My most memorable Princeton football game is the same as a lot of people’s most memorable game — the last-minute victory over undefeated Yale on Nov. 14, 1981. The twist for me is that I was not even at the game.
I spent the weekend visiting a friend in Syracuse, N.Y., and we were at the Syracuse/Boston College football game, as the Princeton/Yale game was going on. No internet in those days, but the Syracuse announcer did report scores from other games every once in a while. Early on, he announced Yale 7, Princeton 0. Then later, Yale 14, Princeton 0. Then Yale 21, Princeton 0. As it happened, that was the last time he mentioned the Princeton/Yale score that day. By then, there were lots of other games going on around the country among nationally ranked teams, so the announcer did not spend a lot of time on Ivy League scores.
Even so, whenever various scores were announced, the helpful friends I was sitting with chimed in with Yale 49, Princeton 0; Yale 72, Princeton 0, or other outlandish results that seemed to fit the trend. I never did hear the final score, but I assumed (as did my Syracuse friends) that it had not been a good day for Princeton.
I did not happen to catch the final score that evening or the next morning. Late on Sunday afternoon, as I was driving south on the Taconic Parkway, the CBS radio people reviewed the weekend football scores: “And in a big upset from Princeton, New Jersey, the Princeton Tigers 35, the Yale Bulldogs 31.” I yelled in my empty car and practically drove off the road. No one to talk to — no cellphones in those days, either — but I sang Princeton fight songs all the way home.