Almost Nothing Stops Football in the Bowl

By Bob Barton '57

The last time Yale and Lafayette played football in the Bowl – Sept. 22, 1990 – they produced a thriller. Yale won 18-17 when a 38-yard Lafayette field goal try went wide with 7 seconds left.

And hardly anyone saw it.

It rained that day. And rained and rained. The crowd was announced as 6,458, but by the end there were fewer than 500 fans, huddled in the portals or hiding under the press box.
Carm Cozza, Yale’s coach at the time, calls it the worst rain he saw in his coaching career. “I told Darin Kehler afterward, ‘Only somebody who walks like a duck could have won in that,’ ” Cozza says.

Kehler was Yale’s little option quarterback who was a far better runner that day (12 carries, 56 yards) than passer (4 of 17 for 65). “A lot of athletes tend to walk a little pigeon-toed, but Darin’s toes pointed out,” Cozza says. “We used to kid him that he looked like a duck.”
If that game was the wettest in Cozza’s 32 years coaching Yale, it was not the most uncomfortable. That distinction belongs to the Harvard game in 1987.

“It was so cold that day that my face hurt,” says Cozza. “Every part of me hurt. I think anyone who was there just wanted it to be over.”

The temperature at kickoff time in the Bowl was 19, with a north wind blowing at up to 38 miles an hour. That computes to a wind chill of minus 2. As sunset neared, it got colder.
The Ivy League championship was at stake, and the crowd -- officially, anyway -- numbered 66,548. Half of them were gone by the end of the third quarter.

Harvard won 14-10, though it wasn’t safe until Harvard Tom Aubin popped the ball loose from Yale’s Troy Jenkins to kill a drive with 90 seconds to go. A Yale punt that went just 11 yards into the wind had set up the deciding touchdown in the third period.

Bob Lewis, a lawyer from Branford who’s watched Yale games since he was a ball boy at the Bowl in the 1960s, has his own memory of the day.

“Our seats that year were right behind Alvin Adams (a 1927 Yale grad who was an airline executive with Pan Am),” says Lewis. “Al always came to the games wearing this tweed jacket – nothing over it, just the jacket. That day, there he was in the jacket, and I said, ‘Al, you’ll die if you don’t put something on.’ We’d brought a load of blankets. I piled about four layers onto him, and that’s how he got through the game.”

At least it didn’t snow that day. Yale hasn’t played in serious snow in half a century. Back before global warming, it was different.

Four inches of early snow – the date was Nov. 7 -- blanketed the Bowl for the Temple game in 1953. Attendance was just 3,500. Two third-stringers, end Bob Lemire and fullback Connie Corelli, shone as Yale won 32-6.

More memorable was the Harvard game that ended the 1955 season. Two inches of snow covered the field except where cleats ground it to slop. At halftime someone set three piglets loose on the field. Cops slipped and slid between bandsmen to round the critters up.

The crowd of 56,000 got to see a touchdown scored by a Harvard end, Ted Kennedy, who would go on to greater fame as a U.S. senator. It was the Crimson’s only solace in a 21-7 defeat.

Some of the most miserable days in the Bowl, of course, have been when rain and wind combined. One such was Nov. 8, 1947, when Yale played Brown.

It rained buckets, and the Weather Bureau office at New Haven’s airport clocked bursts of wind reaching 55 miles an hour. William “Hank” O’Donnell, who covered Yale football for the Waterbury Republican from the 1920s to the 1970s, wrote of that day’s wind and mud as “the most wretched conditions in Bowl history.”

Brown won 20-14 and, fortunately, no one drowned. Among Brown players who survived the soaking was Joe Paterno, who’s still coaching Penn State football at 82.

Slightly less windy but wetter was the October day when Yale met Cornell in 1955. The weather had little to do with the Yale varsity’s 34-6 victory, but at the freshman game across Central Avenue the wind affected the score. Don Wall, Yale kicker, saw one of his conversion tries held up between the uprights and blown right back at him.

Monsoon conditions were par for the course in the era, ending in the 1970s, when Dartmouth came to the Bowl every year around Halloween. The 1962 game was waged in rain and a chilling wind on a field the texture of lime Jell-O. Ticket sales topped 26,000, but most of the purchasers were home watching Navy-Notre Dame on TV.

Dartmouth, destined to finish undefeated and untied, throttled Yale 9-0.

Worse from a Yale standpoint was the Dartmouth fray in 1959, when a southeast wind drove rain in vast sheets across the Bowl. With the soggy ball, Yale tried only one pass all day.
Yale had started its season by winning five consecutive shutouts – something no major college had accomplished since 1943. The streak extended through the first 40 minutes and 46 seconds against Dartmouth before Seth Strickland caught a Bill Gundy pass for a Big Green touchdown.

That opened the floodgates, as it were. Yale lost 12-8 and went on to lose miserably to Pennsylvania and Harvard.

Ironically, the one Yale game ever canceled by weather would have been played on a perfectly fine day – Sept. 28, 1985. Yale was scheduled to meet Connecticut in the Bowl.
The problem was that at lunchtime the day before, Hurricane Gloria had battered the state, knocking out power for 680,000 homes, causing damage in the tens of millions. New Haven’s Westville section, near the Bowl, got some of the worst of it. Streets were littered with tree limbs and downed wires.

The Bowl had no electricity – no running water either. There wasn’t a working traffic light on any of the access routes.

The expected crowd of 35,000 was twice what would fit into UConn’s stadium at Storrs, so moving the game was out of the question. Athletic Directors Frank Ryan (Yale) and John Toner (UConn) considered postponing it to Sunday. New Haven’s mayor, however, was a former police chief, Biagio DiLieto, and he had the last word. Citing concern for public safety, he ordered the game called off.