Yale beat Harvard! Or was it the other way around? Hard to tell, at least for a lot of tipsy people here today. For the Yale athletic department, today's crowd of 75,300 was worth at least $600,000. For America's brewers, vintners and distillers, it had to be worth a lot more.

This is tradition. The contest between Yale and Harvard football teams is the one event that everyone attending The Game shares, but The Game is a lot more than a football match. It is an elaborate tribal performance, full of ritual, ceremony and myth, not to mention booze.

Today -- to get the simple stuff over with -- Yale beat Harvard, 28-0, before a sellout crowd in the 98th renewal of one of America's oldest football rivalries.

Now for the tribal anthropology:

* Ritual. First a new one, which happens between the third and fourth quarters in the Yale student seats. Members of the Yale Precision Marching Band (three out of the four words in its name are accurate) stand up in their seats and start to play a wailing Dixieland number -- bump and grind music.

Then about a dozen male undergraduates start stripping, one item of clothing after another. So what if it's windy, 40-degree weather? "Take it off!" And they do, tossing away jackets, sweaters, shirts, trousers, the works.

A much older ritual is performed before the game in parking lots all around this elegant old stadium. The cold weather did nothing to discourage the tailgate picknickers. They were out in droves with their charcoal grills, their champagne and crystal, their silver services.

It was the finding of an informal poll in parking lot F that the best dish of the day was Mrs. Christopher Getman's warm chicken salad with avocado served inside a piece of pita bread.

Another ritual on the Yale side of the stadium is to start seriously ignoring the game on the field somewhere in the fourth quarter. Today this meant diversions like lifting up a hot dog man near the field and passing him up through the bleachers on the outstretched arms of Yale students until he landed in the press box at the top of the grandstand.

Finally on his own two feet, the hot dog man gave a Nixon victory V to the cheering crowd and then tossed free hot dogs back at the students. The color man for Yale's student radio station rushed over to interview the hot dog man.

* Ceremony. It started Friday morning in Woolsey Hall, Yale's ceremonial auditorium, where the Elis' two Heisman Trophy winners, Larry Kelley ('36) and Clint Frank ('37) gave those grand old trophies back to their alma mater.

It has been some time (since 1937 to be precise) since a Yale man won a Heisman Trophy. In the intervening years most big universities have opted for something called big-time football, which Yale, Harvard and the other Ivy League schools have decided to skip. The Heisman Trophy now goes to big-time players.

But Kelley and Frank are Yale traditions and around here, traditions survive even in the face of reality.

The two Heisman trophies were on display at another ceremony Friday -- the annual eve-of-game cocktail party thrown by Frank Ryan, Yale's athletic director. As a large crowd milled about the big room in the Yale gym with fireplaces blazing on every side, Carmen Cozza, the Yale coach, grinned. "I must have seen a thousand of my old players here today," he said. "They always come back for The Game."

Cozza went on to observe that for some reason the football game itself often isn't very good. But the old players keep coming back anyway. With his eyebrows he gave a shrug.

* Symbol. The basic symbol in The Game is the white handkerchief, lately augmented by the white cap. The big annual question is, who gets to wave the white handkerchiefs? This year it was the Yale side. The white began to wave five minutes before the final gun. But the Harvard fans weren't noticing; they were rushing to their cars.

As for the football, Cozza's analysis was borne out. Neither side distinguished itself, although Yale had some fine moments, particularly its first two touchdowns, both pass plays.

Yale's star runner, Rich Diana, ended his career as the Bulldogs' second biggest ground gainer in history. Today he gained 87 yards in 28 carries and scored two touchdowns.

According to the statistics, Harvard's offense was as effective as Yale's, but four lost fumbles and two interceptions doomed the Crimson.

But only for this year. The Game will happen for the 99th time next November in Cambridge.