If the past is any indicator of the future, all roads this Saturday will lead to The Yale Bowl for THE Game. But will they? Will Bulldog fans show up en force, or will they stay away en masse like they have all season?
I’m a Yale fan. My parents took me to my first game in 1953 when I was 5 years old. For the next decade-plus, my father, brother and I would regularly go to games. We’d park in Lot D, spread a blanket on the ground, eat fried chicken and drink lemonade from a thermos. In the early 1960s I remember watching the great Princeton fullback, Cosmo Iacavazzi, tear up the turf, as did Yale’s Chuck Mercein. Later it was the likes of Calvin Hill, Dick Jauron, Rich Diana, Tyler Varga and many others who, in a glaze of sweat, helped fill The Bowl and for a few hours infused us fans with a seismic experience.
Let me be clear. I am not a Yale alumnus. No one in my immediate family is. But we Bentley men have loved the experience of attending Yale games for well over a century. My grandfather, Frank Bentley, would take a train to New Haven to visit friends and to attend the Yale-Harvard game before there was even a Yale Bowl. My father attended Yale games in the 1920s and ’30s before going off to war, then resumed his Saturday trips to New Haven when he came home. I got married on a Friday night in September 1971, and the next day my bride and I were at The Bowl for the annual tête-à-tête against UConn. We were in Lot A immediately following Hurricane Gloria in September 1985. Many trees were down, the fringes of the lot a mess. Still, the fans showed up. I’ve been to games in torrential downpours and was at the 1987 Yale-Harvard game when the wind chill was 25 degrees below zero and my pipes back home froze that night.
And always, the fans.
Which leads to the question: Where have they been all season? I’ve been to four Yale home games this autumn. I don’t think there were ever more than 1,500 fans present even though the official attendance for one was listed at 4,500. Fifteen hundred fans in the cavernous Bowl gives it a forlorn, pathetic look. Forget starting a wave. There aren’t even lines at the port-o-lets.
Going to Yale football games in 2019 has been a monotone experience, in a fading sepia light.
So, why are the fans staying away as if The Bowl complex has been declared a toxic waste dump? This isn’t a tough question, and the answer has nothing to do with the team (which is excellent). As if going up in recent years on ticket prices and parking fees weren’t enough, a series of restrictive mandates went into effect this year. For example, bags are prohibited to include backpacks, purses, camera bags, binocular cases and diaper bags. You can no longer leave the stadium at halftime and come back in without paying another admission charge. Want to bring in a thermos of coffee for those cold weather games, and so that you don’t have to get up, interrupt the action and walk to the concession stand? Forget it. You can’t even bring in a bottle of water unless the bottle is empty.
Now I’m sure that there are logical reasons for most of these edicts. It’s just that part of the fun in going to The Bowl traditionally was the informal atmosphere. Sort of like the looseness of the Yale “Precision” Marching Band. Today The Bowl smacks more of a top secret site, with a phalanx of CSC security people who make this fan feel about as welcome as a pandemic.
I will not be at THE Game this Saturday. Two years ago I went to a CIAC high school soccer final the morning of Yale-Harvard, and we didn’t get to the Bowl till the opening kickoff. We didn’t actually get in till the second quarter. Too much hassle. Too much of a nitpicking mash-up.
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Prediction: The fans will turn out this Saturday because, well, it’s THE Game, i.e. a sports contest for which the earth skips a rotation and space-time grinds to a halt. Prediction 2: But without drastic changes, the fans will continue to stay from The Bowl next season for all the lesser important, scrubby tangles.