November 21: Football’s Largest Crowd Gathers to Launch Football’s Largest Stadium


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

The new Yale Bowl was an architectural marvel. Modeled after classical Roman amphitheaters and built with room for over 70,000 fans, it could hold an audience over 50 percent larger than the next largest stadium in existence (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. It was also the first arena to be referred to as a “bowl” (because of its shape) instead of the traditional monikers “stadium” or “coliseum.”  Nine years after it became the first “bowl,” the city of Pasadena, California followed suit, naming their new circular stadium — and the annual football championship it hosted — the Rose Bowl. The term “bowl” has since been used to describe scores of college football championship games, as well as the biggest 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, with over 30,000 fans crowded onto train cars all morning. More than 25,000 automobiles were also estimated to have clogged the streets of the Elm City. Residents were warned to lock their doors. Local hospitals even set up temporary treatment centers near the Yale Bowl in case of emergencies. For all the crowd-management anxiety though, the day came and went without major incident or issue, except, of course, – from the Yalie’s perspective – the final 30 – 0 score.

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 Yale 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. To this day though, 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. 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