The Magazine

Boola What?

From the December 8, 2003 issue: Katherine Mangu-Ward, bulldog.

Dec 8, 2003, Vol. 9, No. 13 • By KATHERINE MANGU-WARD
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"YOU FUMBLED THE BALL! You fumbled the ball! You embarrassed yourself and your team and your MOTHER!" Until you've had these words shouted directly into your ear by 100 drunken horn players in unison, you haven't really lived. Last weekend, I was lucky enough to relive this experience at the 120th Harvard-Yale football game, known to regulars simply as The Game.

Full disclosure: I'm a huge dork. That fact alone doesn't distinguish me from most Yalies. But my dork credentials got a boost freshman year when I joined the Yale Precision Marching Band, thus reaching the pinnacle of dorkiness at the tender age of 17. The YPMB's formations aren't particularly precise, it doesn't march, and it includes enough electric guitars and violins to throw its status as a band into question. The band's primary purpose is to come up with cheers and shout them at games, to delight and entertain, well, mostly themselves.

One of my personal favorites, dating back to the '30s, honors the university's founder, Elihu Yale: Needles, needles! Stitches, stitches! / Come on FIGHT you sons of . . . Eli! Say it out loud if you don't get it. And don't worry about the weird look from the guy sitting next to you--it happens all the time.

The "sons of Eli" cheer dates from roughly the same time Yale was adapting a German drinking song for its alma mater (a tune later immortalized by singing Nazis in "Casablanca"), buying up raccoon coats by the boatload (many of which can still be seen on older alumni at their caviar and champagne tailgates), and getting an obviously boozy alumnus Cole Porter to pen "Bull-Dog" (a fight song whose lyrics consist primarily of barking).

Other cheers, of more recent vintage, are less subtle. Among them: Give me a B, Give me an R, Give me an A! Hold 'em! Hold 'em! and Blood makes the grass grow! Die! Die! Die! Repetition, you'll notice, is a feature of all the best cheers.

But one of the simplest and most elegant cheers was at the heart of the scandal of this year's Game.

During a routine 8 A.M. security sweep of the Yale Bowl, when the most dedicated tailgaters already had festivities well underway in the parking lot, New Haven and Yale police found an unidentified object attached to the back of the scoreboard.

Though it's hard to imagine that anything could destroy the Yale Bowl, a massive concrete edifice opened just in time for The Game 1914, the package touched off a bomb scare. After hours of traffic jams and diverted revelers, it was determined to contain fireworks and a banner reading "No School on Monday," set to unfurl across the scoreboard at some point in the fourth quarter.

This slogan is a time-tested favorite of Yale students, who have a full week off for Thanksgiving. Harvard kids are obliged to tromp back to Cambridge and put in a few more dreary days of class before they can head home Wednesday night for turkey and stuffing.

The "School on Monday" cheer is particularly cherished by the YPMB. In fact, drum major Mark S. Lee says "the authorities suspect us, the band, of planting the device because we mentioned 'School on Monday' in our show." He conceded that the halftime show featured a horse of that name, a "horse that we beat and turned into glue."

Lee denies, however, that the YPMB was involved. "We had nothing to do with this at all, I can say that with almost complete certainty," he told the Harvard Crimson.

The traditional Harvard reply to "School on Monday" is tough to take. When provoked, they holler, "Safety School!" They also sport T-shirts that read "What do Harvard and Yale students have in common? They both got into Yale." As if any of us would prefer a school whose mascot is a Cantab. (What the hell is a Cantab, you ask? Exactly.)

My sister is a junior at Cambridge Community College (as I prefer to call her chosen educational establishment) and is less dorky than I am. She declined to join the Harvard band. This does not stop her from repeating their jeers to me, especially this year, when Yale was tragically defeated 37-19. I can only assume that Harvard somehow managed to inflate the score the way they inflate their grades.

Having thus far spared you, Gentle Reader, our more indelicate cheers and slogans, I'm afraid I cannot omit the most beloved. It is considered appropriate for all occasions, and its words and sentiment are fixed in the heart of every Yalie, even those who have no idea what "Boola Boola" means: Harvard sucks, and Princeton doesn't matter.

--Katherine Mangu-Ward