November 21: The Yale Bowl Opens in New Haven


Today in 1914, over 68,000 fans gathered in the largest sports arena the world had ever seen to watched Yale University’s football team lose to Harvard in a 30 – 0 shutout in the first game ever held at the Yale Bowl.

The Yale Bowl was an architectural marvel upon its completion in 1914.  Modeled after classical Roman amphitheaters and built with room for over 70,000 fans, it could hold an audience over 50% larger than the next largest stadium in existence at the time (Princeton Stadium, with a capacity of 42,000 people).  Designed by Yale alum Charles Ferry, the football field was the first in the United States to be built in a completely enclosed stadium, and the first arena to be referred to as a “bowl” (on account of its shape) instead of the traditional “stadium” or “coliseum” moniker.  Nine years later, the city of Pasadena, California followed suit, naming their new circular stadium — and the annual football championship it hosted — the Rose Bowl.  Ever since, the term “bowl” has been used to describe scores of college football championship games, as well as the largest game in professional football: the Super Bowl.

A panoramic photo of the first scrimmage ever held in the Yale Bowl, taken a week before the iconic Yale-Harvard game of Nov. 21, 1914. (Library of Congress)

On that very first game day — November 21, 1914 — the city of New Haven was completely swamped by the largest crowd of football fans ever gathered in the United States.  The New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad reported the busiest day in its history thus far, with over 30,000 fans crowding themselves onto train cars all morning long, and more than 25,000 automobiles were estimated to have clogged the streets of the Elm City.  Residents were warned to lock their doors, and local hospitals even set up temporary treatment centers near the Bowl in case of emergencies — but the day came and went without any major incidents or issues (excepting the final score of the game, according to Yalies).

Several other now-iconic stadiums, including the L.A. Coliseum and Michigan Stadium, were directly modeled after the Yale Bowl, although those venues, unlike Yale, were built with ample facilities for both players and guests.  For unknown reasons, the Bowl was designed — and built — without restrooms or locker rooms.  Temporary facilities were erected just outside of the stadium in 1930, and subsequent renovations have ensured adequate bathroom access for patrons, but to this day, the Yale Bowl lacks locker room facilities for both the home and visiting teams. The Yale Bowl was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1987, and remains the home of Yale Football to this day.  A beloved symbol of the American football tradition kicked off its grand debut in New Haven over a century ago, today in Connecticut history.

Further Reading

Dom Amore, “Yale Bowl Starts Big, and 100 Years Later, It Remains Special,Hartford Courant

Chip Malafronte, “Yale Bowl: A Historic Landmark and Glorious Gridiron,” New Haven Register