Cover coverage: Yale football during the heyday of Ivy Style

Editor’s Note: The following article is by Dan Covell, friend to the site. He is the author of Managing Intercollegiate Athletics which you can buy here, and The New England Small Athletic Conference which you can buy here.

“In 1959, staff writer Alfred Wright, an elegant Yalie and globetrotting husband of Joan Fontaine, was covering college football for Sports Illustrated. Wright showed up in the second quarter of a Notre Dame game in South Bend, and seemed bored. ‘I think Potter Stewart is going to become the next Republican presidential candidate,’ Wright said to Robert Boyle, who was covering the game for Time magazine. ‘Why is that, Al?’ asked Boyle, watching the game intently through his binoculars. ‘Bones hasn’t had a president since William Howard Taft. It’s bloody well time.’ … Before leaving (at the half), Wright nudged Boyle and said, ‘Bob, as far as I’m concerned, college football ends at New Haven, and it doesn’t pick up again until Palo Alto.’ That pretty well crystallized the magazine’s view of college football in the ‘50s.”

The above quote is from Michael MacCambridge’s outstanding 1997 book, The Franchise: A history of Sports Illustrated. While only the most Eli-centric Bonespersons of today would argue that college football still ends at New Haven, those of Alvin Wright’s vintage could be excused for such a perspective. This is not to slight the Ivies, or any other football teams that aren’t in the league of the SEC. In fact, those who know the history of the game know about Yale’s significance in creating and nurturing the game, and was the sport’s dominant program from its establishment in 1872 through the first third part of the 20th century. Yale and the Ivies mattered on the national stage, and 70,000 or so fans crowded the Yale Bowl on fall football Saturdays.

After World War II, the landscape of big-time college football changed, and the power programs now resided in the Midwest and beyond to the west and south. The Ivies were no longer vying for national titles (mythical as they might be, for no formal playoff system existed), but fans still flocked to the Bowl, Baker Field, Harvard Stadium, Franklin Field and Palmer Stadium. When the Ivy League formally coalesced in 1954, the eight schools that comprised the group now had a formalized athletic union and identity. Maybe the league took the name from the look, maybe it was the other way around. Alan Gould, sports editor of the Associated Press, appears to have been the first to use the exact term “Ivy League,” in an article dated February 8, 1935, and by the time Macy’s in New York began running newspaper advertisements in 1938 hawking its fancy men’s overcoats as “Champions of the Ivy League,” the phrase, “with all its connotations, had entered the lexicon,” wrote Mark Bernstein in his history of Ivy football.

MacCambridge also knows football, as I’ve used his book, America’s Game, a history of the National Football League, in classes I have taught at Western New England University, where I am a professor of sport management. In his NFL book, MacCambridge profiled coaching legend Paul Brown, whom he dubbed “The Organization Man,” in recognition of Brown’s many innovation efforts that changed the way the game was coached and played. Brown pioneered the use of game films, scouting and full-time assistant coaches. An Ohio high school and college coaching eminence, Brown wasn’t particularly self-effacing, as when the team he was about to run was joining the upstart All-America Football Conference, it was named the “Browns,” for him, and then just happened to adopt brown (and orange) as official team colors. MacCambridge also wrote about one of Brown’s most notorious dicta, the “Tuesday rule,” which forbid players from having sex with their wives after Tuesday night prior to a Sunday game. “What about the single men?” star quarterback Otto Graham once asked the coach. “Paul never answered,” he said. “Paul didn’t recognize that sex existed outside of marriage.”

The Browns dominated the AAFC, and along with the Baltimore Colts and the San Francisco 49ers, joined the NFL in 1950. Having all-time great running back Jim Brown (no relation) didn’t hurt, either. Last month, New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, he of the six Super Bowl titles who in his first head coaching job led the Browns, said in an interview that Paul Brown was the coach with whom he would have liked most to work. “And really where I learned a lot about Paul Brown was Jim Brown,” said Belichick. “And when I’d talk with Jim, we’d have a lot of conversations, you know, Jim would refer to Paul Brown. Very frequently he’d say, ‘This is the way Paul did it,’ or ‘Paul did it a little bit different,’ or, “You know, here’s why Paul did it this way. Here’s why Paul did it that way.’ And it really gave me a lot of insight from a player’s perspective into the way that Paul coached the team.”

For those who are familiar with both the past and present of NFL coaches’ sideline apparel, Belichick citing Brown’s influence rings ironic. Brown, like all the coaches of his day, walked the sidelines in suit and tie, wearing fedoras and homburgs, and donned Chesterfield coats as the schedule ran into November and December. This approach was as much about projecting a professional image as anything, as for decades the pro game was seen as the poor and unseemly offspring of the much more popular college game. Brown, along with his contemporary, Tom Landry of the Dallas Cowboys, were among the last to maintain the looks, as other coaches eventually donned what they wore to practice during the week to game day.

Belichick, however, is well-known for his grunge-look sideline garb. Rather than looking as if he has just come from practice, Belichick, favoring hooded sweatshirts with the sleeves cut off, looks as if he just emerged from cleaning out his garage and is heading off with a load of refuse for the Foxborough town landfill. One wonders what Paul Brown would say if the two might somehow meet on a game day this coming fall, with Belichick, who graduated from both Andover and Wesleyan and was the son of a long-time Naval Academy coach, sporting his rag-bin outfit. Belichick, in his characteristic slightly annoyed monotone, would grumble that clothes don’t matter, but Ivy Stylers know that they do, and that they don’t just speak, they scream.

In the 1990s, NFL Properties, the league’s licensing arm, moved to use coaches as models to promote their nascent athleisure line of apparel, to great effect. Today, when one attends an NFL game, nearly every fan is clad in a team jersey, team sweatshirt, team hat, team jacket, or some combination thereof. The dress code of today’s college football coaches has evolved in much the same manner, as have the game day apparel decisions of the vast majority of college football fans. The striking exceptions are the outfits worn by sorority and fraternity members at games in the Southeast, particularly at games in the Southeastern Conference (SEC), for decades by far the nation’s dominant collection of teams. The quality of play these fans experience on every autumn Saturday would seem to demand a certain level of sartorial respect from fans, and the youngsters at these schools seem to reflect and respect that elevated competition through their dress, with frat members donning basic Ivy style looks (rep ties in school colors, blue blazers, OCBDs). These choices are all the more laudable when one realized an early season noon kick off in Athens, Oxford or Tuscaloosa likely means temperatures and humidity levels both of 90 or higher.

As my own research interests gravitate toward historical issues in intercollegiate athletics, and as a studio art major and football player at Bowdoin, it felt right to begin studying the cover art of Ivy League football souvenir game programs through the 20th century, specifically at Yale. I’m trying to discern in what ways the works of the artists and photographers communicated the goals and objectives of these Ivy football teams and athletic department. As I sift through the files in Yale’s Roy Tompkins Hall, I’ve found programs from as far back as the late 1800s, with covers featuring vivid woodcut block prints of helmetless ball carriers and young ladies sporting chrysanthemum corsages, to examples at the end of the century, where photography had replaced the poster art images and techniques that faded in the 1950s, in part due to the influence of the color photos on the cover of the newly established Sports Illustrated.

Images of fans and crowds have always part of the visual shorthand of football game programs, in part because early game action was so muddled and chaotic artists found it hard to render and to present cogently. But even when game rules changed and the contests resembled more closely what we now recognize as football, crowd images persisted, as artists and athletic departments sought to promote the notion of the game as spectacle, and one that also occurred in an elite and wholesome rooting environment. Crowd shots were also more reliable, as photography and printing technology could not yet produce high-quality color game action shots.

What these shots from the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s also provide are glimpses into the game-day apparel of Yale Bowl attendees during the heyday of Ivy Style, the period Richard Press had often espoused upon in his recent blog posts and books. In Threading the needle, Press even offers a photo of his own time in the stands at Dartmouth in the late 1950s, sporting a “drop-dead” J. Press Classic Homespun Shetland Glen Plaid sports jacket. “Once upon a time we dressed up for Ivy League football,” his caption reads. Whether it was because it was expected, or attendees believed that the import of the event demanded a certain look, people back then did appear, in our parlance, to “dress up.”

Program cover shots I’ve seen back up Press’s assertion. This first is from the October 29,1955, Dartmouth-Yale game at the Bowl, a 20-0 Bulldog victory. From 1894 to 1971, Dartmouth teams hiked down from Hanover to New Haven every year for the game, as 50,000 would come to the Bowl as opposed to the 21,000 that could squeeze into Dartmouth’s Memorial Field. For this program, the cover shows a photo taken from the press box on a sunny autumn day, looking down to the northwest corner of the Bowl, the stands completely full. Fans dressed in typical Ivy style fall clothes of the era (tan and black overcoats for the men), many men in fedoras (dark grey, light gray, brown; nearly all with black bands). There are many women in crowd as well, many wearing hats as well. Regardless of garb, virtually all in this pre-pre-pre-iPhone era are focused on the action taking place on the field.

The cover pic from the October 12, 1957, game versus Columbia (a 19-0 Elis win) shows a similar elevated shot of fans on a similarly sunny day, this time as they arrived and milled about outside the Bowl prior to kickoff. Fewer hats on the men, just as many overcoats, some sport coats, some scarves. Men in ties (some bow ties!), women in brighter shaded coats of pinks and reds, some with fur trim.

Another crowd shot cover from a decade later (again a Dartmouth game, this one a 56-15 Yale blowout in 1967) shows an older, grandfather-type standing and urging his team on, wearing a grey/green herringbone tweed jacket, black sweater vest and dark green tie with white stripes (must be a Dartmouth man). The boy I presume to be his grandson stands at his side, peering out to the field intently, and wears a crimson Munsingwear shirt under a dark blue anorak. Behind them, similarly clad fans – some men in shirtsleeves on yet another sunny day, but still wearing their ties – smile, laugh and applaud the game action.

On the next season’s October 12, Brown-Yale game program cover (another big Bulldog win, 28-0) is a field-level shot looking up at the full stands behind the Yale bench. The fans are celebrating a big play– this time on a rainy day – with nearly every adult male wearing a tan, belted trench coat. Only a few hats are in the crowd, and some of those with the plastic rain protectors fitted over them. A few men wear sport coats over turtle necks. Ties are still visible. Only two – but two there are – are visible wearing any Yale garb: two young men in white Yale letter sweaters.

Finally, for the 1971 Harvard game that also celebrated the centennial year of Yale football (a 35-16 Crimson win likely dampened the fun), the program cover shot is staged portrait of head coach Carm Cozza on the field at the Yale Bowl. Cozza, in his sixth season at the helm, poses in a substantial two-button tweed herringbone sport coat with and a solid black tie, holding a football with Yale captain Richard Maher standing to his right. Paul Brown would have definitely approved (as long as they both upheld the “Tuesday rule”).

For those of us who revel in the notion of living in the types of garments captured in the photos above, the notion of dressing up to attend a game is catnip, especially for one as steeped in tradition and history as a football game on a crisp autumn day at the venerable Yale Bowl. Maybe we do so because we have made the choice to embrace Ivy Style we love in a world where at this season’s Yale home games sweatpants and flips flops will far outnumber wide-wale cords and Weejuns.

Were Ivy fans in these pictures having to think so much about what to wear? Bruce Boyer has written about the ease of slipping into the Ivy Style look for men of this era; acquire those certain elemental pieces from your local department store’s “college shop,” and you were good to go. Maybe the fans at these games were just wearing what everyone else wore, and didn’t have to think about it. Whatever the case, I looked on these photos wistfully and with more than a little envy. The fans looked fantastic. I never look at a photo of Bill Belichick’s clothes and feel that way.

  • Dan Covell

10 Comments on "Cover coverage: Yale football during the heyday of Ivy Style"

  1. Tom Conroy | July 3, 2023 at 8:03 pm |

    The football factory that is Wesleyan University produced Coach Belichick and also innovated by tossing the game’s first forward pass (at least on the East Coast) in a game against Yale circa 1912.

  2. White Pinpoint | July 3, 2023 at 11:37 pm |

    My lack of interest in college football is even greater than my lack of interest in jazz, but this was so well-written and contained so much interesting information that I hope to read more by Professor Covell.

  3. Old School | July 4, 2023 at 1:07 am |

    Informative and entertaining.
    Thank you, Dan.

  4. Richard E. Press | July 4, 2023 at 10:53 am |

    Both honored and humbled to be quoted in such an inclusive, entertaining Ivy League Football Program panorama

  5. roger sack | July 4, 2023 at 6:09 pm |

    I was at Cornell during the hey day ’58-’62 and attended a number of football games
    at home and away. The various “tribes” at Cornell could sometimes be distinguished
    by their dress. Engineers and Science majors and grad students favored flannel shirts
    and wind breakers, slide rules optional. Liberal Arts types tweed jacket and crewnecks
    and sometimes ties. Aggies dressed like engineers but with heavy boots. And the
    social elite, boarding school “preppies”, in legacy Racoon coats. Universal among all groups,
    and their girls was drinking, lots of it. In those days NY State had an 18 year rule for buying
    all alcohol. Post- game parties continued the indulgence.

  6. George H.W. Bush played baseball at Yale.

  7. Roger Sack | July 5, 2023 at 3:04 pm |

    George H.W. Bush played baseball at Yale.

    He was also Phi Beta Kappa

  8. George H.W. Bush played baseball at Yale.

    He was also Phi Beta Kappa.

    He was also Skull and Bones.

    My Dad, on the other hand, played baseball and football for Yale, Class of 1932.

  9. As baseball is a warm weather sport, you’re not likely to see coats and ties in the stands.

Comments are closed.