Sis-Boom-Ah!: The Princeton-Harvard Rivalry

This weekend represented the quintessence of the Ivy League.

To provide some background information, the Ivy League is an athletic, not academic, conference of colleges that compete against each other. Back in the day, Princeton, Harvard, and Yale had the best football, or “gridiron” as they used to call it, in the country. In the 1950s, they decided academics was more important than athletics. Although the conference was not created until 1954, the term “Ivy League” had been in use since the 1930s. Still, many of the rivalries between these colleges have existed even longer, dating back to the late 1800s. The fiercest rivalry in football by far is Harvard vs. Yale. I would argue that the second and third fiercest rivalries are Princeton vs. Harvard and Princeton vs. Penn. This weekend featured the Princeton vs. Harvard football game.

Friday evening, before the game itself, was dedicated to the Princeton vs. Harvard Glee Club performance. I will not make fun of the Glee Club in the same manner as the acapella groups because there is only one, and it do not recruit aggressively. Their tradition of performing with Harvard dates back over 100 years. In the week leading up to this, the Princeton Glee Club posted Mad Libs-style posters around campus.

The “vs.” is somewhat misleading because it was not as much a competition as it was a dual concert. Harvard sang first. It is an all-male group. They were in morning dress and wore crimson pocket squares. First, they sang choral songs. During this portion, a smaller chamber choir group sang The Circle of Life from The Lion King. At the end, the lead singer held up, like Simba, a stuffed tiger wearing a Harvard shirt. In the second half, they sang the traditional Harvard football songs from the late nineteenth/early twentieth century. The Princeton Glee Club threw orange paper airplanes at them in the middle of one song with the intent of hitting the conductor. Whenever the word “Harvard” was mentioned in the songs, the Princeton Glee Club yelled, “sucks” in response.

Princeton sang second. The Princeton Glee Club is coed. The men wore morning dress as well with a bright orange strap across their chests. They followed the same song format. During their football songs, the group very loudly dropped their folders (marked by the clang in the recording) and pulled out orange things. Harvard threw the paper airplanes back at Princeton. They meowed every time the word “tiger” was sung and clicked their tongues in  “Going Back.”

At the end, both groups sang “Fair Harvard” and “Old Nassau” together. Almost every Princeton band/choir/theater performance ends with a singing of “Old Nassau.” One of Harvard’s directors announced that this was his last performance. He had been conducting since the 1950s.

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Saturday was the day of the big game. Yours Truly investigated the tailgating. Most of it was dominated by Princeton alumni. Princeton fans had orange tents, while those of Harvard fans were red. I saw the Harvard Glee Club again. The Princeton marching band also performed for alumni. My friends in the band say that they try to get their president arrested each year when they go on tour (it’s happened in the past). They have been known to invade Harvard Yard and Harvard Bookstore during their forays into Cambridge.

Harvard brought the cold, rainy weather of New England with them from Cambridge. For being the biggest football game of the year, it was poorly attended. The stadium was barely a third full. I estimate that there were as many people as there are at a good CR vs. Dover game. Sadly, I saw very few student spectators. I watched regardless. Harvard marching band performance, Princeton marching band performance. Princeton’s band played the Game of Thrones theme song often during the game.

I left during the final six minutes of the game. It seemed as if Harvard would win. Apparently the last few minutes were the most exciting. Princeton tied with Harvard and forced the game into overtime. They then led for several minutes before Harvard won by scoring a field goal in the last few seconds. Too bad. The University has a huge bonfire whenever the football team beats Harvard and Yale. This last occurred in 2013. No fire this year. Later, I noticed that the cannon on Cannon Green had been spray painted red, probably by some Harvard students.

On a somewhat different note, the Princeton band was noticeably better than the Harvard band. And that’s all that counts. Am I right music friends?


These festivities were a lot of fun. As a participant, it is hard to believe that students just like me have been doing the exact same thing for over a century.