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Wednesday, December 27, 2006
Yale, UConn bowl people over

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Connecticut: No. 37 pro | No. 41 college | No. 43 high school

By Tracy Williams
My Connecticut football experience is colored by the Yale-Harvard game, which I've attended the past nine years, including four trips to the Yale Bowl in New Haven. Stadiums that seat 65,000 are uncommon in Division I-AA, but every other year when Harvard comes to town, the atmosphere in New Haven is incomparable (except maybe to Cambridge, Mass., when Yale makes the return trip). How often do you see 50,000-plus at a game for teams that won't go to the playoffs, even if they finish undefeated?

Few people at The Game are there for the football. It's one big party, and the fans are there to have a good time. The Game, which has been played 123 times, is famous for distinctive tailgating. It is less broken beer bottles and team T-shirts, and more fine wine glasses and college sweaters. So intense is the revelry that Yale changed the rules to clear out the alcohol and tailgaters while the game was going on. With tailgating through halftime, officials can't truly measure attendance until the third quarter.

While you won't see many angry faces in the dark tunnels of the Bowl after a loss, defeat is a blow to our pride. Pride is the biggest reason Elis hate Cantabs and Cantabs hate Elis. Just beating Harvard can make the season a success, even if Yale finishes 1-9, something this rivalry has in common with "bigger" rivalries.

Even though Yale football is almost irrelevant now on the national stage, its early tradition continues to influence modern powerhouses. Michigan's "Big House," the Rose Bowl and the L.A. Coliseum were all modeled after the Yale Bowl. Yale also is commonly believed to have first gotten Notre Dame interested in funding a football program. Georgia's mascot, the bulldog, is a reference to its ties with Yale. Yale also had two of the first three Heisman Trophy winners: end Larry Kelley and halfback Clint Frank. Coaches Walter Camp and Amos Alonzo Stagg, two of the fathers of American football, attended Yale University.

To the best of my knowledge, there has never been a professional football team in Connecticut, except for the two years the Giants spent in the Yale Bowl while Yankee Stadium was being renovated. But professional football is almost unnecessary because of the state's proximity to the Pats, Jets and Giants.

I have also noticed that when ESPN needs a generic field for various reasons it comes to the Yale Bowl. I assume ESPN comes to the Yale Bowl for two reasons: the proximity to Bristol and the lack of ads. Football there is still pure.

I should also note that UConn, formerly a D-III school, has made the trip all the way up to being a respectable team in the Big East. People from the Nutmeg State who show up at the "Rent" to watch games in the fall know that UConn isn't only a basketball school anymore.

Is Connecticut football relevant? On November 11, 7-1 Yale drew 43,000 people to a game against Princeton. That doesn't sound like much, but compared to other regional games, it's almost staggering. Rutgers drew only about 1,000 more people for a nationally televised upset of Louisville.

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