“More than 17,000 spectators saw a peppy little team from Maine fight it out with a much bigger opponent and hold her to a scoreless tie through the first half.”

ORONO — Being called “peppy” in a somewhat condescending newspaper story was the high-water mark for the Maine football team when it used to play Yale.

The teams met eight times between 1913 and 1937, always on the campus of the Ivy League school, and the Black Bears scored exactly once, in the 1933 game referenced above, a 14-7 loss.

“Playing Yale back then was like playing Ohio State these days,” said Stuart Haskell, 82, a former UMaine athletic director who has been attending football games at his alma mater since 1939.

After 78 years of dormancy, the rivalry will be renewed at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, this time at Alfond Stadium. It won’t hold the allure it did in the era when Yale was a name brand in college football, winner of 27 national championships, but Maine (2-3) is turning up the nostalgia for its homecoming game, which comes amid a campus-wide celebration of the university’s 150th anniversary.

Black Bear players for the first time will wear throwback uniforms with a large block “M” on the front. The school will honor its most successful team, the 1965 squad that played in the Tangerine Bowl, its only bowl appearance.

The current players are excited to pay homage to a past that must seem ancient.

“I think it’s awesome. It adds to the magnitude of the situation,” senior defensive end Trevor Bates said of the retro jerseys.

“I’m honored to wear it and be a part of it. I know we used to have some pretty cool helmets. I was hoping we could bring those back, too. Hopefully I can keep that jersey after.”

Jack Cosgrove, who played for the Black Bears in the mid-1970s and has been their head coach for 24 years, got the inspiration for the uniforms when he saw a photograph from a game played, he thinks, in the 1940s.

“They wore these thick sweaters and there was a light-blue ‘M’ on the front. That’s all I saw,” Cosgrove said. “With the 150th anniversary of the school and it being homecoming, there was a need to do something to acknowledge that.”

The school had its equipment supplier, New Balance, change the “M” to its current typography. Black Bear seniors modeled the uniforms after a practice this summer and the excitement has been building.

“This is a long, storied, proud, traditional football program. You almost feel like, ‘Wow, Yale’s coming up here?’ ” said Cosgrove, whose team will make the return trip in 2017. “It’s really a neat opportunity for our guys to play a team with this kind of rich history.”

How rich? Yale enters the game with 887 victories, tied with Notre Dame for second-most all-time in college football, behind Michigan.

Two of the first three Heisman Trophy winners were from Yale, including halfback Clint Frank, who played in that 1937 26-0 victory over Maine, the last time the teams met.

When Maine tied Yale 0-0 in their first meeting in 1913, it was considered the most significant feat for the Black Bears in the 1900-1920 era. That Yale team had five All-Americans.

The famous Yale Bowl was completed in 1914 with a capacity of 70,869. The next fall, Maine was the opponent for the second game played there, according to author Rich Marazzi. It was so hot that kickoff time was pushed back to 4 p.m., the latest a game has ever started at the Yale Bowl, which still doesn’t have lights.

It was the era of afternoon games featuring two-way players and the Wing-T formation, when pass plays were considered exotic and athletic scholarships unheard of. And Yale was among the most formidable teams.

“Back in those days, the 1920s and 1930s, the Ivy League teams were the best teams in the country, no question about it,” said Haskell, who worked in the Maine athletic department from 1957-87.

Yale games received national media attention. The New York Sun was among the newspapers reporting on that 1933 Maine-Yale game.

“Yale’s inability to get going was due to (Maine Coach) Fred Brice’s strategy,” the Sun reporter wrote. “Starting off with a 6-2-2-1 defense, he had coached his men to shift to a 7-3-1 formation just before the Yale play got under way. This extra man in the line threw off the effectiveness of the play and stopped the Eli attack. Yale did not realize the solution to this situation until the half, when they opened up their passing attack to good effect.”

That passing attack amounted to nine completions in 12 attempts.

On Saturday, the Bulldogs may throw that many passes in the first quarter. Yale (3-1) competes in football’s FCS level, along with Maine. It still fields a non-scholarship squad but also remains a destination school based on its high academic standards. Its roster is dotted with players from powerhouse high school programs like St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Mission Viejo in San Juan Capistrano, California; and LaSalle in Cincinnati.

“They’re football guys who are gifted and talented enough to be Yale students,” Cosgrove said.

In other words, the era may have changed but the Yale name still packs some power on the gridiron, this time, finally, in Maine.


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