November 18, 2009

It’s Not “THE” Game

by Joel K. Alderman, Yale 1951

The annual reference to one of college football’s greatest rivalries is once again being miscommunicated to the reading and listening sports public, as it reads in newspapers and hears on TV and radio all about “THE Game.” Those who say “THE Game” just don’t get it.

However, it really should be written and pronounced “The Game,” with equal emphasis (or, more accurately, equal de-emphasis) on each word, and, when spoken, delivered in a somewhat understated and matter-of-fact way.

It compares with suburbanites in places such as Westchester and Fairfield counties, or in the Hamptons, saying they are going to “the city.” In their way of thinking, there is really only one place that is worthy of those words. They certainly do not say “THE city.”

“The Game” is a tongue-in cheek spoof popularized sometime in the late 1940’s by Yale’s infamous and brilliant sports information director, Charles Loftus, a pioneer and innovator in the then developing field of college sports publicists. He came up with the idea of gracing his award winning programs with a cover photo, taken the previous spring, of the two uniformed captains. Instead of heading the glossy publications with simplistic terms such as “Yale-Harvard Game” or “Harvard vs. Yale,” he used the purposely arrogant and elitist title “The Game.” But it was all in satire and the practice was followed in alternate years by his counterpart at Harvard, Baron Pittenger.

The point was (and still is) that to alumni and undergraduates this meeting of their football teams is an entity all to itself. After all, Charley explained many times, when Blues or Cantabs met in their Harvard or Yale Clubs, at reunions, or in their Madison Avenue or Wall Street offices, or similar places in Chicago, Washington, Houston, Los Angeles, etc., a question often was asked such as “Are you going to the game this year?” or “What do you think our chances are in the game?”

There was no doubt about what “the game” meant. It certainly was not Ohio State-Michigan, usually played the same day, or Army-Navy. Those rivalries were just Johnny-come-lately’s, not even worthy of being considered a game in its true sense.

And that’s the concept Charley was recognizing. Among Yale and Harvard people, there was just one game and none other. “The Game,” spoken with almost indifferent reverence, could only mean Yale-Harvard or, as it is known around Cambridge and Boston, Harvard-Yale.

It would be a contradiction to say or write “THE Game,” because that would imply there were other games as well. Such a concession simply could not be made. For there really were no other games, and no other college football teams, only pretenders.

Nobody ever believed all this line of reasoning, not even Charley Loftus. But it did sell a lot of his still unequaled football programs, and gave the rivalry even more prestige and identity than it already had.

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