The following updated article expresses a pet peeve of the author, a graduate of Yale in 1951, and an admitted traditionalist. It was originally published on Sportzedge.com on November 18, 2013. Because a large segment of the public to this day persists in referring to the subject of the article as “Thee Game,” with undue emphasis on the first word, and with another Yale-Harvard game about to take place, it is still relevant today. We are therefore reprinting it for the entertainment and possible enlightenment of some of our readers.
The Yale and Harvard football teams play each other for the 134th time this Saturday (Nov. 18th) at the Yale Bowl in New Haven. It is always a unique spectacle, from the pre-game and post-game traffic jams, to tailgaters in the parking lots, and to large crowds assembled in the Bowl or Harvard Stadium.
But, please, it is not “Thee Game”.
For well over sixty years the sports public and media have had a lot of fun when referring to the Yale-Harvard football game, which around Massachusetts is known the other way, as the Harvard-Yale game.
Whether it is Yale-Harvard or Harvard-Yale, saying it so that it sounds like “thee game” is completely missing the point.
Even though there could be a hundred college football games on Saturday, there is no need to emphasize to Yale and Harvard people which particular contest they have in mind when they might ask “Are you going to thuh game?” They would never say “Are you going to thee Game?”
The term was popularized, with tongue in cheek, by Charley Loftus, a pioneer and innovator in the developing field of what was then known as college sports publicists, and now given the pompous title of sports information directors or SIDs. Charley, yes, everybody called him Charley, was at Yale from 1943 through 1968.
When he died in 1974 the columnist Red Smith described him in his New York Times syndicated column in this manner:
“When it came to making friends for Yale, informing and assisting the press, beating the publicity drums and selling tickets, no college ever had a better press agent than Charles Randall Loftus. Hard work and easy laughter filled his good days. His seven-day work week, whose working days were sometimes 18 hours long, flabbergasted (Yale football coach) Herman Hickman…”(1)
That same Red Smith had even played a role in popularizing “The Game,” as recalled by another noted sports writer, William N. (Bill) Wallace. Among his many assignments, Wallace was the football Giants beat writer for the Times and also was the paper’s resident Ivy League guru.
This is how he put it:
“The Game? The title came into being in 1948 when both sides also had losing records and the event needed a little boost in the opinion of Charles Loftus, Yale’s imaginative sports publicity director.
“So he boldly christened the game “The Game”, and passed the pretention along to his friend, Red Smith, the sports columnist. A delighted Smith used and thus incorporated the new label that the real alumni find so repugnant.”(2)
Bill Wallace knew firsthand how most Yale alumni felt, since he was one of those “real alumni.” He died less than a year ago at the age of 88.
Loftus used the expression for several years, both in conversations and in his voluminous press releases. In 1961, he came up with the idea of titling his award-winning programs “The Game.” At the same time he began a tradition of printing a cover photo of the two opposing captains posing together (Yale and Harvard never have co-captains), each dressed in the uniform he would wear in the Bowl later that year.
Inside the covers his programs were packed full with all sorts of features, pictures, and colorful advertisements. In 1957, the program for the Harvard game consisted of 118 pages and nearly 1,200 individual and group photos.
Charley’s counterpart at Harvard, Baaron Pittenger, immediately picked up the idea, and did the same thing on the cover of the Crimson’s programs, in alternate years when Harvard was the host team.
Of course The Game was (and still is) an intentionally arrogant and elitist phrase. It is pure satire, and like much satire, many people do not recognize it for what it really is. But Charley knew what he was doing. He was probably more responsible for getting bodies into the Yale Bowl than anyone or anything besides the event itself.
I had the opportunity to know Charley Loftus quite well, and often heard him explain, perhaps even insist on, just how the phrase should be expressed.
No one need say thee game, any more than one would say thee Mississippi River, thee New York Yankees, thee New Haven Green, etc.
Many residents of New York’s Westchester County, or Fairfield County in Connecticut, work and/or shop in Manhattan. When leaving to go there they will often say they are going to thuh city, and not thee city. After all, to them, thuh city means only one place. Similarly, thuh game also means only one thing, Yale vs. Harvard. So it would be a sacrilege to say thee game, because in doing so it would be to admit that there really are other gridiron contests being played.
Loftus felt the expression should be delivered in a casual, matter-of-fact style, almost understated or downplayed. He would urge us, in his own mellifluous baritone voice, simply to give each word equal emphasis or, more accurately, equal de-emphasis,
He explained that his intent was to mimic old grads who bump into each other on Wall Street, at board meetings, the Yale or Harvard club, courthouses, etc. They might drop the question, “Are you going to thuh game this year?”
They certainly would not say, “Are you going to thee game?” It would be condescending if they were to express themselves that way.
Obviously the event they have in mind isn’t Army-Navy or Michigan-Ohio State, USC-Notre Dame, or Alabama-Auburn. It isn’t even Dartmouth-Princeton or Cornell-Penn.
But if they said thee game, it would be an implied admission, in their near snobbish and pretentious way of thinking, that other colleges were also going to play football that day. Far from it! The other so-called games are just pretenders. So since there is nothing to distinguish Y-H from, there is no need to pronounce it thee game. However thuh game is perfect.
Nobody actually took this seriously, not even Charley Loftus. But it did help to sell a lot of his still unequaled football programs, and give the rivalry even more prestige and identity than it already had.
Charley Loftus enjoyed partying with celebrities, as indicated in the above photo, taken in the late 1940s. A blow up of it hung in his office at the Ray Tompkins House for several years.. Loftus, kneeling, is in the center, and behind him, as “quarterback,” is none other than Yogi Berra of the New York Yankees. Yale football coach Herman Hickman (left) pretends to be giving a pep talk. Behind Berra is Toots Shor, the restauranteur. On the left is another famous Yankee, Tommy Henrich, and on the right is movie actor Don Ameche. (Yale Athletic Association photo)
The term thuh game started out as a clever and sophisticated, gimmick, but during the years since it has been picked up by the uninitiated, and is more and more being abused.
In recent years a high percentage of the broadcast media (TV and radio), who were born well after the expression was introduced, and who never knew its background, have increasingly been saying it the wrong way, with an emphatic THEE. They smile or laugh as though they are telling a joke.
But the joke is really on them. They are corrupting how the term should be spoken, which causes some old Yalies and Harvard alums, to cringe when it is articulated that way.
Does anybody really care about all this? Probably not. But a sizable number of Yale and Harvard people still are aware of the difference between thuh game and thee game. And in deference to all that Yale and Harvard people hold dear, and to the memories of Charley Loftus, Baaron Pittenger, and Red Smith, who started and perpetuated all this nonsense, please guys, let’s say it the correct way.
(1) Smith, Red (1974, July 3) Charley Loftus Leaves New Haven. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com
(2) Wallace, William N. (1986, Nov. 23). College Football ’86: The Game; In 103rd Meeting Harvard overcomes Yale. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com