Harvard-Yale at Fenway Park was inevitable
At about 9:30 Saturday morning in front of Gate D on Jersey Street, I saw a man and a woman both dressed in full-length raccoon coats, wearing Harvard scarfs.
Boola Boola comes to Fenway.
Three and a half weeks ago, we had Dodgers vs. Red Sox in Game 2 of the World Series at our ancient Back Bay cathedral. Saturday it was the 135th playing of the Harvard-Yale game with Harvard winning, 45-27, in front of 34,675, including Thurston Howell III and Lovey.
Sunday it’ll be hurling at Fenway. Tuesday the park kicks off two days of high school football games.
Harvard-Yale was inevitable at Fenway. The ballpark has always been more than a baseball venue. BC played Dartmouth in a football game here in 1914, months after the big league debut of Red Sox lefthander Babe Ruth. The New York football Giants and the Boston Redskins played here in the 1920s and ’30s. Franklin Delano Roosevelt spoke to 40,000 citizens at Fenway in 1944. The Boston Patriots played AFL games here in the 1960s with Gino Cappelletti famously dropping field goals into the visitors’ bullpen (Gino’s grandson dressed for Yale Saturday). The Globetrotters played Fenway, as did Ray Charles, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, and Thelonious Monk at the Boston Jazz Festival in 1959. Pele played here in 1968 and Killer Kowalski was on a wrestling card that drew 12,000 to Fenway in 1969.
Since the “new” Red Sox owners bought the joint in 2001, Fenway has been a house of rock ’n’ roll featuring Bruce Springsteen, the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, and Pearl Jam. The Winter Classic came to Fenway in 2010 (Bobby Orr on the Fenway ice for ceremonies) and those of us who cover baseball enjoyed the irony of Zdeno Chara using the same locker that belonged to J.D. Drew.
Notre Dame played BC in football at Fenway on national television in 2015, which meant it was only a matter of time before The Game came to Yawkey Way/Jersey Street.
The Game is no understatement. Harvard and Yale were the founding fathers of college football, winning 18 national championships before the sport became the playpen of Urban Meyer corruptibles. Teddy Kennedy caught a touchdown pass in The Game. George W. Bush carried a megaphone in The Game. Ali McGraw attended The Game when she was dating Ryan O’Neal in “Love Story.’’ Tommy Lee Jones played in The Game when Harvard tied Yale after trailing by 16 points with 42 seconds remaining. Teddy Roosevelt attended The Game and Harvard philosopher George Santayana attended the 1892 Harvard-Yale joust, where he is believed to have first deduced that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’’
In 1978, Harvard alum Roger Angell went to The Game and explained, “Winter begins here, every year, when the gun goes off and the last cries and songs are exchanged across the field.’’
Boston’s beloved ballpark has roots that connect to the Ivy League. Harvard’s baseball team participated in the first contest played at Fenway, a 2-0 loss (a Globe scribe wrote that the Johnnies were “shy with the hickory”) to the Red Sox on April 9, 1912. The paint used at Fenway was originally known as “Dartmouth Green.’’
Tom Yawkey and Theo Epstein were Yale men. Larry Lucchino went to Yale Law School. Harvard boasts Tom Werner and 1986 Red Sox pinch hitter Mike Stenhouse.
“We are honored to host one of New England’s great traditions,’’ Red Sox CEO Sam Kennedy said Saturday.
This marked the first time Harvard or Yale had ceded a home game since 1894, when The Game was played at Hampton Park in Springfield and some of the loyal Harvard alums were none too happy giving up a home game. It made it tough to tailgate. I mean . . . Boston Beer Works or Game On! instead of the sacred asphalt in front of Dillon Fieldhouse?
There was, of course, a VIP tent in front of the left field wall for the big-ticketed, beautiful people. Those folks could hoist their gin and tonics, then nestle into a special section of temporary stands placed in front of Harvard’s sideline. In the spirit of John Lennon, the upper crust did not have to applaud at the appropriate moments; they could simply rattle their jewelry.
ESPN2 beamed The Game to all corners of the football universe. And it was a pretty good game, the highest-scoring contest in the rivalry’s history.
Harvard’s first three touchdowns were answered by Yale TDs. After the Eli took a 24-21 lead with a 32-yard field goal in the third quarter, Harvard went ahead, 28-24, on a 15-yard touchdown pass from Tom Stewart to Jack Cook late in the third.
With 13:33 left in the game and Harvard leading, 28-27, the Fenway speakers played “Sweet Caroline.’’ Boo. It was then that Harvard’s Devin Darrington had a touchdown called back because he was taunting a Yale defender before he got into the end zone.
“[Darrington] was wrong,’’ said Harvard coach Tim Murphy, ever a stand-up guy. “It was the right call.’’
Harvard wound up settling for a 36-yard field goal and a 31-27 lead. Darrington came back to score two touchdowns to put away the game as winter fell over Fenway.
So there. Fenway has The Game on its résumé.
What’s next? The Boston Pops playing at Fenway on the Fourth of July? The Boston Marathon moving the starting line (or the finish line) onto the warning track at Fenway Park? The L Street Brownies plunging into a vat of seawater in the middle of Fenway on New Year’s Day? Jeff Bezos moving Amazon headquarters to Fenway?
In 1923, Yale coach T.A.D. Jones told his players, “Gentlemen, you are now going out to play football against Harvard. Never again in your whole life will you do anything so important.’’
It’s a debatable sentiment in 2018, but in the moment, it works every time.
Just ask the 2018 Harvard football players. The Game is still a pretty big deal.