Harvard–Yale football rivalry

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Harvard–Yale football rivalry
Harvard Crimson.svg Yale Logo.svg
Harvard Crimson Yale Bulldogs
First Meeting November 13, 1875
Series record Yale leads 65–57–8

The Harvard–Yale football rivalry, one of the oldest rivalries in US college football and also known as The Game by some followers, is an American college football rivalry between the Harvard Crimson football team of Harvard University and Yale Bulldogs football team of Yale University. Although the Harvard-Yale rivalry is one of the oldest college football rivalries in the US, the first college football game was between Princeton and Rutgers. The Game is played in November at the end of the football season, with the venue alternating between Harvard Stadium and the Yale Bowl. Through the 2013 game, Yale leads the series 65–57–8.

Before the 1916 Game, Yale coach T.A.D. Jones inspired his players to victory (6–3) when he unequivocally asserted, "Gentlemen, you are now going to play football against Harvard. Never again in your whole life will you do anything so important."[1]

Significance[edit]

Not only is The Game historically significant for all college sports, but also many students and alumni of Harvard and Yale, consider The Game one of the most important days of the year. The schools are located only a few hours' travel from one another, and perhaps because they are among the nation's most prestigious and oldest universities, the rivalry is intense. Beating the rival is often considered more important than the team's season record. Since 1900, The Game has been the final game of the season for both teams, since Ivy League schools do not participate in post-season football games (the one exception occurring in 1919, when Harvard beat Yale 3–0 and then went on to the 1920 Rose Bowl Game, in which they defeated Oregon 7–6).

Half-time festivities at The Game, Yale Bowl.

The Game is significant for historical reasons in that the first game of the rivalry (in November 1875) was the second [American football] game played between U.S. colleges featuring a ball-carrying form of the game. Later, new standardized rules of American Football were invented by Walter Camp, a Yale grad and widely considered to be "The Father of American Football". The rules of that game soon were adopted by other schools, such as Rutgers and Princeton, which had been playing soccer (i.e., Association Football) since 1869, and American football quickly became the archetypal college sport. The schools that would become the Ivy League played the leading role in the development of American football in the late 19th century; football's rules, conventions, and equipment, as well as elements of "atmosphere" such as the mascot and fight song, include many elements pioneered or nurtured at Harvard and Yale. For many years, The Game was also likely to determine the Ivy League championship. The Game receives less national attention today; most college football fans are more interested in games between larger institutions whose teams are made up of scholarship athletes, many of them bound for professional careers. The high attendance at Harvard Stadium or the Yale Bowl for the contest testify that The Game still generates interest beyond the respective campuses and alumni bodies; tickets for The Game generally sell out even in modern times when The Game is played at Harvard, as Harvard Stadium's seating capacity is less than half that of the Yale Bowl.

The Harvard-Yale rivalry, consisting of two of the most well-known universities in the world, is the oldest college rivalry in American Sports. It stems from the Harvard-Yale Regatta, which is America's oldest collegiate athletic competition, first contested in 1852. In 2003, Sports Illustrated magazine ("On Campus" edition) rated the Harvard–Yale rivalry as the sixth-best in college athletics.

Series history[edit]

The first meeting between the teams occurred on November 13, 1875, at Hamilton Field in New Haven. Harvard won 4–0 by scoring four touchdowns and four field goals (at the time, a touchdown merely gave the scoring team the opportunity to gain one point by converting the field goal). At the time, the sport of American football was still evolving from rugby.

The rules that governed the early years of The Game were a modified version of the rules of rugby and made the game particularly brutal. In the second half of The Game of 1892, Harvard introduced the flying wedge formation, devised by chess master Lorin F. Deland, which so devastated Yale players that it was outlawed the following season (nevertheless, Yale won 6–0). Between 1890 and 1894, The Game was played on neutral territory in Hampden Park, Springfield, MA (roughly halfway between Cambridge and New Haven). After The Game of 1894, which came to be known as the "Hampden Park Bloodbath" and about which newspapers reported seven players carried off the field "in dying condition," the two schools broke off all official contact including athletic competition for two years. Since resuming in 1897 at Harvard, The Game has been played annually, except during World War I and World War II, alternating between Cambridge and New Haven.

The first known reference to "The Game" occurs in an 1898 letter by former Harvard captain A. Holden (class of 1888) to Harvard coach Cam Forbes on the occasion of The Game being permanently moved to the end of the season ("it also makes the Yale–Harvard game the last game of the season"). But public capitalized reference to The Game appears to have been first made by syndicated sports columnist Red Smith. In 1959, he called a Yale athletics official at the time, Charlie Loftus, to say he wouldn't be able to make that year's Harvard–Yale football match. Loftus disbelievingly replied, "What? You're going to miss 'The Game.'" Although Smith's absence went largely unnoticed at the game that year, his column did not. In that week's paper, Smith "borrowed" the sobriquet from Loftus' comment and christened the Harvard–Yale rivalry football match "The Game" for good. The name clinched its legendary foothold when, the following year, Harvard Sports Information Director Baron Pittenger mantled the Harvard–Yale game program with the respective title, and that made the name stick.[2]

Since Tim Murphy's arrival as Head Coach of Harvard for the 1994 season, Harvard has dominated the series, going 14–5, including 11 of the last 12 through 2012. This makes Murphy the winningest coach in the long series. Yale's sole win during the past decade was in 2006. Murphy can also boast of two undefeated and untied teams during this streak, while Yale's last unbeaten/untied season was in 1960. Harvard's current seven-game streak is the second longest in the history of the rivalry, behind Yale's 1880–1889 eight-game streak.

Harvard has been the better "spoiler" between the two teams. Over the past century, of the ten times Yale entered The Game undefeated, it exited the game victorious only once, while Harvard "upset" the Bulldogs on seven occasions: 1912, 1921, 1937, 1968 (with the infamous 29–29 "tie"), 1974, 1979 and 2007. Over the same period of time, Harvard has arrived at The Game undefeated nine times, triumphing all but twice (1931, and the infamous 29-29 "tie" of 1968).

The Harvard–Yale football rivalry is the second oldest continuing rivalry and also the third most-played rivalry game in college football history, after the LehighLafayette Rivalry (1884) and the Princeton–Yale game (1873). As of 2012, the Harvard Crimson and Yale Bulldogs have met 129 times since the first game in 1875.

Notable games[edit]

First tie: 1879[edit]

The game played on November 8, 1879 ended in a scoreless tie, the first of eight ties in the series.

Harvard Beats Yale, 29–29[edit]

In 1968, the Harvard team made a miraculous last-moment comeback by scoring 16 points in the final 42 seconds to tie a highly touted Yale squad. Yale had a 16-game winning streak and both teams were undefeated for the season at 8–0 coming into the game.

The tie left both teams 8–0–1 for the season, inspiring The Harvard Crimson to print the headline "Harvard Beats Yale, 29-29".[3] This headline was later used as the title for a 2008 documentary about this Game directed by Kevin Rafferty.[4]

This game stands as the final tie in the series, as subsequent rule changes have eliminated ties from college football.[5]

First overtime game: 2005[edit]

On November 19, 2005, Harvard defeated Yale in the rivalry's first overtime matchup. Harvard won by a score of 30–24 after three overtime periods.

Pranks[edit]

The Game is an inviting target for pranksters. For example, in 1961 in New Haven, The Harvard Crimson student newspaper distributed a parody of The Yale Daily News with a headline saying that President Kennedy would attend. At the Bowl, the President of the Crimson (Robert Ellis Smith) donned a mask of President Kennedy, had friends dressed as a Secret Service man and a military aide, and walked on the field before the game as the Harvard Band played "Hail to the Chief." Thousands of early arrivals and sports writers were fooled by the prank. President Kennedy, a Harvard graduate, was listening to the game on the radio in Hyannisport, according to later news reports.

Prior to The Game in 1933, Handsome Dan II, Yale's bulldog mascot, was kidnapped (allegedly by members of the Harvard Lampoon). Then, the morning after a 19–6 upset by Harvard over Yale, after hamburger was smeared on the feet of the statue of John Harvard that sits in front of University Hall in Harvard Yard – a photo was snapped of Handsome Dan licking John Harvard's feet. The photo ran on the front page of papers throughout the country.[6]

In 1962, Harvard Band members marched through New Haven, playing their instruments at 3 a.m. much to the chagrin of the New Haven police.

During the pregame show in 1992, the Harvard marching band attempted to "X-out"[clarification needed] the Yale Precision Marching Band while the Yale band stood in its traditional Y formation; however, the Yale band caught wind of this plan and, as the Harvard band marched onto the field, shifted its formation into a large H, thus making Harvard X itself out.[citation needed]

In 2004, Yale students handed out placards to some 1,800 adult Harvard fans; when raised, the signs were meant to spell out "WE SUCK". Harvard won that game 35–3.

In 2012, the Game was hosted at Harvard University. During tailgate the Yale prank group the Pundits had an anti-Harvard banner skywritten via plane.

In 2013, the Crimson comedy troop 'On Harvard Time' pulled off one of the most notorious pranks to date. Having donned Yale regalia the group, led by Junior Sam Clark, ran fake tours of Yale to unsuspecting tourists, referring to Yale as 'Harvard's stupider little sister' and stating their US national ranking fluctuates between 3rd and 15th in the country. The subsequent video went viral online, making Time and Forbes magazines' websites and gaining nearly a million views on YouTube in just four days.

MIT "Hacks"[edit]

Perhaps the most famous exploit was carried out at Harvard Stadium during the second quarter in 1982, when a Harvard score was immediately followed by a huge black weather balloon, previously installed under the 45-yard line by students from MIT as the letters painted on its side proclaimed, slowly inflating until it exploded, spraying talcum powder over the field (Harvard won, 45–7).

For the 2006 Game, MIT students secretly replaced the "VE-RI-TAS" insignia on the Harvard Stadium Scoreboard with an insignia that read "HU-GE-EGO".

On November 18, 1990, during the third quarter of The Game, MIT students carried out a less surreptitious assault. As a kicker prepared for a field goal, a rocket shot from the field over the goal posts, hanging an MIT banner. The rocket was launched using 480 feet of wire that ran underneath the field. A headline the next day in the Boston Herald read, "MIT 1 — Harvard–Yale 0; Tech Pranksters Steal the Show" (although Yale won the actual football game, 34–19).

In 2006, two streakers with MIT painted on their bodies attempted to run around the field during the game. One made it the length of the field before being caught and dragged off the field; the other was tackled by security about ten steps out of the stands.[7]

Tailgate[edit]

The Game has also become known for the large, joint Harvard-Yale tailgate parties that run throughout The Game in the fields next to the host stadium every year. The tailgate party was even televised by ESPN in 2004. While most alumni who travel to The Game actually watch it in the stadium, most students and recent alumni treat the tailgate as their primary destination. The tailgate attracts thousands of students and has recently roused the concern of the Boston Police Department, who have cracked down on underage drinking at the student tailgates, as well as moving it further away from the stadium and reducing the space available.[8] This included requiring, in 2008, that all tailgates end at halftime, leading Yale students to shift most of their tailgating to the Princeton game, held the previous week in New Haven.

In 2011, a tailgater was killed from a U-Haul truck collision.[9]

Little Red Flag[edit]

Harvard's Little Red Flag.jpg

The Little Red Flag is a Harvard pennant that, since 1884, has been waved by Harvard's "most loyal fan" after each score by Harvard during The Game. The tradition began with Frederick Plummer, class of 1888, who attended the Harvard-Yale game 59 times between 1884 and his death in 1948. In 1950, when the flag appeared among the various unassigned items in Plummer’s estate, William Bentinck-Smith (class of '37), then editor of the Harvard Alumni Bulletin, suggested awarding the honor of carrying the flag on game day to the Harvard man in attendance who had seen the largest number of Yale games - and, for the 1951 game, it was awarded to Spencer Borden (class of 1894), who had witnessed every Harvard-Yale game since 1889. Borden held the honor through the 1956 game (his 62nd H–Y game), and between 1957 and 2000, the Flag was passed to eight other dedicated Harvard alums who had attended the most Harvard-Yale football games (Allen Rice, class of '02, 73 H–Y games, 1957–1969 – Richard Hallowell, class of '20, 66 H–Y games, 1970–1977 – Douglas Hamilton, class of '23, 66 H–Y games, 1977–1985 – James Dwinell, class of '31, 42 H–Y games, 1985 – Harold Sedgwick, class of '30, 55 H–Y games, 1986–1996 & 1998 – Sam Donnell, class of '37, 54 H–Y games, 1997 – and Burdette Johnson, class of '27, 66 H–Y games, 1999–2000).

In 2000, the Harvard Varsity Club changed the tradition regarding The Little Red Flag. It was instead presented to a "superfan" – a particularly devoted alum whose engagement with the school extended beyond football – in this case, William Markus (class of '60), who held the banner through the 2009 game. Then, after the 2009 game, Spencer Ervin (class of '54) sent a letter to Harvard Magazine in hopes of putting the Flag back in the hands of the most regular fan. Among those involved was Jeffrey Lee (class of '74), whose father, Paul Lee (class of '46), had attended his first H–Y game as a sixth-grader in 1935, and had been absent for only one of the storied showdowns since the end of World War II. He was awarded the Flag for the 2010 game and held it in 2011 as well.[10][11]

Percy Haughton controversy[edit]

Apocryphal tales assert that before the 1908 Game, Harvard coach Percy Haughton strangled a bulldog to death in the locker room to motivate his players. Research has indicated that there were no contemporary reports of this incident – and later accounts suggest that Haughton had created a Bulldog doll and had strangled that. In addition, these reports indicate that he had attached the doll to his car and drove around town dragging the doll. Whatever the facts are, Harvard did win the 1908 game, 4–0, the culmination of a 9–0–1 national championship season.[12]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Bibliography[edit]

  • Bergin, Thomas G.The Game: The Harvard-Yale Football Rivalry, 1875–1983, by (Yale University Press, 1984)
  • Corbett, Bernard M., and Paul Simpson. The Only Game That Matters (Crown, 2004; ISBN 1-4000-5068-5) is a year-by-year history of The Game; Corbett is Harvard's radio play-by-play announcer.
  • Smith, Ronald A., ed. Big-Time Football at Harvard, 1905, (University of Illinois Press, 1994; ISBN 0-252-02047-2) is Harvard head coach Bill Reid's daily diary of the 1905 college football season.
  • Smith, Ronald A. Sports and Freedom: The Rise of Big Time College Athletics (1988)