Season highlighted by "The Game" at Fenway

For more than a century, Fenway Park has occupied a prominent place in both Boston's physical landscape and the city's sports environment. Built upon the ancient saltwater marshes of 'The Fens' from which the park's name is derived, the stadium is not just a Boston landmark these days, however; it was also designated a national landmark during its 2012 centennial celebration when it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.


Fenway Park officially opened on April 20, 1912, with the Boston Red Sox appropriately hosting the New York Highlanders - better known as the New York Yankees starting the following season. It took 11 innings for the Red Sox to dispense with their eventual rivals by a count of 7-6, but it's likely that not too many noticed. The news was still dominated by the sinking of the R.M.S. Titanic just five days earlier en route to New York and less than a thousand nautical miles due east of Boston.


Eventually, Boston sports fans would take notice, however. While the park was built for their baseball team, it would go on to host many of the city's other professional sports franchises beginning with the Boston Bulldogs of the first American Football League which played one game at Fenway Park during the team's only season in 1926. Football returned a few years later when the Boston Redskins played four seasons at Fenway Park from 1933 to 1936 before moving to the nation's capital.


The Boston Shamrocks (1936-37) of the second AFL, and the Boston Yanks (1944-1948) and the Boston Patriots (1963-68) - both of the National Football League - were all tenants of Fenway Park along the way, too. The venerable stadium has hosted soccer and hockey games and was even the venue for a 1954 basketball game featuring the Harlem Globetrotters. Boxing and wrestling matches have been staged at Fenway along with many concerts. President Franklin D. Roosevelt once spoke to a crowd of more than 40,000 at Fenway in 1944. Until November 17, 2018, however, there was one event, one game, it had never hosted.


The Game.


The Harvard-Yale football rivalry dates back to November 13, 1875, when the two schools met on the gridiron for the first time. Their intercollegiate athletic rivalry dates back even further to 1852 when the first Harvard-Yale Regatta took place on Lake Winnipesaukee's Center Harbor in New Hampshire. Harvard's Crimson won both the first boat race and the first football game - a 4-0 decision on November 13, 1875. Ten of the next 11 games would go Yale's way with one tie mixed in as the Bulldogs eventually built an early 22-4-3 advantage in the football series by 1911.


The series has tipped in Harvard's direction in the decades since including wins in 15 of the last 18 games, but due to the early dominance, Yale still holds the overall lead with a 67-60-8 record. The 1894 matchup was played at Hampden Park in Springfield, Massachusetts, but every game since then had been played at one of the two schools' home fields. That is, until this past November when the sacred Fenway turf finally got its long overdue opportunity to host The Game.


It was a full-circle moment of sorts for Harvard athletics. The Crimson baseball team actually played the first game at the stadium in an exhibition against the Red Sox just 11 days before that official opening day contest against the team that would become the Yankees. On April 9, 1912, the Red Sox beat the boys from Harvard 2-0. Six days later while the Red Sox were making final preparations for the start of the 1912 season, the Titanic crashed into an iceberg and slipped under the icy North Atlantic surface three hours later taking more than 1,500 passengers with it to the ocean floor more than 12,000 feet below. Fenway's official opening was suddenly back page news as the world mourned the tragic loss of life that still ranks as the fourth most deadly peacetime maritime disaster in history.


The fact that Fenway Park has survived to this day is surprising considering how often franchise owners wrangle taxpayers into footing the bill for new facilities. Indeed, Fenway itself survived plans for a new stadium in 1999 that would have led to the destruction of most of the current facility. The ensuing public uproar played a role in thwarting those plans, and the existing facility was instead renovated with the plan that it will now continue to serve multiple future generations of fans over the coming decades. The fact it did survive, however, leads to the less surprising conclusion that ultimately the park was destined to host The Game.


On a beautiful Saturday afternoon in mid-November last fall, it finally happened. Harvard and Yale met on the Fenway turf on November 17 for the 135th edition of their annual rivalry. It was everything you could hope for, too, in a rivalry as storied as this one with the two teams ultimately combining for 72 points, the most combined points ever scored in The Game.


For Harvard fans, the news was even better. The 45-27 win represented the most points a Harvard squad had ever scored against Yale, and the victory ended a two-year run by the Bulldogs - the Eli's first winning streak in the series since a three-year run from 1998-2000. Overall, Harvard has won 18 of the past 24 contests in the series, but Yale didn't go away quietly in this one.


Harvard dictated the pace early scoring three touchdowns only to see the Bulldogs answer with a touchdown each time. A Yale field goal at the 8:33 mark of the third quarter finally gave the Bulldogs their first lead at 24-21. The Crimson then added another touchdown to reclaim the lead at 28-24, and after another Eli field goal to trim the score to 28-27, it was all Harvard. A field goal and two more touchdowns would put the game - The Game at Fenway Park, that is - solidly in the win column for the Crimson.

The Game from the Fenway Park press box.

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