Humorous student traditions abound in the Ivy League

  • TRADITION! TRADITION! | Yale's beloved bulldog mascot Handsome Dan, is just one of many traditions existing in the Ivy League.

The Lions Cup is awarded to the Light Blue team that earns the most points among the varsity teams for, among other categories, academic and athletic excellence, amount of community service, and personal development.

But that Columbia tradition is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the Ivy League.

Since the league’s inception in 1956, an average of 35 varsity sports teams have formed at each institution, creating vibrant student traditions as well.


Yale was the first school in the league to adopt an official mascot in 1889. The story goes that a Yale undergraduate bought a white bulldog, later named Handsome Dan, for five dollars. Declared official mascot, Dan walked across the field before every football or baseball game. Since the death of Handsome Dan I in 1898, there have been 16 more.

At Cornell, a bear has come to be recognized as the school’s unofficial mascot. Students once even had a bear shipped in a dog cage to Columbus, Ohio, for a game, causing the Animal Protective League to demand that the bear be set free in the wild of western Pennsylvania.

School colors are equally important. Rumor has it that after being invited to Penn’s commencement, George Washington himself wore his best uniform, trimmed with blue and red, establishing the school colors. But the more accepted story is that during a track meet between Penn and Harvard, the Penn captain claimed that its colors would be the colors of the teams Penn beat—Harvard crimson and Yale blue.

Legend has it that one of America’s favorite soups owes its colors to the Ancient Eight as well. During a Cornell-Penn football game in 1898, the general manager of Campbell’s Soup who had been watching the game from the stands is said to have been so impressed by Cornell’s red and white uniforms that he insisted his company mimic the color scheme on the label of his soup cans.


In 1973, a rivalry caused Cornell fans to throw dead fish during a hockey game, and a Harvard fan to throw a dead chicken at the Cornell goalie in response. This was all part of a 1910 feud between the Harvard and Cornell hockey teams, which developed into one of the best-known conflicts in the Ivy League.

Though Harvard bitterly claims that the reason Cornell kept winning was because it was academically less demanding and less selective, Cornell berates Harvard for grade inflation, even making the cheer, “Give me an A, give me another A, give me another A, welcome to Harvard!” a popular one.

Answers will vary when each school is asked which institution is its main rival, but one of the most notorious rivalries is between the Harvard and Yale football teams. “The Game” is the one day every year that Harvard Stadium or Yale Bowl is completely full with people from all over Cambridge and New Haven to watch.

“I attended the Harvard-Yale football game last year and proudly wore my ‘My hatred for the Crimson outweighs my apathy for football’ T-shirt,” Yale junior Molly Haig said.


Many traditions have developed within each individual Ivy League institution, such as the Princeton bonfire. It’s hosted before the final game of the season anytime the Tigers beat both Harvard and Yale in the same year. Another grand tradition is Homecoming weekend at Dartmouth.

Traditionally, the freshman class builds a bonfire, then runs 100 laps plus whatever year they are around it and are later encouraged by upperclassmen to “touch the fire.”

“I love the sports traditions, because they bring a great sense of community to the school,” Dartmouth sophomore Tessa Robertson said. “We have one big weekend every term, and those are the weekends that definitely have the most tradition and school spirit involved, so lots of people go to the sports games on those weekends.”

“Our football games are usually pretty well-attended, but the homecoming game is usually packed, which is a lot of fun.”

But perhaps the quirkiest of all Ivy traditions is the one that comes from Penn. The Toast Toss comes after the third quarter of each football game, as fans throw toast in the air at the line, “Here’s a toast to dear old Penn,” while singing “Drink a Highball.”

While there isn’t anything like that yet at Columbia just yet, it’s never too late to get a tradition started.


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