Bonfire celebrates Princeton football’s wins over Harvard, Yale and perfect season
Every year that the Princeton University football team defeats both Harvard and Yale, a celebratory bonfire is held on Cannon Green – a tradition dating back to baseball victories in the late 1800s.
The 2018-19 football squad took it one step further, garnering victories over every team they faced this season, finishing with a perfect 10-0 record for the first time in 54 years and securing an Ivy League championship. The last bonfire was held in 2013.
Students, faculty, staff, administrators and alumni gathered around Cannon Green at 7 p.m. Sunday, making a large circle around a pile of painted pallets that students decorated throughout the day. Once everybody was in place, the celebration began.
The Princeton University Band, cheerleaders and football team walked around the pile, greeting fans and thanking them for coming to the event in the sub-40-degree weather.
First-year students Hari Ramakrishnan and Orlson Aine Joseph stood a few yards away.
"It’s exciting," Ramakrishnan said of the football team’s victories and the bonfire. "It’s a pretty big spectacle and they put on a big show."
Senior Rachel Yee, president of the Undergraduate Student Government kicked off the program, followed by Vice President for Campus Life Rochelle Calhoun; Class of 2019 president Chris Umanzor; Ford Family Director of Athletics Mollie Marcoux Samaan, Class of 1991; Charles W. Caldwell Jr. ’25 Head Coach of Football Bob Surace, Class of 1990; captain of the last team to earn a bonfire Phil Bhaya, Class of 2014; and the four co-captains of this year’s squad, seniors Mark Fossati, John Lovett, Tom Johnson and Kurt Holuba.
“I want to thank the team for bringing the community together,” said Calhoun. “Like all of our teams, Princeton football brings us together to be one Princeton.”
Once the football team raised up the Ivy League championship trophy, captains from other Ivy League-winning teams at Princeton came on stage to lead a special bonfire locomotive chant.
Aided by members of the Princeton, Plainsboro, Hopewell and Lawrence fire departments, as well as the Princeton First Aid and Rescue Squad and Princeton University Department of Public Safety, the co-captains began to light the bonfire as cheers from the crowd resounded at the sight.
Wearing an orange Princeton sweatshirt, senior Devin Kilpatrick raised his phone above his head for a clear shot of the orange flames. Kilpatrick traveled to the Yale game that cinched the bonfire.
"It’s really impressive that they accomplished this — they’re top-tier athletes and Princeton students" keeping up with classes, Kilpatrick said. "I’m happy I got to see [a bonfire] as an undergrad. And it’s so rare to have thousands of students come out for an event like this. … It’s an opportunity to bring the community together and celebrate all that Princeton is."
As the flames rose higher and higher, the band played on and the football team brought the Ivy League championship trophy around, with thousands of Princetonians joining in to celebrate their perfect season.