The Game is the oldest and third-most-played college football rivalry, after The Rivalry between Lehigh-Lafayette and the Princeton-Yale game. In 2003, the rivalry was rated the sixth-best in college athletics by Sports Illustrated On Campus, after Army-Navy, Alabama-Auburn, Duke-North Carolina, UCLA-USC, and Cal-Stanford.
|Yale (65)||Harvard (51)|
| 1876 1878|
| 1875 1890|
| 1879 1897 1899 1910|
1911 1925 1951 1968
|No Game (8)|
| 1877 1885 1888 1895|
1917 1918 1943 1944
The first meeting between the teams occurred on November 13, 1875 at Hamilton Field in New Haven. Harvard won 4-0 by scoring four touchdowns and four field goals (at the time, a touchdown merely gave the scoring team the opportunity to gain one point by converting the field goal). This was the first intercollegiate football match between two U.S. teams. (Harvard had played McGill University of Montreal the previous year, and acquired the rules of the game from that team; previous intercollegiate matches were played under the rules of soccer, or European football.)
The rules that governed the early years of The Game were a modified version of the rules of rugby and made the game particularly brutal. In the second half of The Game of 1892, Harvard introduced the flying wedge formation, devised by chess master Lorin F. Deland, which so devastated Yale players that it was outlawed the following season (nevertheless, Yale won 6-0). After The Game of 1894, about which newspapers reported seven players carried off the field "in dying condition," the two schools broke off all official contact including athletic competition for two years. Since resuming in 1897, The Game has been played annually except during the First and Second World Wars.
The first known reference to "The Game" occurs in an 1898 letter by former Harvard captain A. F. Holden (class of 1888) to Harvard coach Cam Forbes on the occasion of The Game being permanently moved to the end of the season ("it also makes the Yale-Harvard game the game of the season"). But capitalized reference to The Game appears to have been first made by columnist Red Smith in the late 1940s, and it first appeared on the cover of The Game program in 1960.
Yale ended a five-game losing streak against Harvard in 2006, winning 34-13. The margin of victory was the widest in the last decade for Yale. That Harvard winning streak was third longest in the history of the series, after Yale's 1902-1907 six-game winning streak and Yale's 1880-1889 eight-game winning streak. Harvard's offense was held to 13 points, the lowest of its season, and Harvard's running back Clifton Dawson gained only 60 rushing yards. Yale tied with Princeton University for the 2006 Ivy League title.
In 2007, in a match-up of teams undefeated in the Ivy League, Harvard outplayed Yale to a 37-6 victory.
The Game is significant for historical reasons as one of the first football games played between U.S. colleges. The rules of The Game soon were adopted by other schools, such as Rutgers and Princeton, which had been playing soccer (i.e. Association Football) since 1869, making football the archetypal college sport. The schools that would become the Ivy League played a large part in the development of American football in the late 19th century; football's rules, conventions, and equipment, as well as elements of "atmosphere" such as the mascot and fight song, include many elements pioneered or nurtured at Harvard and Yale. For many years, The Game was also likely to determine the Ivy League championship, although recently it has been rare to find both schools enjoying a strong season simultaneously. The Game receives relatively little national attention today; most college football fans are more interested in games between larger institutions whose teams are made up of scholarship athletes, many of them bound for professional careers. The huge seating capacities of Harvard Stadium and the Yale Bowl, however, testify to the vast crowds that The Game still attracts although attendance at other games is much lower. Tickets for The Game generally sell out even in modern times when The Game is played at Harvard, as Harvard Stadium's seating capacity is less than half that of the Yale Bowl.
The Game is an inviting target for pranksters. The most famous exploit was carried out at Harvard Stadium during the second quarter in 1982, when a Harvard score was immediately followed by a huge black weather balloon, previously installed under the 45 yard line by students from MIT as the letters painted on its side proclaimed, slowly inflating until it exploded, spraying talcum powder over the field (Harvard won, 45-7). On November 18, 1990, during the third quarter of The Game, MIT students carried out a less surreptitious assault by firing a rocket which hung an MIT banner over the goal post (Yale won, 34-19). During the pregame show in 1992, the Harvard marching band attempted to "X-out" the Yale Precision Marching Band while the Yale band stood in its traditional Y formation; however, the Yale band caught wind of this plan and, as the Harvard band marched onto the field, shifted its formation into a large H, thus making Harvard X itself out. In 2004, some Yale students impersonated the (non-existent) Harvard pep squad, handed out placards to some 1,800 adult Harvard fans, and alleged that by holding up the placards they would be spelling out "GO HARVARD." Instead, the signs spelled out "WE SUCK". Harvard won the game 35-3. In 2006, two streakers with MIT painted on their bodies attempted to run around the field during the game. One made it the length of the field before being caught and dragged off the field; the other was tackled by security about ten steps out of the stands.
The Game has also become known for the large, joint Harvard-Yale tailgate parties that run throughout The Game in the fields next to the host stadium every year. The tailgate party was even televised by ESPN in 2004. While most alumni who travel to The Game actually watch it in the stadium, most students and recent alumni treat the tailgate as their primary destination. The tailgate attracts thousands of students and has recently roused the concern of the Boston Police Department, who have cracked down on underage drinking at the student tailgates, as well as moving it further away from the stadium and reducing the space available. This is significant, since, for many students, The Game is the social apex of the year. Considering the cost of getting up to The Game at Harvard, which is no longer subsidized by Yale, some Yale students are considering responding by boycotting Harvard-hosted Games in favor of the season's Yale-Princeton game.
The Little Red Flag is a Harvard pennant which, since 1884, has been waved by Harvard's "most loyal fan" after each score by Harvard during The Game. As of 2005, the honorary position is held by William Markus of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who attends every Harvard football game.
Apocryphal tales assert that before the 1908 Game, Harvard coach Percy Haughton strangled a bulldog to death in the locker room to motivate his players. Whether this is true or not, Harvard did win 4-0, the culmination of a 9-0-1 season.
Harvard's 1875 victory marked its first national championship. Since then Harvard has also won titles in 1890, 1898, 1899, 1910, 1912, 1913, and 1919, while Yale has won 18 national championships: 1874, 1876, 1877, 1880, 1881, 1882, 1883, 1884, 1886, 1887, 1888, 1891, 1892, 1894, 1900, 1907, 1909, and 1927.