Skip to main content
Original Issue


Untroubled by the headaches of big-time college football, the Ivy League is a throwback to an earlier and more carefree time, when game plans, redshirts and weekly polls did not exist. The old grad, drink in hand, hurries toward the stadium in his raccoon coat, perhaps the same one he has worn to the Harvard-Yale game since he was a student. Pregame picnics, a bit more elegant than in other parts of the country, flourish as they did when F. Scott Fitzgerald was at Princeton and Cole Porter at Yale. Harvard and Yale are no longer candidates for the national championship, but their game is still The Game and every November it plays to a full house. On the following pages is a potpourri of scenes from New Haven, Hanover, Ithaca and the like, followed by a humorous and sympathetic look at Ivy attitudes by George Plimpton, Harvard '48.


The Great De-emphasis came in 1956—the decision of the eight universities of the Ivy League (Brown, Cornell, Columbia, Dartmouth, Harvard, Pennsylvania, Princeton and Yale) to relegate football (and athletics in general) to a status subservient to what was supposed to be the business of their institutions, namely, to educate their students. Athletic scholarships would continue to be banned, spring practice ended, the number of coaches limited, regulations governed by a strict code—steps that seemed to many paradoxical, since the eight universities had been the very font of football, had produced the storied rivalries that started back in the 1870s; the towering names (Heffelfinger, Kelley and Booth of Yale, Brickley and Mahan of Harvard, Warner of Cornell, Poe of Princeton, Oberlander of Dartmouth, Luckman and Montgomery of Columbia...); the eye-popping legends (Coach Percy Haughton was supposed to have throttled a bulldog to death to pep up his Harvard team before the 1908 Yale game); the huge, frenzied crowds of the '20s; the great marching songs; those literary heroes Dink Stover and Frank Merriwell of Yale; a whole flapper generation that identified with Eastern football; the coonskin coat and the flask and all the attendant rituals and ceremonials of those New England autumn afternoons. Now all of this brilliant history and panoply was being shunted toward an obscure and shameful end, with the quality of the football withering to such a degree that surely the teams, in the vast empty places of their past glory, would play surreal contests as informal and ignored as pickup games in the corner of a municipal park.

But now, because nothing like that happened, many observers believe that the Ivy League's adoption of a more balanced concept of football may be as important to the progress of the game, and perhaps to its future elsewhere, as what the colleges provided at its genesis.

When coaches meet at conferences, the Ivy League people are likely to be left standing off by themselves. The other coaches think of them as men beset with grave problems and better left alone. They cannot imagine a coach unable to tempt a fleet 240-pounder with the sort of athletic scholarships that are almost legal tender elsewhere.

The Ivy League offers scholarships only on the basis of an academically qualified student's need. Annual costs at an Ivy League college average a horrendous $5,900. If a student applies for a scholarship, his parents must "bare their financial souls," as one admissions officer describes the process, by filling out a PCS form (Parents Confidential Statement), which is fed into a computer at Princeton, N.J. to determine how large a grant the student will receive. (Duffy Daugherty, the former coach of Michigan State, once quipped that athletic scholarships are also based on need: "How much do we need him?")

Even if he gets a scholarship, an Ivy League student must earn about $1,500 on his own by waiting on tables in the dining halls, working in the library, etc.

"It's a very simple formula," says Jake Crouthamel, the Dartmouth coach. "At Michigan State the admissions department takes what the athletic department gives them. In the Ivy League the athletic department does what it can with what the admissions people provide."

"I've lost a couple of kids because they could not afford not to take an athletic scholarship," says Bill Campbell, the new Columbia coach. "I've lost others because of that gilded thing of imagining yourself playing in front of 60,000 at a place where the focus is sharply on football. If you're offered a full athletic grant to go to a place like that, it's hard to justify turning it down. You can have your prospect see your Ivy League campus, show him what the educational advantages are and the future possibilities—and it's damn frustrating because you know the picture he's carrying around in his mind."

Pat McInally, a gawky, swift-footed end who played well enough for Harvard last year to become an All-America and get drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals, sat down with some friends and figured out that an NCAA football scholarship was worth 60¢ an hour to its recipients—which in most cases committed them to little else than playing football. He bristles with figures that support his despair at the imbalance he feels exists between athletics and education at most NCAA colleges. "It's awful," he says. "The priorities are all wrong. Without being sanctimonious, at college I never liked being singled out as a football player, but as someone who played football." Despite this viewpoint, McInally's play at Harvard was so outstanding that a move, quite independent of his own wishes, started in Cambridge to have his uniform number (84) retired—a sort of cheeky gesture which, at Harvard, had never crossed anyone's mind since the university first fielded a team in 1874. But his supporters petitioned for it; after all, McInally was the first All-America from Harvard since 1941 when Chub Peabody, a 185-pound guard, was selected. But then a professor's remark began to make the rounds. "We've never retired a scholar's examination blue book. Until we do that, I don't see how we can retire No. 84." That was the end of the petition; priorities had been reestablished.

Pat is a great Ivy booster. "I'll tell you one thing about the Ivy League," he says. "It's the most competitive league in the country. In the Big 10 or the Pacific Eight it always works out that during the year only one or two good competitive games are played...Michigan-Ohio State perhaps. The rest are walkovers for one team or another. But in the Ivy League you can be assured that each team will have four or five games on its schedule that will go down to the wire."

Shari Maslan remembers McInally, but not with much affection, since she is a Yale undergraduate. Her brown hair flies behind her as she scampers down the sideline behind the Yale bench, revving up for a cartwheel. Just over 5 feet tall, she is one of the Yale cheerleaders. She spends her summers teaching cheerleading under the auspices of the National Cheerleaders Association. She came to Yale from Southwest High School in Kansas City, Mo., where cheerleading is such an involved specialty that a single cheer might be accompanied by a tumbling act off a mini-trampoline, a "double-stunt"—in which one participant jumps onto another's shoulders—and finally a perfect human pyramid.

She arrived at New Haven full of expectation. "Well, it was really weird, especially after being involved with the National Cheerleaders Association," she says. "At Yale we don't even have matching uniforms, or pompons, or mini-trampolines. They gave us real old megaphones, all broken, and sweaters that had YALE on them, and a real tiny cannon, only about a foot long, to shoot off when Yale scored a touchdown. Why, at Southwest High we had a real huge cannon with spoked wheels that would look fine on a battlefield. I was the only one at Yale who had any experience."

That was not the only disillusionment. Facing the banks of alumni and students stretching up to the rim of the Yale Bowl on Saturday afternoons, she had the impression that she was trying to manipulate a vast class of truants.

"They don't do anything. They don't know when to cheer. They don't know what to cheer," she says brightly. "Of course, a lot of them are polluted and can't do anything. What a change! I had cheerleading friends who had gone to the University of Nebraska. There they practice two hours a day, all week long, and they look at videotapes to see if they can improve, and stuff. At Yale we practice at the game. There's not much to do. We have very few cheers. Let's see. 'Bulldog, bulldog, bow, wow, wow....'

"Then we have one that goes, 'Go, go, go.'

"And we have 'Eat 'em up, eat 'em up, rah, rah, rah...' and that's about it. We tried a pyramid during the Harvard-Yale game and it fell down. There were no casualties. You know what? They like it best when we try something and miss."

At first, all of this had a traumatic effect on Shari. She was close to tears; she wrote troubled letters home. And then slowly she began to appreciate what she was involved in. "I grew to love it—the humor and the attitude, which was real informal and easy, and the outlook, which was sassy and satiric, and sometimes real weird, too. One time we played one of the colleges up in New England—Cornell or Dartmouth—and it was too far for the band to go. So they sent just the bandleader and at halftime the public-address announcer came on: 'The Yale band presents The Face of God!' And just this one guy went out and stood there in the middle of the field with his face turned up to the sky."

The attitude at Yale seems to prevail throughout the Ivy League's cheerleading corps. "We're extremely informal," says Ken Rosenfield, the head cheerleader at Dartmouth. "We fool around a lot. When we try a pyramid, we put the girls on the bottom and collapse on them."

Nonetheless, Rosenfield thinks that the football spirit at Dartmouth is more intense and traditional than anywhere else in the league. "Why, I met this Harvard guy last fall and asked him if he'd been to the game that afternoon and he said, 'Not really.' Well, now what does that mean? At least at Dartmouth we know when we've been to a game. I'll bet 90% of Dartmouth men know the words of the alma mater. In the evening groups of guys go from one fraternity to another singing it. They sing it in Thayer Hall, where the entire student body eats, and one table will stand up and begin singing, and everyone stops eating. The whole place just vibrates with spirit."

In such an atmosphere it is not surprising that a football defeat is keenly felt. David Shribman, a Dartmouth sportswriter, was moved to such anguish by the team's 14-9 loss to Yale last year that he wrote in his report to the alumni: "A full 45 years after the week that sent the stock market into its greatest decline ever, the Green suffered a 14-9 loss to undefeated Yale every bit as heartbreaking as the ruins of fortunes that began on Black Thursday in 1929."

This attitude is hardly matched down the line in Cambridge. Last year Harvard, with a fine team that ended up with Yale as a co-holder of the Ivy title, journeyed to Dartmouth, but hardly anyone bothered to follow them. Of the 5,500 tickets reserved for Harvard visitors, 1,200 were returned. The band went, and it played Fair Harvard nervously under the Dartmouth dormitory windows, the tuba players turning to see if there was anything moving up behind them.

Harvard's pep rallies ceased in the 1960s when the football players began to worry about how they would be received at these affairs. In 1962 Coach John Yovicsin got up on the steps of the Hemenway Gym in Cambridge and, pleased with the number of Harvard men in front of him, began with a pleasantry, saying he had always heard about Harvard indifference—whereupon he was interrupted by such a long and sustained cheer for Harvard indifference that he found it difficult to continue.

Ah, the Ivy League bands! They are a community unto themselves. Where they sit is described as "The Pit." Their vectors of interest only occasionally are concerned with what is happening down on the field unless it is the activity of campus dogs roaming the sidelines, or the progress of a paper glider launched toward the playing field, which they urge on, exploding with joy if one happens to fetch up against the backside of a player bent over in the huddle. Their girls are tucked in beside them. There is little conformity of dress. Many wear Mickey Mouse hats. Their sector is the noisiest in the stadium, but it is the roar of conversation—like that at a vast cocktail party—that drifts out of it, rather than shouts in support of the team. Whatever interest there has been in the game wanes almost completely after the first half. Their backs always seem to be to the field. The great gold bells of a pair of tubas bellow at each other; the two instruments seem to lock, rocking back and forth obscenely to the accompaniment of the peeps and squawks of detached mouthpieces and the rhythm of whiskey flasks and beer bottles clinked against each other. They have their own private cheers—a "confetti" cheer in which they rip up their programs and toss them in the air. Obscenity abounds. A trumpet player will rise and call out, "Give me a 'C.' "

The band members respond: "C!" "An 'O'!" "O!" "A 'P'!" "P!" "A 'U'!" "U!" "An 'L'!" "L!" "An 'A'!" "A!"...until the word is done, and around the perimeter of the band, lips compress and the more traditional of the alumni start composing letters in their minds to be posted to the alumni bulletin on Monday morning.

On the field at halftime, the bands (with the exception of Cornell's, which is scorned by the others for trying to imitate the high-stepping, tuba-twisting, precision movements of the Big Ten) stand in ill-formed lines and they never seem to take off on the downbeat, stepping ever so smartly, without the glockenspiel player dropping the music off the little stand on his instrument. The effect of his stopping to pick it up seems to sweep through the band so that whatever precision exists breaks down almost immediately into the chaos of a crowd moving for a subway entrance.

The halftime shows are usually representative of the band itself—7½ minutes for each college to put on its display of rowdy iconoclasm. A few years ago Brown University, which on occasion has performed in bathing suits, stunned a Princeton crowd in Palmer Stadium with a halftime offering, complete with graphic formations, entitled Salute to the Human Reproductive System.

But the music is often so good (despite the band's devoting only an hour or so a week to practice), that many people come to the stadium on Saturday afternoons simply to hear it played. A number of the bands have trumpet cheers adapted from the classics—Beethoven, Stravinsky, Vivaldi—the notes rising out of all that rumpus with such purity that even the musicians themselves seem to quiet down to hear what their peers can do.

Chuck Bednarik, perhaps Penn's most illustrious football-playing graduate, starred for 14 fearsome years with the Philadelphia Eagles. He was bitter when Penn decided to de-emphasize football and join the Ivy League. "I was an alumnus at the height of my football career with the Eagles, and it was just embarrassing to wander in there and watch Penn lose 10 games in a row before those tiny crowds—8,000 people in the same place where the smallest crowd I ever played in front of was 56,000. But then I began to analyze it. The Ivy League degree is the greatest—it's unreal. There are so many football factories. That is where you can go if you really want to try to play football professionally. But I'll tell you something. Recently, things have begun to pick up around there."

It was a particularly cruel wrench for Pennsylvania to de-emphasize its football program—far more so than for its Ivy League brethren—since its teams had kept company with the strongest football powers in the country. As if in shame at the status it had willed upon itself, Penn's sports program went through such a complete reversal that eight years ago a commission took a look and decided that because of de-emphasis the university's athletic programs were in danger of disappearing altogether; the won-lost percentage of the school's teams was under .500. Since then, there has been a distinct shift. Committees were formed, more money was allotted for hiring good coaches, athletic facilities were improved...all within the Ivy League code, but successful enough over the past years to raise the won-lost percentage of Penn's teams above .700. Penn has had three winning football seasons in a row; it had only two others in the previous 20 years. When other Ivy League coaches talk about Penn, they lower their voices slightly; they cannot quite believe what is going on to the south of them.

Earlier this summer Mike Yeager, who is the Columbia co-captain, and his roommate, a fellow linebacker named Ray Rahamin, were sprinting up the steps of Baker Field, the University's antiquated stadium on the northern tip of Manhattan, when Rahamin suddenly drove one leg up to the knee through a rotten plank. "He just about fell into the stadium," Yeager remembers in awe.

After being trained in the fertile football grounds of Pennsylvania, Yeager went through the double shock of going to a college that for almost a decade has been the doormat of the Ivy League and finding himself in an environment that he describes ruefully as "academic, liberated and anti-jock."

"I'd come back to my room after a game—which we'd lost, of course—before a pitifully small crowd up there at Baker Field and I'd find that some student, a math major, I guess, had tacked up a prophecy on my door for next week's game—a zero for Columbia and an impossibly huge score for the other team, 10 to the 10th power. That was about the only sort of attention we'd get."

But now Columbia is rebuilding, too—a new coaching staff, a general stirring of optimism. After one of Columbia's rare touchdowns last season a wearied New York voice drifted across near-deserted Baker Field, "All right, alumni, it's turned around. Time to bring out your checkbooks."

Yeager envies those who are just entering Columbia as freshmen. During his first lean years, he doubts if there was any college in the country where such a large percentage of the team played not for the name of the college, or for a student body, or to impress friends in the crowd, or even a coaching staff, but for the simple pleasure of the game itself.

When Harvard upset Yale last year, the team crowded into its ancient locker-room in the Dillon Field House at Cambridge, the aisles so narrow that a football player in his shoulder pads has to turn sideways to get by a teammate. The shouting and the celebrating began. The traditional cries went up that the team was "No. 1!"—a chorus shouted in unison and punctuated by the beating of fists on locker doors and the overhead ventilation pipes. Then down at the end of the room a small chant began: "Bring on Oklahoma!" It did not last long, and it was not very loud, not unlike the mumbling of a name one is not sure of.

Yet, however feebly the cry was raised, knowledgeable coaches never disparage the abilities of an Ivy League team. John Pont, who coached at Yale before moving on to Indiana and Northwestern, feels that of the 22 starters on the average Ivy League team, five to seven could move into starting positions on a Big Ten team. "The difference is with the other people. A football power like Alabama or Nebraska or Oklahoma can play 50 people in a game without losing much potential. But that's certainly not the case in the Ivy League."

No longer is it a surprise when an Ivy League player turns up in the professional ranks. A short while back the appearance of one was greeted by considerable joshing and a certain amount of squinting, especially on the part of the veterans, as if something odd, and perhaps dainty, had appeared on the practice field. "Is that seven-man football you play out there in Cornell?" Ed Marinaro was asked when he joined the Minnesota Vikings. "Or is it touch?"

Dick Jauron, who went from Yale to the Detroit Lions, remembers how everyone seemed a little bit bigger, faster and stronger than he believed possible. "The football field seemed to shrink," he says. "The people on it took up so much more room. Of course, that's the impression no matter where you've come from. It's iust more noticeable if you've come from the Ivy League."

But so many Ivy Leaguers have succeeded in the pros that the kidding has ceased. Indeed, it has been replaced by mild envy by many who have begun to realize that the Ivy system makes more sense.

"It was all football for them," comments Calvin Hill, the great running back who graduated from Yale and starred for Dallas before jumping to the WFL's Hawaii team. "I remember that my biggest surprise coming into the pros was how much time I suddenly had to concentrate on football. It seemed such a luxury. At Yale you had two hours of football, and that was all, and then you had to start thinking whether the Civil War was inevitable, because that was what you were going to be quizzed on in a classroom. But for many of my friends in football, coming to camp was no surprise at all, because in their college there was nothing else but football. That's very sad. They can't believe that 100% of the Ivy League college teams actually graduate."

What Ed Marinaro finds most depressing is what happens to players who come out of the Pacific Eight or the Big Ten, where football influences everything, and then don't make it in the pros. "It's a terrible blow to their egos because they can't adjust. They don't know anything else."

When Ed Marinaro was establishing his NCAA rushing records at Cornell (perhaps the most astonishing one a 281-yard day in 1969 against Harvard), the old grads would buttonhole him by his locker or on the campus and ask him about a mysterious George Pfann, or how did he compare himself to this gentleman. A puzzled Marinaro discovered that George Pfann was a Cornell quarterback who played 30 years before Marinaro was born. "I was asked a lot about George Pfann and I never had the slightest idea what to say. But I was always very polite about George Pfann."

Hamilton Fish is the only Harvard man on Walter Camp's alltime All-America team. He was a member of the undefeated 1908 squad. Tall and powerful for his 80-odd years, he is a noted American conservative. The other day he was asked for a general observation about football. He replied thoughtfully, "The fundamentals have always been the same. The main difference is the shape of the ball. I suppose, in a way, it's an improvement. I have no objection to it. It's opened up the game."

On the shelf in his closet in Boston's Chestnut Hill, Richard Hallowell of the Harvard class of 1920 keeps an aluminum fly-rod case in which rests a hickory stick about three feet long with a red silk flag attached. The flag has a black "H" sewn in the middle. The flag has passed in succession to four gentlemen since it was taken to its first Harvard-Yale game in 1884. It is willed to the Harvard man next in line who has seen the highest consecutive number of Harvard-Yale games. Hallowell is the present possessor.

Hallowell's predecessor took the flag to 75 games. Hallowell has seen 63 in a row. He is very careful with the flag, keeping it under his seat in the aluminum case. "I only haul it out at certain times," he says. His two favorite games are the 29-29 game in 1968 and a 0-0 tie in 1925, when Yale had a first down on the six-yard line with a minute or so to go and in two plays took the ball to the three, where time ran out because the Yale captain and the quarterback got into an argument. Hallowell laughs, remembering. He would have waved the flag gleefully had it been in his possession then.

Harland (Pinky) Baker is a member of Princeton's class of 1922. He got his nickname in his prep-school days at Exeter, running under a long, high pass thrown by a quarterback, who shouted after him, "Run for it, you pinkhead, run!" Baker is a superfan. He goes to all the Princeton practices, including the freshmen's. He carries a cowbell to lacrosse games. He cannot rid his mind of the Dartmouth-Princeton game played during Hurricane Flora in 1950. Princeton won 13-7 as Dick Kazmaier ran for two touchdowns to assure himself the Heisman Trophy. "There were only 100 Princeton men watching that day and 10 or 12 Dartmouth people across the way," he says. "Couldn't even face the wind. I watched the game peeking out from behind a concrete ramp. I was wearing these big wading boots that I use for goose and duck shooting and I wore a sou'wester. The wind just sang down the field—just Godawful. It was impossible to punt the ball because it came right back in your face. So it was better to run on fourth down against the wind no matter where you were on the field. They almost called it off, but Dartmouth came all that way and it was for the championship. I remember that wind picked up Kazmaier when he crossed the goal line and it carried him clear into the cement stands at the end of the stadium—just ripped him up against the stone. Oh, I can't get that game out of my mind. I'll tell you something. There were so few people there it was like they were playing it all for me...just for my benefit...."

John Kenneth Galbraith, the distinguished economist, does not approve of people with excessive football-worshiping tendencies; indeed, he has been to only two football games in his life ("Neither the game nor the general depravity of the onlookers appealed to me"), and in this year's class-day exercises at Harvard he commended the shift in attitude from what it had been when he was a student 41 years before. "Undergraduate esteem in the 1930s was sought partly in athletics.... Aristocracies are often marked by such effortless assumptions of superiority, supplemented by a special grace in the enjoyment of sex, alcohol and idleness. So it was then. And so greatly were these supplementary proficiencies admired, especially the consumption of alcohol, that the most distinguished of the alumni returned each autumn to the football games to show their continuing virtuosity.

"Some things in life are intrinsically without style or charm. One of them is to relive, however briefly, the enjoyments of youth. Burned in my memory of those fiestas is the boast of a celebrant, after a game, that from the top floor of a [Harvard] dormitory he could dive headfirst down a stairwell, onto the cement floor, and survive. All cheered him on. He was wrong."


Ah, the rituals of an Ivy weekend. On Friday, outside the main arena, Harvard and Yale battle for the house championship. There are late-night bonfires at Hanover, bladder-ball games at Yale, a Columbia mascot that looks more suited for combat than the team and, of course, tailgate parties everywhere. No Ivy League band could perform without downing a couple of kegs of beer, and Princeton's straw-hatted brass section seems to have done just that.

Here comes Dartmouth onto the field, not through some dark tunnel into a huge amphitheater, but alongside a New Hampshire woodland. This may not be Big Ten or Big Eight, but you'll never convince Ivy fans, from the painted students to the airborne cheerleader, that it isn't big fun. And we'll have to drink to that. Try to argue otherwise and that old Yalie might pop you in the snoot.

Blowing a tuba, leading a cheer or masquerading as a tiger, everyone has the license to root.

Predictably, no Ivy League power is among the nation's Top 20. To learn which teams are, turn the page for scouting reports by Mike DelNagro, Joe Jares, Larry Keith, Sarah Pileggi, Pat Putnam and Ron Reid.