Web Exclusives: The Varsity Typewriter
a PAW web exclusive column by Patrick Sullivan '02 (email: pas@princeton.edu)

November 21, 2001:
Meeting of the mediocre on the gridiron
But the Tiger/Bulldog rivalry is more than butting heads

By Patrick Sullivan '02


Ask the typical Tigers fan who Princeton's biggest Ivy League archrival is, and the answers inevitably vary. For the basketball enthusiast, it's the Pennsylvania Quakers. For the baseball or the swimming fans, thoughts of the Harvard Crimson stir competitive ire. For the track team, the Big Green of Dartmouth or the Navy Midshipmen (the quasi-Ivy "anchor," as the joke goes) prove formidable foes.

For football, however, the Yale University Bulldogs reign indisputably as Princeton's nemesis. The two squads have faced each other for 124 times now, the last meeting on November 10, ending in a resounding 34-14 Tiger triumph. Only one other college football rivalry boasts a longer legacy; Lehigh and Lafayette Universities faced each other for the 137th time last weekend. The Bulldogs command the century-and-quarter series, 66-48-10.

To rehash the game — which was a classic, if not chaotic meeting of two mediocre, war-weary teams — would be a waste of time in a sports column, where after all, unbiased writing serves little purpose . . . But in brief, the game was quite exciting.

Before a Homecoming crowd of 20,129, on a Saturday afternoon that could not have been better scripted as the epitome of picturesque "football weather," the Bulldogs exploded to a quick 14-0 lead. Gloating from the visitors' side (which incidentally, was ingeniously positioned by the stadium architect so as to be directly in the glaring afternoon sunlight, making it harder to see) quickly stopped when the Tigers regrouped and proceeded to score 34 straight points. This included a demoralizing 40-yard touchdown drive by junior running back Cameron Atkinson on the first play of the fourth quarter, a run that deflated the Yale defensive and essentially ended the game.

Bigger than the game, however, were the fans, whether Princeton alums, local residents, or those poor souls from New Haven. The carnival atmosphere of the afternoon exemplified the tradition and legacy surrounding the two schools, a relationship far more important than the mere outcome of a football game. Princeton grads come back to games like this one, not only because of Homecoming, the chance to meet old friends or even the opportunity to rag on Yale, but moreover because they feel — or want to feel — a part of the history behind the two schools.

So maybe we're not the Florida Gators, and Yale is certainly no FSU, but our rivalry is different and equally special. The Princeton-Yale game marks the meeting of two of America's oldest, most prestigious universities, and players and fans alike realize that by spectating or competing, they are witnessing and writing history. Ours isn't merely an athletic rivalry.

As an undergraduate at Princeton sporting events, I love watching the alums and families that walk around, proudly adorned in gaudy black and orange clothing. There is something humorous — yet strangely special — about seeing an elderly Tiger alumnus, donned in a the classic staple hat of all alumni (the simple black one with the orange "P" on the front), pulling his grandchildren to the Student Souvenir Agency booth to buy them all "Yale Sucks" T- shirts! Even some Yale fans bought these mocking shirts.

Princeton alumni, whether young or old, remain for the most part fiercely loyal to their alma mater. They don't return to games like this one merely as spectators — because let's face it; if watching football were the primary impetus, better athletic contests abound on cable television. They come back because of the pride in their school, because of the values and formulative experiences garnered while here and because of the tradition and history enveloping Ivy League sports rivalries like the Bulldog-Tiger battle.

Twenty-five years from now, I know that I will be an alum who comes back for the "big game" with my kids, proudly wearing my most obnoxious orange and black tie (sadly, I have two already) or my "Tigers" cap. With the same wide-eyed pride and appreciation I observed in so many visiting alums last weekend, I too want to walk around this campus, and show my family how special — how molding — a place like Princeton can be on one's life. Yes . . . and I also want to be that alum who goes to buy the "Yale Sucks" T- shirt, removes his wallet, and is (sigh) forced to break a $100 bill as payment . . . !

After the 34-14 drubbing of Yale, I attended another event that only furthered my appreciation of the importance surrounding the Bulldog-Tiger rivalry. Curiously, no competitive spirit pervaded this event, which was the annual "Yalejam" hosted by the Princeton Nassoons, a tradition-steeped all-male a cappella group. Every year since the mid-1950s, the Nassoons and the Yale Whiffenpoofs, an equally acclaimed and even older a cappella group, get together after the football game for an evening of music.

I attended out of curiosity, but my interest was piqued when on the stage before me, I saw many of same students, both from Yale and Princeton, who not four hours ago had been screaming wildly from the stands, or stumbling from tailgate to tailgate in the parking lot. Now they wore tails instead of orange and black, or Yale's blue pallor, and rather than shouting across the stadium at each other, the two groups gave a beautiful, two-hour concert before a capacity crowd of more than 1,000.

Whether a Princeton student or alum, or a "phony" hailing from that community college in New Haven, Connecticut, the point remains the same. The Tiger-Bulldog rivalry exists not merely in two-hours of mediocre football, but more important in the realization that both universities share an incredible history and a rich tradition, both of athletic talent and intellectual and artistic excellence. By returning for a football game on a beautiful fall Saturday, Princetonians and Yalies young and old become a part of what may arguably be the most special and tradition-steeped college rivalry/friendship in the country.

You can reach Patrick at pas@princeton.edu.