When MIT Pranked Harvard

Harvard Stadium, November 20, 1982.

mit prank harvard

Photograph by Stan Grossfeld/Getty Images

Harvard-Yale games were always weird to cover. Fans wore raccoon coats and drank too much chardonnay at elaborate tailgating parties. But they were usually boisterous in a fun way, unless you were an animal-rights activist. I was shooting on the Yale side and looking through the telephoto lens at the players downfield when a roar came up from the crowd.

Near midfield, this big, black weather balloon appeared from a hole in the ground and started inflating. It had ‘MIT’ written all over it—MIT didn’t even have a football team. Play stopped, and the balloon got bigger and bigger, roughly 5 feet tall. The Harvard players just stared at it. They looked ticked off, but the fans loved it. Then all of a sudden, the balloon popped, and talcum powder rose into the air, lingered, and then dissolved. The fans cheered like crazy. Nobody cared about the game after that.

An MIT fraternity took credit for the stunt. It took them eight nights of sneaking into Harvard Stadium to rig the thing. They used a vacuum-cleaner motor and Freon gas. Most people thought it was funny back then, and the frat kids were never prosecuted. They even held a press conference to brag about how they did it. Today this prank wouldn’t be funny at all.

—Stan Grossfeld, Boston Globe photographer and associate editor