, the first Yale-Harvard matchup I've seen since college. After all that time away, I'm looking forward to tailgating with my friends, pretending to follow what's happening on the field, admiring the newly renovated Yale Bowl, and generally partying like it's 1999 (the year of my very first, and most fondly recalled, Yale-Harvard Game).
Football is the one major American sport I can't follow. The rules-to-action ratio is just too high for me; I try to take it all in, but my mind wanders. My ignorance has persisted in spite of a very faithful record of football-game attendance as a member of my high school's pitiful marching band, and then as a sometimes enthusiastic Member of (here's where you yell) the Yale! Precision! Marching! Band! Maybe things would be different if I'd attended schools with very skilled football teams, but probably not, because if I had, I probably wouldn't have attended the games. What I loved about football was being outdoors (at least in the early part of the season), hanging with friends, blowing off steam, participating in rituals like the third-quarter playing of "Jump, Shake Your Bootie" (in high school) or post-halftime invocation of Ashtar (in college) as if they were Very Important, while knowing full well they were of no actual consequence. In college, the vigorous exercise of school spirit was a terrific stress-reliever, and I think it helped that I knew almost nothing about how the points on the scoreboard got there. (I'm a much more informed spectator of basketball, and our team's bewildering refusal to rebound the ball caused me more anxiety than writing my senior essay.) When we played "Down the Field" (the stateliest of Yale's many football fight songs), I loved shouting the final line: "Harvard's team may fight to the end, but Yale! Will! Win!" The lyrics didn't change when we were playing a team other than Harvard, because they weren't really about football anyway. It was a nice bonus when that assertion actually came true on the field, but even if the Cantabs posted the higher score, I got to leave for Thanksgiving break right from the Bowl, and by the time I reached home it didn't matter what the scoreboard had said. The Game was about celebrating the college experience, and throwing off the stress of the fall semester; I went home exhausted and exhilarated, and I returned to campus energized and ready to propel myself through my final exams.
My life is no longer portioned out according to an academic schedule, but the past few "semesters" of young adulthood have had their own stresses, and a trip to The Game may be just the thing to restore my equilibrium and psyche me up for the next big adventure. I'm excited to be going back there now, the same but different; I'm looking forward to digging out the KBB T-shirt I designed many moons ago, and the Saybrook hoodie that boasts of a "Tyng Cup Dynasty" to which I contributed nothing, and I'm looking forward to cuddling with the fiance in the stands and introducing him to the many wonderful people I knew in my college days. I'll have to get up very early to catch the train, and I plan to wear many warm and unglamorous layers, so in that respect it will be just like old times. But I'm also looking forward to acknowledging, and celebrating, everything that's changed for me since I last set foot in the Bowl. I have no doubt that "Yale will win" -- whatever the final score may be.
I'll leave you with a few links to get you in the mood, or to tide you over till I get back. First, the New York Times online archives include this hilarious old-timey article about The Game, published in 1894 (that link opens a .pdf). Sample quotation: "Of the visitors the Yale men seem to be in the majority, and they are walking about the streets shouting their college cries and flaunting the blue in the eyes of every one." Doesn't that make your heart swell? And don't miss this stirring quotation from Ray Tompkins himself, here named as "one of the coachers" (typo or archaism? You make the call!): "If Yale wins, and I think she should, Harvard will be badly beaten." And I bet she will holler boola-boo.
Second, I really enjoyed this recent Onion article: "U.S. Military Wasting All Its Victories on Notre Dame." It reminds me what a blessing it is that the true significance of the Yale-Harvard rivalry, even on a symbolic level, is virtually nil. That utter lack of consequence is what makes it so much fun, at least for me. But then, I also really enjoy those cartoon "competitions" they broadcast at baseball games, where you cheer for your favorite hot-dog condiments as they race toward the branded finish line. So make of that what you will. (Also, not that it matters now, but that's sparkling cider I'm chugging up there. So, again, my idea of "fun" may not match up with yours.)