Harvard vs. Yale it’s known as ‘The Game.’ Meet the players, coaches, and alumni who keep this ivy tradition alive. By Alexandra Pecci, photographs by Adam Detour
In Cambridge, Massachusetts, and New Haven, Connecticut, some things can be relied upon as surely as the sun rises each morning. Summer turns to fall, and there’s football, known simply as The Game. Winter turns to spring and there’s rowing and the Harvard-Yale Regatta, the country’s oldest inter-collegiate sporting event. Blue and Crimson clash, again and again.
For a century and a half, the Ivy League rivalry between Harvard and Yale, two of America’s oldest and most prestigious universities, has played out in the athletic arena. Add to the pantheon of that rivalry polo, once again.
When Harvard polo was reborn in 2006 after a more than decade-long hiatus, the Harvard-Yale polo rivalry was resurrected along with it.
“They were two of the first intercollegiate teams ever to play each other,” says Crocker Snow, himself a graduate of Harvard and one of Harvard’s polo coaches. In fact, Harvard and Yale played against each other in 1907 for one of the first-if not the first-formal intercollegiate polo matches in the United States.
It’s a rivalry that’s a natural extension of the history of polo in America, as well as the history of the two universities. Harvard was founded in 1636, making it the oldest institute of higher learning in the country. Yale is the third-oldest, founded in 1701. The two universities were already athletic rivals in the world of football and rowing by the time polo first made its way from Great Britain to the United States in the late 1800s, and it didn’t take long for the sport to work its way up and down the East Coast and establish itself at the country’s universities.
“Harvard and Yale were probably the two most established universities on the East Coast at that time,” Snow says. “A lot of people were horsemen, and the rivalry was triggered.”
The schools and their polo teams not only share similar histories; they also share similar struggles. Both the Harvard and Yale polo clubs have had their ups and downs in the more than 100 years since the two teams first met on Myopia’s Gibney Field. Yale’s team recently faced the closure of the stables at the Yale Armory, and Harvard’s team has long had periods of inactivity.
“Both teams are working hard to keep in shape,” says Lucy Topaloff, captain of the Yale women’s team. She notes that both teams must travel off campus to play and practice and trailer their horses to matches.
“Harvard has almost the same facilities as Yale, and [the teams] are therefore on about the same level,” she says.
In addition, both teams have several first-time polo players and encourage anyone who’s interested to come out, learn, and join the teams. In fact, many players had never “held a polo mallet before Harvard,” Snow says.
“We share a similar niche in the intercollegiate polo world in that neither team has recruited athletes; we don’t enjoy the privileges of being a varsity team like other schools,” says Yale men’s team captain Seppi Colloredo-Mansfeld. Instead, both the Harvard and Yale teams are club sports. “And,” he adds, “our teams consist mainly of players who began riding or playing polo in college.”
Marion Dierickx, captain of the Harvard women’s team, also points to the teams’ recent struggles when considering the rivalry between the two schools.
“Both the Yale and the Harvard teams have had troubled times in recent years, and so definitely both teams have been reborn over the past four or five years and have had to emerge out of these difficult times,” she says.
But despite the teams’ challenges-or perhaps because of them-the Harvard and Yale teams are well-matched, which makes it exciting for them to meet in the polo arena. Both teams’ captains and coaches say the two teams play hard against one another, and because the skill level is similar, each game is a nail-biter.
“The rivalry isn’t one-sided and the games are close and often fun to watch,” says Colloredo-Mansfeld.
Dierickx, of the Harvard women’s team, says she feels like the stakes are high whenever she plays Yale.
“Every goal that we score is important to us,” she says.
The Harvard-Yale rivalry also extends beyond the shores of the United States. Each year, the two teams are invited to play at the Jack Wills Varsity Polo Match at the historic Guards Polo Club in the United Kingdom. The club is historic and extremely prestigious-its president is Queen Elizabeth’s husband, The Duke of Edinburgh. Each June, the match pits traditional school rivals, such as Oxford and Cambridge and Eton and Harrow, against each other. In recent years, Harvard and Yale have been among those rivals to play at Guards Polo Club in front of a crowd that numbers in the thousands.
“That’s really the mainstay of where the Harvard-Yale rivalry plays out,” Dierickx says.
The polo matches between the two schools are just one of the ways that the two universities compete. As Dierickx says, “the Harvard-Yale rivalry is something that’s school-wide that goes a long way beyond polo.”
Harvard and Yale are constantly in competition with each other, whether it’s regarding athletics or academics. “When you come to Yale, part of the indoctrination, I guess, is that Harvard is your rival,” says Liz Brayboy, alumni advisor for the Yale team, and a former Yale polo player herself. “They are sort of the most parallel school to Yale, so they become a kind of natural rival.”
With that in mind, the two polo teams usually schedule a match to coincide with the much-anticipated annual Harvard-Yale football match-up, a meeting every November that’s so important and exciting to both schools that it’s been dubbed “The Game.”
“The Harvard-Yale matches help boost interest in polo among other students when they are advertised in the same way as ‘The Game,’ which is why we usually have a Y-H match the Friday before it,” says Topaloff.
Although the teams are heated on the field, the rivalry is a very friendly one; don’t expect any Red Sox-Yankees-style brawls during Harvard-Yale matches.
“I don’t mean to say it isn’t competitive,” says Snow. “It’s very competitive. But there’s a certain competitive camaraderie about intercollegiate polo.”
Plus, the world of intercollegiate polo is relatively small, and in the case of Harvard and Yale, very supportive and even familial. The players are friendly with each other off the field, and they lend each other horses if ever the visiting team needs them. One of Harvard’s coaches, Cissie Snow, has hosted the Yale women’s team for summer clinics. Two of Crocker Snows’ sons Adam and Nick, both professional polo players, played for Yale and Harvard, respectively. And Yale men’s captain Colloredo-Mansfeld is from South Hamilton, Massachusetts, while his father, Franz Colloredo-Mansfeld, is a Harvard grad and current captain of Myopia Polo.
“Both sides really want to win, and they play very hard, but there is no bad behavior or poor sportsmanship,” says Seppi Colloredo-Mansfeld.
But even with all the friendship and good feelings between the two teams, the Harvard-Yale rivalry is still one that gets the players fired up. As Colloredo-Mansfeld says, he looks forward to playing his school’s historic rival “just because they’re Harvard. Yalies always get excited to play Harvard.”