Playing with Pigskin: A Look at The Crimson Archives

{shortcode-bd96f6d8ee139e405f62bcf82c54a709da502d0b} For any fans that took to the seats of Harvard Stadium last weekend, history seemed to repeat itself – the Crimson slaughtered its opponents for the third time in a row, the squad added yet another punt block to its season total, and the ratio of exposed concrete seating to real-life fans was, yet again, about three-to-one.

However, any pertinent observers of Harvard’s weekly halftime show may have noticed one glaring difference: the size of the band. Instead of barely containing enough members to spell out the word “win,” last weekend’s musical performance was ridden with trombonists and tuba players, the band’s ranks swelling to take up an entire 40 yards of field (a much-needed victory for the 10,000 Men of Harvard after being dominated by Howard’s musical mastery). The reason: Old Timers’ Day! This past weekend marked the 100th anniversary of the Harvard University Band, a feat that warranted the attendance of many a former member (and for $350 a ticket, you too could’ve joined!).

This whole anniversary thing got me thinking – just how different from today’s contests were the games watched by the Harvard band of a century ago? Well, folks, buckle your seatbelts and settle into The Harvard Time Machine, because it’s time to take a trip into The Crimson archives!

October 20, 1919: Outcheered and Outsung

Yikes. That headline says it all.


“Indifferent cheering and poor singing marked the University's effort to support its team against Brown last Saturday,” the article reads. “When the University singing is so weak it cannot be heard above the band on the other side of the Stadium there is shown a deplorable lack of energy throughout the crowd.”

Apparently, as the men of Harvard cheered on the Grand Olde U-S-of-A in its battle to take down the Second Reich, they failed to applaud their classmates on the field in their quest to end the reign of the Bears. The good news is that the Crimson’s cheerers – or lack thereof – had little effect on the game’s outcome, as Harvard went on to win the contest, scoring a single touchdown to the Bears’ nilch.

However, that article – as cheeky as it may have been – was hardly the most audacious of the day. Also in the paper for October 20th was a Prohibition Era-letter to the editor concerning alcohol use on campus, praising the fact that “the Demon Alcohol has been completely annihilated in our country” and claiming that “only the luxury of nicotine (and a few other things) need yet to be eliminated.” Whether the opinion piece was sarcastic or serious is a question that I’ll leave to you.

My personal favorite from that day’s paper: a call for “nominations for members of the Dining Hall Council for 1919-1920.” But James, what is the Dining Hall Council? I’ve certainly never heard of that! Well, reader, neither had I – but upon further inspection, it turns out that Harvard used to have literal groups of representatives, each dining hall-specific, that were in charge of “general supervision and control of the [dining] halls and the adjustment of any claims.” I’m not exactly sure why the University hasn’t taken steps to bring these councils back (I’ve seen many a fight break out over Red’s Best Catch), but I’d be curious to see how they would’ve reacted to the idea of food-bearing robots wandering around Harvard’s campus.

October 14, 1969: Harvard Muffles Lions Roar, 51-0

Getting back to football and jumping a full fifty years forward, our fans seem to be doing a bit better (I’d take muffling to being outcheered any gameday). A half-century after just slightly outpacing the Bears, Harvard completely annihilated the Columbia Lions in a “one-sided romp,” even “putting in the second, third and fourth string teams to keep things charitable” – sound familiar?

But the déjà vu continues! As it turns out, 2019 isn’t the Crimson’s first Year of the Smith – its 1969 offense, led by one Dave Smith (relation to Jake unknown), dominated the Lions on the passing front, launching bomb after bomb to crush Columbia. However, let’s hope the similarities stop there, as Harvard went on to place 6th in the Ivy League that season, winning a lousy two games over the course of the year.

Some other notable articles from that day’s paper: Student Investigation of Pentagon Finds That Information Is Hidden (what no way!), Med Schools Protest War, Mail Postcards to Nixon (Divest take note), and The Vagabond: I Am In Mather House; Nobody Loves Me (some things never change).

My favorite line comes from the last of the three, when two Eliot House sophomores were asked to house a Mather resident for a few weeks. Instead of taking the house-less kid in (Mather was under construction at the time), they responded by “taking off their clothes, throwing rotten fruit, and chanting in unison that if the House tried to give them a floater they'd drive him to University Health services within 48 hours.” Sounds about right – except today, the whole HUHS thing might be an issue.

Welp, that’s history for you – 100 years from now, let’s hope that we look back at Harvard’s past a little more nostalgically. And who knows: maybe Harvard Stadium will have a few more fans in its seats by then!

— Staff writer James Joyce can be reached at