A night fit for the Romans (and others) at Yale Bowl

New Haven — So the challenge issued to Juan Roman was this: The complete Roman Experience for a Yale football game.

And so it happened last Friday night, the Yale-Dartmouth game at venerable Yale Bowl, a chance to watch 40 percent of the Roman family — Juan and Kerry’s sons Hunter and Major, play a football game for Yale. Come on along for the experience.

• The plan was to leave at 1 for the 6 p.m. kickoff, leaving ample time to tailgate. Juan Roman, former player and head football coach at New London High, was nice enough to offer a ride. Put it this way: Roman’s van had enough food and drink to survive a nuclear attack at least through Halloween. The Romans, for example, own a white cooler that is bigger than most caskets.

• We roll out a little after 1, Juan and I did (Kerry and Spencer, a senior at New London and member of the 2017 state championship basketball team, would join later). We would drive around the corner to pick up the great Tommie Major, former assistant football coach/spiritual advisor in Whalerville.

Tommie was pacing before we arrived, anxious to leave. Little did I know that Tommie has become the Mayor of Yale Tailgating, everybody’s friend and food tester.

• Tommie was happy to learn that many readers got a kick out of his pregame speech to the Whalers against Fitch last week that included the line, “ain’t no road signs for Groton! You drive on 95 home from New York all it says is ’95 North, New London! Not Groton! It don’t say Norwich either!’”

Juan was driving and laughing, embarking on a story about Tommie’s belief that anywhere in the world you go, people know New London.

“Last time we played at Harvard, we’re in line at a buffet,” Juan said. “There’s a big framed picture in the room and it says ‘Yale-Harvard Regatta, New London, Connecticut.’ You should have heard Tommie after he saw that. ‘Even here! Even here they know New London!’”

• Music of choice for the ride down: all over the place. Juan’s favorite seemed to be “Firestarter” by The Prodigy. I was partial to “Method Man, Redman” by Da Rockwilder. (How cheesy Richard Marx made the mix is a question I’ll ask Juan next time, however).

• I chose not to wear any BC stuff because I didn’t want to get heckled with “safety school” chants all night.

• So we get to the tailgating area just outside Yale Bowl. I’m getting soft in my old age, I admit. So I’m more prone to weeping. And I nearly broke down like I was watching “Steel Magnolias” at the monstrosity next to us: a tailgating station with a tent, several tables of food and a real bar. Not booze arranged on the tables. A real bar. With the good stuff, too. Ah, yes. The true Yale spirit through … spirits.

• There must have been a dozen different tailgating spots authored by various parents. Everyone shared. Everyone partook. You try this and I’ll try that. True fellowship. Amazing what sports do: Bring people together from all parts of the country, who look different, sound different with varying backgrounds and beliefs. And yet because of a football team, we are all us. Us. Together. Boola boola. So next time some egghead tries to put a price tag on the value of sports on a college campus, point them Juan Roman’s way.

• Other tailgating highlights: Charlie Hoban, dad of tight end Sasha Hoban, grilled bratwurst straight from Chicago that got my tastebuds arrested for indecent exposure. Then came Angie, a mom, who put Jell-O shots into syringes. Genius? Sure. But it’s Yale.

• Spencer and Kerry arrived around 5, having survived the ordeal of I-95 on a Friday. We were all in agreement that if Lamont and Stefanowski really want our votes, they’ll promise to detonate 95 in East Lyme and Old Lyme and start over.

• I met Kerry’s family to learn many of them are from Middletown, my hometown. Kerry’s dad, the great Dennis Guimares, used to be the basketball coach at Woodrow Wilson High, a three-point shot away from where I grew up. I used to walk to all the games. To think that I would one day meet Mr. Guimares’ daughter, who is the mom to one of New London’s most decent families, encourages me to break into a chorus of “It’s A Small World After All.”

• Good to see many old friends there to see Major and Hunter: Former New London coaches Mike Gray and John Lawyea and their sons, former Whalers Elijah Lawyea and Troy Gray. New London quarterback Owen George was at the game as was starting girls’ basketball player Da’Jah Uzzle.

• Not the best game ever, but it was amusing to hear the Yale fight song and 10,000 people singing “bow wow.”

• Dartmouth won, 41-18, although Major Roman caught a 26-yard pass in the first quarter. Funny thing: It was 34-10 in the fourth quarter and nobody in the Yale section seemed overly perturbed. I mean, as my friends can attest, if that’s me at a BC game and we’re down 34-10, they’d be leading me out in cuffs.

“It’s losing, sure,” one parent said later. “But it’s still Yale at the end of the day.”

Good point.

• All the kids came to the tailgates postgame and ate everything. Nice to meet many of them. Hunter Roman, a senior and a history major, just might get a peek from the NFL. He is a starting defensive end and has been named a semifinalist for the Campbell Trophy, given to the nation’s top football player with the best combination of academics, community service and athletics.

Major, meanwhile, is a 240-pound tight end with an undeclared major as yet. He said school is plenty tough. But then, it’s Yale. The Big Fella looks and sounds great.

• The Romans aren’t the only locals either. Montville’s Nick Tibbets is a freshman long-snapper for the Elis. We had a long chat with the whole family after the game. Nice people. Nick has the team’s best haircut.

• So after arriving a little after 2, we left around 11:30 p.m. for the ride home. It was the most immaculate tailgating area in the history of the world after everybody cleaned up, proof of the utter respect the parents have for Yale and its cachet. The grass looked like it had been vacuumed.

• Long, fun day, even if the outcome of the game wasn’t so uplifting. It was quiet in the car until we hit the Q Bridge and Tommie Major exploded.

The sign read, “95 North, New London,” and Tommie startled both Juan and I.

“And it doesn’t say anything about Norwich, either!” Major said.

Needless to say we all cracked up.

The perfect way to end the day.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro 

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