Alongside friends, family, and fans, the Princeton student body gathered on Cannon Green on Sunday night to watch a bonfire in celebration of the football team’s defeat over both Harvard on Oct. 23 and Yale on Nov. 13 this season.
The last bonfire took place in 2018, when members of the Class of 2022 were first-years. Undergraduate Student Government President Christian Potter ’22 commented on how special it is for the Class of 2022 to have bonfires bookending their college experience.
“Coming to Princeton, I didn’t know how important athletics and football would be; and when we had our bonfire freshman year, especially for our class, we were like, yeah this is a really big deal, this is a really big part of Princeton,” Potter said in an interview with the ‘Prince.’ “To have it senior year, after the pandemic, after everything, it’s another reminder that when we come back to full Princeton life, this is what this means. It means showing up to the games, it means winning, it means having these great celebrations, so I think it’s really special for our class.”
The Tigers received the title of Ivy League Champions this Saturday with a 34–14 defeat over the University of Pennsylvania. First-year defensive lineman Tommy Matheson spoke on the heightened stakes of the game.
“Going into that game, we wanted to win. Internally, we thought it meant nothing if we lost that game,” Matheson said. “I just think, you know, this whole bonfire is great, but if we weren’t the Ivy League Champions it wouldn’t have felt as nice.”
Matheson said being cheered on at the bonfire “was one of the most cool, one-of-a-kind experiences of my life … and so hopefully we’ll get a lot more.”
Princeton shares the title with Dartmouth College, after the Big Green defeated Brown University 52–31 on Saturday. Princeton and Dartmouth, the Ivy League co-champions, both ended their seasons 9–1.
The Tigers secured the title of Ivy League Champions for the 13th time in program history. As per tradition, their wins over both Harvard and Yale in the same season ensured a bonfire celebration for the Princeton community.
Beginning Sunday at 10 a.m., each class took part in building the bonfire. Students decorated wooden pallets to commemorate Princeton’s double victory and stacked the pieces to create an ignitable tower. An outhouse with the scores of the Harvard and Yale games — 18–16 and 35–20 respectively — topped off the pile of pallets declaring student sentiments towards these two rivals.
Students wrote, “Harvard is a safety school” and “Yale is number 5 in the ranking but last in our hearts” in colorful script to be burned in the celebratory bonfire, as well as: “Princeton forever, see you all in hell!”
Whig Hall and Clio Hall were lit orange in celebration of Princeton’s Ivy League victory as spectators began to congregate around barricades in anticipation of the bonfire.
The bells of Nassau Hall began to ring at 7:30 p.m. Before speeches commenced, the Princeton University Band, cheerleaders, and winning football team paraded around the bonfire.
Morgan McDonald ’25, taking part in her first event as a cheerleader during the bonfire, told the ‘Prince,’ “it felt so nice after the past year and a half to come together and celebrate something.”
“I’m a very traditional person,” she added. “I think today reminded everyone what it means to be a Princetonian.”
Speeches followed these initial festivities. Speakers included Program Coordinator in the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students Mitchel Charles ’18, University President Christopher Eisgruber ’83, USG President Potter, Senior Class President Santiago Guiran ’22, Ford Family Director of Athletics John Mack ’00, and Princeton Football Head Coach Bob Surace ’90.
The women’s lightweight crew team was invited to lead the crowd in a Locomotive cheer as a way to celebrate their IRA National Championship title this past spring.
“We feel really honored that the new athletic director, John Mack, wanted to honor us in such a public setting,” Junior rower Sarah Polson said.
Junior rower Artemis Veizi added, “It was also really exciting to celebrate the football team and their accomplishments. It’s nice to be a sports team supporting the other sports teams on campus and having that 37 — soon 38 — varsity team unity.”
Looking back on their spring 2021 achievements, Polson said it was “amazing” that the team was allowed to compete at all, and that “the circumstances lended itself to a boat that was one of the fastest boats we’ve ever put out.”
“We’re just excited to build off of that,” she added.
Following the speeches, the football team proceeded to light the bonfire pile. The lights illuminating Cannon Green were turned off, and the lawn went dark aside from the subtle glow of the bonfire.
After a few minutes, flames erupted, and cheers burst from the crowd. Smoke rose and blurred the view of East Pyne Hall. As wood from the bonfire continued to crumble, cheers continued to rise.
For spectators watching the bonfire’s flames nearly reach the trees behind Nassau Hall, the celebration was a unifying experience.
“This has made me realize how happy I am to be a part of the Princeton community,” said Nina Boudet ’25.
“It was huge energy … everyone was just in a great mood for this, it’s been a long time coming for sure,” Potter said. “It feels like a big victory, not just over Harvard and Yale, but over a lot of challenges and adversities.”
The Princeton University Band concluded the bonfire with a performance of “Old Nassau.”
Peter Anella ’25, a member of the rugby team experiencing the bonfire during his first semester on campus, expressed his excitement over the sporadic tradition.
“How many more times is this gonna happen in your life?” he asked. “Probably never.”
Isabel Yip is a news contributor for the ‘Prince.’ She can be reached at email@example.com or @isaayip on Instagram.
Rachel Posner is a senior writer for the ‘Prince’ sports section. She also previously served as an Assistant Sports Editor. Rachel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.