With a powdered wig on his noggin and a grimace on his pretty little down-turned mouth, a lad in a blue football jersey glowers beneath a goalpost while, up ahead, a swaggering figure in crimson finery cradles the championship football! (With a Radcliffe girl on his arm, to boot!) The lad huffing helplessly beneath the goalpost, uniform emblazoned with a “Y,” is a Yale Man. This is Harvard’s championship poster for The Game of 1898, and, fifty years down the road, its design seemed stodgy. Scuttling about on a WWII gunner tank, the 1942 Cantabs look ahead with upturned noses, ignoring the Yale boys entrenched below. The Elis’ smoky blue football grenades whiz up to destroy the Red Invasion. Whoosh! Bang! Boom!
A couple of years ago, to commemorate the same event, Yale’s Fifth Humor comedy troupe sold a t-shirt. It read: “Harvard Sucks. But So Will I for Crack.” The design sold last year by the campus tabloid, Rumpus, read “You can’t spell Harvard without V.D.” Forget the Radcliffe girl in a swinging hoopskirt and felt gloves—these days, shirts of the nation’s two dorkiest schools joke of trysts and crack cocaine. Since the inaugural Game of 1869, the rivalry has evolved into a war played off the field, a visual standoff staged on the chests of tipsy tailgate revelers.
The 2003 board minutes of Harvard’s Campus Life Commission reveal the competition to be quite a serious matter: “Whereas Harvard, as an academic and sporting institution is far superior to Yale; [Harsh words]… and Whereas Harvard will reign supreme on November 22, [Oof!] Be it Resolved that the Undergraduate Council allocate $1600 for celebratory t-shirts; and Be it Resolved that the Campus Life Committee be charged with deciding upon an appropriately pompous design for this shirts [sic], demonstrating our superior senses of humor…” The resolution passed the executive board with unanimous huzzahs, as it does every year. Indeed, the usual Harvard shirts are pompous: most say something along the lines of “Yale: Harvard’s Safety School” or “Yale: Harvard for Dummies.”
But “Refining the Rivalry,” a piece printed in The Harvard Crimson, took issue with those shirts that purported to demonstrate “superior senses of humor.” The article’s author enlisted Ms. Mannersmith, an etiquette expert, to evaluate proper game attire. “The idea is to cheer and have spirit for your team without being nasty,” Ms. Mannersmith said, warning Cantabs of the “fine line between displaying school spirit and talking trash.”
Chris “Gritz” Schonberger manages Cock Tees Productions, an underground Harvard startup that would certainly disagree with Mannersmith’s gentle nay-saying. “Good tees are usually inappropriate or offensive,” Gritz wrote in an email. “That ‘safety school’ shit is tired. That’s why we’re going for the black tee look this year, a more thuggish spin on the general Game tee.” The Cock Tees design Schonberger praises is based on the 2004 debut album cover of rapper The Game, and was produced in secret in Schonberger’s common room using iron-on transfers. The boys will have to sell them on the black market. To hawk a shirt sporting the university name at Harvard, one must be part of a regulated student group and cough up 7.5 percent of profits in royalties to the Harvard Copyright Office. “Or your tees will be seized,” wrote a saddened Schonberger, “like so many pounds of cocaine.”
So what about Harvard Tees that mock the Yale name? Do they have to pay to use our fancy four letters? “There’s a sort of informal agreement with Harvard between our licensing offices,” said Denise Castallano, Yale’s Licensing program Coordinator. “If Harvard sees something with our name on it they tell us. It’s common courtesy.” A dirty blonde who spends her days in a basement office where stacks of solicitations requesting use of the University’s logos stretch ceiling-ward, Castellano doesn’t have a lot of time for t-shirts. And anyway, Yale students need not worry about licensing rights: For “internal use” there’s no price. But students are expected to uphold the alma mater, and never to produce vulgar designs. Castellano prefers this year’s official design at Barnes & Noble, in which the two teams’ helmets angle toward each other in a typical face-off pose. “That was nice,” Castellano said of the shirt. “I don’t approve of anything that’s offensive. Though a lot of people go ahead and do things.”
Yale student designs have been more “appropriately pompous” than the official bookstore’s—running the gamut from the classic “Fuck Harvard” to the crass “Fuck Harvard?”. For the discrete consumer (perhaps the mother whose children are just learning how to spell) there’s “Huck Farvard.” (And Harvard’s got its own “Yuck Fale.”) Then there’s the most popular design, which appears to be a column of blocky nonsense letters until the fabric is folded like a Mad Magazine back-page or an elegant window-dressing to reveal the hidden phrase: “Fuck Harvard.” “It’s our best seller,” said Ken, who requested a pseudonym. Throughout the second week of November, he sold the shirt in Commons to “hopefully make some money” for his senior society. Flashy and ubiquitous, the design called to arms a November 2001 Yale Record satire: “What if we made this t-shirt that said ‘Fuck Harvard.’ And then when you folded it together it said ‘Fuck Harvard.’ Again. And if you folded it up again, it said ‘Fuck Harvard’ again and so on?”
And so on. And so forth. For the past 25 years, the screenprint and design division of Broadway’s Campus Customs Clothing Co., Inc. has captained the bulk of Yale’s design orders. Wiry manager Barry Cobden doesn’t see the scrimmage for a winning shirt as anything new: “I wouldn’t be surprised if at the first game played, somehow someone wasn’t wearing something in the spirit of the game.” Today the store offers the “thinkingman’s version of a Harvard-Yale shirt” in the front window (a heather gray short-sleeve imprinted with the rhetorical “Harvard does what?” and a corresponding lollipop.) However, most students opt for the store’s design-your-own-shirt service. “Sure, they go too far sometimes,” Cobden says, speaking of more vulgar designs. “This is the type of shirt I’d recommend,” he says, pointing to a conservative tee imprinted with “The Game, 2005” in a stiff serif font. “For someone who keeps chronological order of all their t-shirts, this is the one you pull out to show someone in one hundred years and say, ‘This is one hundred years old.’… The other ones are fun,” Cobden admits, “but only for the moment.”
Those “other ones” are printed by frats, sports teams, and student publications who proudly proclaim with each design that they’re pretty sure they won’t be alive to see the 2105 kickoff. Arguably (depending on your levels of joie-de-vivre and poo-poo humor)Rumpus puts out the strongest shirt each year and keeps their design a surprise until a much anticipated unveiling. How do they do it? “Rumpus does not vote,” wrote Editor-in-Chief Lacy Gattis, in an email, “It would be anathema to our artistic goals and hurts our arms.”
In the retread of forty years of tee designs, Rumpus’ goal at their annual tee design debate is to “provide a visual gag more clever and more timely than a bulldog humping a Cantab,” Gattis wrote. Though that design “sold like hotcakes” according to this year’s designer, Mike Dunham, “we can usually come up with better ideas than that.” A problem, perhaps, was the 2002 Harvard response to the Cantab “rape” shirt. A year after the bulldog anally raped the pilgrim, Harvard Law put out a shirt that showed a Cantab sitting pretty while a bulldog, crouched on the ground before his master, performed fellatio. Rumpus let the track grass over and the next year came out with a tee that was either too highbrow or too lowbrow to sell well: “Ve-ri-tas My Salad,” the shirt read. “The problem was people either didn’t know what the phrase ‘toss my salad’ meant or thought it was so gross they refused to wear it,” said Rumpusstaffer Maureen Miller. “We had a few people though, me included, who thought it was brilliant.” Ultimately, the shirt failed.
This year’s design steps back slightly: Staffers debated over a shirt that would be “offensive—but not too offensive.” Ideally, the crew would like to actually turn a profit, which they have in the past: Their very first design sported a linedrawing of the phallic Harkness tower, accompanied by the biting text: “Harvard Sucks. But Yale Sucks Better.” The profit they made on that visual “gag” allowed them to print their publication monthly— a huge step financially.
Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s pledges sell shirts “to raise money for their pledge project—usually an improvement to the infrastructure of the house. “For example,” said Fraternity president Billy Deitch, “rebuilding the basement bar.” Two years ago the frat put out one of the most successful shirts in recent memory, the front of which argued, “You’d have to be crazy to go to Harvard…” and the back of which provided evidence: a picture of Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, Harvard Class of 1962. A later shirt was more minimal in design, “VE-RI-DUM,” which Branford Senior Jonathan Breit claimed as his favorite game shirt: “Everything is perfect: the number of syllables, the latin-esque ending of ‘dum,’ the fact that ‘dumb’ is misspelled. It just works.”
This year for the first time, Community Health Educators (CHE)—a group of student sex educators who work at New Haven high schools—plans to print a socially conscious t-shirt. “Many of the designs we were debating said something to the effect of ‘Herpes… Heptatitis… HPV… Fuck Harvard. But use a condom,” wrote Cara Demmerle, CHE co-coordinator. “Ultimately, we were worried that students might not want a t-shirt with ‘Herpes’ written in on the front… The final design does make a joke at abstinence’s expense, but I think it is ultimately much more palpable than the earlier designs.” As opposed to the frats and humor magazines, CHE was hesitant to print on Campus Customs’ t-shirts because they are produced in sweatshops. The group went for more expensive tees offered by American Apparel, a chain that sells bulk rates on shirts made in regulated working conditions.
Like CHE, the club Water Polo team wanted their design to fit their moral code—a record of good sportsmanship. “We wanted a shirt that was more clever,” said Fundraising Coordinator Sherry Wang. “We didn’t want a shirt like ‘Who’s your Daddy,’ or ‘Harvard’s mom since 1701.’” Last year, the team released the heart-warming “Everybody loves a Yalie” shirt, which sold like a pack of Camels in a Texas prison. This year’s design is similarly uncontroversial: a group of scarlet stick-figures holding up placards spelling “Harvard Sucks,” and on the back, Yalies say: “You said it, not us,” alluding to a prank played last year on the Harvard fans.
For the two weeks before the game, a row of fold-out tables in the foyer of Commons becomes a makeshift bazaar of Game tees for passing Yalies. “What is this?” a girl asked one Monday in November, passing the table commandeered by members of the Pundits society. She was pointing to a t-shirt printed in the University’s font, which simply said, “ALE,” sans igrec. “It’s Yale without the ‘Y,’” said the staffer selling the shirt, “It’s the essence of Yale. There are youth sizes!” When the customer walked away to a table offering the usual bland fare (“Harvard Sucks. And Princeton Doesn’t Matter”), the Pundit sighed. “It’s the most straightforward design possible.”
Though the Harvard-Yale design is often straightforward, it has come a long way from the game itself, and few shirts ever have anything at all to do with football. “No one cares who wins,” said one drunken senior at a party two weeks before kickoff. “Everyone cares who had the fucking coolest shirt.” The Yale Record’s elegant satire from 2001 summed up what a lot of people felt. As their number-one suggestion, the magazine proposed a shirt that would be blank except for one block of text. “My hatred for Harvard,” it would read, “outweighs my apathy for football.”
Adriane Quinlan, a junior in Calhoun College, is a managing editor of TNJ.