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  • Writer's picturePaul Baker

Yale Bowl – Yale Bulldogs

Photos by Paul Baker, Stadium Journey

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.29

Yale Bowl

81 Central Ave

New Haven, CT 06515

Year Opened: 1914

Capacity: 61,446

A Second Century of Football at the Yale Bowl

Football has been played at Yale since 1872. The team originally played at Yale Field, a 33,000-seat venue that eventually proved to be inadequate for the popular team’s needs. Charles A. Ferry, class of 1871, designed a new stadium for the university that would seat over 70,000 fans. Even though capacity has been reduced over the years, it remains the largest university-owned stadium in FCS.

In its century of existence, the Yale Bowl has hosted National Football League games, international soccer friendlies, concerts and countless other events. Its unique design inspired imitators across the nation, including the Rose Bowl and Michigan Stadium. The Yale Bowl was named a National Historic Landmark in 1987.

Yale University was the most successful college football team in the formative years of the sport, winning 27 national championships between 1872 and 1909, as well as two of the first three Heisman Trophies. The school boasts 100 All-Americans, 28 College Football Hall of Famers, the first professional football player and several coaching legends among its alumni. Thirty-one former Bulldogs have gone on to play in the National Football League.

Food & Beverage 3

There are several concession stands that line the outer edge of the Yale Bowl property. These stands don’t stray far from stadium basics, but fans should find what they need.

Burgers, hot dogs and sausage sandwiches anchor the menus here. Veggie burgers are available for fans looking for an alternative. Assorted snacks, including nachos, candy, popcorn, fried dough and pretzels also dot the menus. Mr. B’s Ice Cream truck is a popular spot for younger fans. Not every stand has the same menu, so a bit of searching may be necessary to find what you are looking for.

Coca-Cola products are featured at the Yale Bowl, and alcohol is not sold during Yale football games.

Atmosphere 3

If you’re in New Haven for the annual edition of “The Game” crank this score all the way up to the maximum. Crowds of over 50,000 pack Yale Bowl whenever Harvard comes to town, and the atmosphere ratchets up accordingly.

At a typical Yale football game, the atmosphere is much more sedate. While the Yale staff put on a good show, even a crowd of 10,000 leaves the Yale Bowl mostly empty. On the plus side, there is A LOT of room to spread out and roam this large facility.

All the elements of a typical college game day experience can be found here, including the cheerleading squad, the Yale Precision Marching Band and Handsome Dan, the original live mascot. The current Handsome Dan, an Olde English Bulldog named Walter, is the 18th Handsome Dan to prowl the sidelines.

There is an active, but laid-back, tailgating scene in the many lots adjacent to the Yale Bowl. The team throws a Fan Fest with games, giveaways and a giant inflatable bulldog overseeing the whole scene. After the game, fans are able to go down onto the field and play catch.

Neighborhood 3

The Yale Bowl is not located within the downtown Yale campus, but about a mile and a half to the west on the West Haven town line. Visiting fans will not find a whole lot to do in the immediate vicinity of the Yale Bowl. Historic Yale Field, Reese Stadium, and the Connecticut Tennis Center (the former home of the WTA’s Connecticut Open event) are adjacent to the football stadium.

Visiting fans may enjoy exploring the Yale campus and downtown New Haven while in the area. The Yale campus is noted for its unique architecture, and New Haven has a well-deserved reputation as a foodie hotspot, with excellent bars and restaurants located throughout the city.

A couple of spots in particular may be of interest to visiting fans. Just blocks from the old campus is Louis’ Lunch, which claims to be the birthplace of the hamburger. New Haven is also home to a unique brand of brick oven pizza, called apizza by locals. Frank Pepe’s and Sally’s Apizza, located just over a block apart on Wooster Street, are world famous for this pizza style. Many locals tout a third location, Modern Apizza, located only a half mile from campus.

Fans looking for lodging during their visit to New Haven will find no shortage of choices around the Yale campus. A detailed list of hotels can be found here.

Fans 3

The average yearly attendance for Yale football fluctuates wildly from season to season depending on if the Bulldogs host the annual Harvard-Yale game. While a crowd of over fifty thousand can be expected for Harvard games, for other games, crowds range between 7,000-10,000. Expect Ivy League games to be better attended than non-conference tilts. Either way, there is plenty of room to spread out in this 60,000-seat facility. Yale football attendance has been in a steady decline since the glory days of the program, when forty thousand fans would regularly show up at the Yale Bowl. Before the Ivy League downgraded to FCS in 1981, the team still averaged twenty thousand fans per game.

At a Yale football game, you can expect to see a healthy dose of fans who have been coming to games for decades alongside casual fans, families and students. There doesn’t seem to be a large turnout by the student body, or a cohesive student section, but this may be a factor of playing in such a large facility.

Access 4

The Yale Bowl is easy to find. Simply take Exit 44 and head north on Ella T. Grasso Boulevard. After about two and a half miles, take a left onto Derby Street. The legendary columns of Walter Camp Field will be on your right. Most of the parking is located on Central Street, just past the stadium complex.

Be aware that Yale football has adopted a clear bag policy for all games starting in 2019. Bags can be purchased at stands just outside all gates. Check the Game Day Central Page for more information.

Once you pass by the statue of Handsome Dan that guards the main gate and enter the stadium, it may be hard to believe you are steps from a facility with a capacity of over 60,000. While many football stadiums look like giant spaceships dropped in the middle of an open field, the Yale Bowl couldn’t be more unassuming. When the stadium was built over 100 years ago, its builders simply dug a big hole in the ground and used the dirt to build up a large berm all around the hole. The seating bowl was built into this berm. It was a revolutionary design at the time and influenced the design of later stadia, such as the Rose Bowl and Michigan Stadium.

Surrounding the Yale Bowl is a wide paved concourse where you will find the concession stands and buildings that house the restrooms. These restrooms may be dated, but they are plenty large enough for even the biggest Yale football crowd.

Fans will enter the seating bowl through one of 30 long portals, which deposit fans onto a walkway about halfway up the seating bowl. This walkway circles the entire field, as does a second walkway that runs along the top of the seating bowl. Be sure to check out the views from the top of the Yale Bowl while you’re here.

All seats at the Yale Bowl consist of wooden bleachers with backs. Many of the bleachers have been replaced and all have been painted in recent years, but some old bleachers remain in spots. Luckily, if you happen to sit on a bench that looks like prime splinter territory, there’s lots of room to move around.

Return on Investment 4

Tickets to Yale football games are a great bargain, ranging in price from $12-$20. Discounts are given to children and seniors. While seats are sold only in the sections between the 20-yard lines, fans are able to roam around the entirety of the Yale Bowl.

Parking in the lots surrounding the Yale Bowl costs five dollars. If heading to New Haven for the Harvard-Yale game, you must purchase parking in advance.

Extras 3

Extra points are awarded for the sense of history here at the Yale Bowl. While Yale football is far from the national power it was during the first half of the 20th century, the football played here continues to be of a high level. To this day, Yale ranks fifth all-time in wins in college football history.

Be sure to check out Jensen Plaza by the main entrance, where every letterman in Yale football history has their name engraved in the bricks. Traditions abound at the Yale Bowl, from the many Ivy League championship banners that surround the field to Handsome Dan, the first live mascot in college sports.

If you plan to visit Yale for the latest incarnation of “The Game,” the annual matchup between Yale and Harvard, expect much, much more from the Yale Bowl. Played annually since 1875, the Harvard-Yale rivalry is one of the most storied in the nation attracting over 50,000 fans when the game is held in New Haven. The accompanying tailgating scene alone is worth the price of admission.

Final Thoughts

While Yale football is far removed from its glory days, any college football fan should be sure to visit the Yale Bowl at least once. It looks remarkably similar to how it looked when it opened in 1914. For a truly legendary experience, head to New Haven sometime in late November for “The Game,” still one of college football’s marquee events.

Follow Paul Baker’s stadium journeys on Twitter and Instagram @PuckmanRI.

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