The magic of Yale Bowl
It still draws me in like a magnet to a metal surface. The games are generations past national relevance and the crowds for the most part reflect that passing time. Every once in a while you will get a Tyler Varga, now with the Indianapolis Colts, but most names you won’t hear about when their day is done. You may work for one of those names, but the football part will be over.
It doesn’t matter. There is still magic in Yale Bowl. Maybe it’s that unshakeable youthful connection of wonderful Saturday afternoons with dad and the gang and my brother when the planning would start midweek and you would roll out of the bed those mornings with the eagerness of a child itching to see what is under the Christmas tree.
Maybe it was kicking field goals around the Yale grass field parking lots and those touch football games interrupted only by a soda or fried chicken break.
Maybe it’s those ingrained memories that stay etched in your mind of Brian Dowling, Calvin Hill, Rich Diana, John Pagliaro, Kevin Czinger, Dick Jauron and others doing special things between the goal lines that made smiles an automatic companion on the ride home as dusk descended on another special afternoon.
Assuredly it is all of that and more. But yesterday is the foundation, it has never been the ending. The car doesn’t get there as often, the crowd is different. My dad and so many of his friends and later friends of my brother Gary and me are gone. Heck somewhere along the line the kids of yesterday whose errant passes bounced off the hoods of cars in the parking lot became middle-aged and their passes can’t reach those cars any more. And in least in one case, the hair went with the old gang.
But the magic has never left. There is a new gang, once or twice a year and like my father took us we now take my son Jonathan. And it pleases us to no end that he wants to go and takes the same pleasure in those Saturdays that we always have. The idea that he spends equal time with a soccer bowl and a football on the parking lot fields we’ll have to get used to.
Five of us went to the Bowl last week to watch Yale tangle with Cornell. It was an intimate affair with slightly over 15,000 in the 61,000-seat American treasure built in 1914. Jonathan brought his friend Jared to experience what we have luxuriated in since childhood.
As for the magic? Well, we got older yet the magic stays fresh and young with the power to pull you in. It is a great place to tailgate, the grass fields enticing. There were plenty of areas to kick those soccer and footballs around and over next to the Cox Cage, the Yale `Precision’ Marching Band was warming up. Sometimes the band is worth the price of admission. Irreverent, at times bawdy, they are worth a watch.
All the time the Bowl looms in the background, a sentinel of sorts lording over the grass stains of youth, the tailgate mixologists and the tantalizing, aromatic atmosphere of sizzling meats from the glory of the multitude of grills.
The walk to in the Bowl from the parking lot is special to itself. On the way to gate you pass millions of dollars I’m sure. Hey, this is Yale. You also go by the souvenir stand which in order to buy anything you need to have a Yale-graduate type paycheck. Nevertheless…..
One of the best walks anywhere is the walk into the Bowl. You have to walk through portals about 100 feet long. It breeds anticipation. You see an opening but it also increases the curiosity. What’s at the other end? You kind of want to sprint. And suddenly you emerge into a special place. No decks, just those 61,000 seats surrounding a sea of green.
This is all pretty cool. History was made here – Albie Booth, Clint Frank and Larry Kelly, Heisman winners. Championships. It is all here. And it gets even better.
General admission seats will get you to the 30-yard line and you can sit wherever you want – high up or in the first row near the field with your feet up on the cement wall in front of the field like my son and his friend did. You are close enough to talk to the players and wish the police a nice day if you want.
And it gets even better.
Yale does something very unique and always has. Fans are actually invited to go down on the field after the game. No lie. There are no policemen in riot gear, no attack dogs, no paddy wagons ready to take offending persons away.
The players mix with the fans and families while all around kids with future dreams are kicking field goals and passing the football around. And here’s something everybody should get to see.
The Yale team gathers up and sings the Yale fight song before hobnobbing with the faithful. We were all right in front of it. John’s friend seemed almost dumbfounded that this was actually happening in this day and age. Being on the field, the team singing and fans right there with them.
Oh by the way on this day there was a game, a heck of a game. Yale rallied from a 25-6 deficit to score two touchdowns in the last six minutes including the game-winner with 52 seconds left.
And people hung around to see it. I am very fortunate to get to cover UConn football. The best two games I’ve seen in the last two years? Yale’s 49-43 overtime win over Army in 2014 and this game. The best running back I’ve seen? Yale’s Tyler Varga. The best quarterback? Yale’s Morgan Roberts.
I actually had a quick handshake and good wishes exchange with Roberts after the game. Where else does a fan get to do that? There were four friends of Roberts’ at the game that went to high school with them.
Football is a different animal down south and they couldn’t believe how cool (their words) it was to be able to go on the field after the game and hear the singing and watch the players sign autographs and take pictures with the fans.
There are a lot of things Yale football isn’t. It isn’t national championship caliber. It isn’t a big draw. It isn’t on television every Saturday.
But I will tell one thing Yale Bowl and Yale football will always be – magical. Wait until Yale-Harvard Nov. 21 at the Bowl. Another Saturday afternoon driving home with one of those Yale Bowl smiles. And somewhere the old gang was smiling right along with the new gang.
“Bulldog, Bulldog, Bow-wow-wow, Eli Yale
When the Sons of Eli Break Through the Line
That is the sign we hail
“Bulldog, Bulldog, Bow-wow-wow, Eli Yale”