Harvard–Yale football rivalry

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Harvard–Yale football rivalry
Harvard Crimson.svg Yale Logo.svg
Harvard Crimson Yale Bulldogs
First game played November 13, 1875
Played annually since 1897
(Not played 1917-1918 due to WWI; 1943-44 due to World War II)
Games played 133 (through 2016)
Series record Yale leads, 66–59–8
Largest margin of victory Yale 54, Harvard 0
(November 23, 1957)
Highest scoring game Yale 33, Harvard 31
(November 20, 1993)
Lowest scoring game Yale 0, Harvard 0
(last time: November 21, 1925)
Most recent game Yale 21, Harvard 14
(November 19, 2016)
Next game November 18, 2017
Current win streak Yale, 1

The Harvard–Yale football rivalry is renewed annually with The Game, an American college football contest between the Harvard Crimson football team of Harvard University and the Yale Bulldogs football team of Yale University. Both programs conclude the season with the contest the Saturday afternoon before Thanksgiving.

Yale leads the series 66–59–8.

"Harvard and Yale generally duke it out in the academic arena"[1]but geographic proximity, the history of Yale's founding, and social competition between the respective student bodies and alumni contingents animate the rivalry.

The first contest occurred November 13, 1875 at Hamilton Park in New Haven.

Half-time festivities at The Game, Yale Bowl.


The football rivalry is among the oldest rivalries in the annals of American sports.

The Princeton-Yale football rivalry, inaugurated in 1873, is older, and has been contested more often, at 139 meetings. The Lehigh-Lafayette rivalry, inaugurated in 1884, has meet 152 times on a gridiron. However THE GAME, the football rivalry, is central to the Harvard - Yale athletic rivalry. In 2003, Sports Illustrated magazine ("On Campus" edition) rated the Harvard–Yale rivalry as the sixth-best in college athletics, after, in order: Alabama - Auburn, Duke - North Carolina, UCLA - USC, Army - Navy, and Cal - Stanford.

Notable contests[edit]

Flying Wedge[edit]

The game played on November 19, 1882 introduced the flying wedge. Harvard unveiled the formation at the beginning of the second half. Yale withstood the tactic and won, 6-0.[2]

Some say "massacre" and others say "bloodbath"[edit]

The game played November 24, 1894 in Springfield, MA, was violent.[3] Yale won, 12 - 4, in Hampden Park.

In the era before players employed protective equipment of any type, the result of rough play was a given; however, competition between the football programs was placed on hiatus for two years in the aftermath of the afternoon's adventure, seven players denoted in "dying condition". Frank Hinkey, future member of the College Football Hall of Fame, broke the collarbone of a Harvard player following a fair catch. Violence ensued between partisans after the contest in the streets of Springfield.[4]

Ancient Greek stadium opens for business in 20th century[edit]

The game played on November 21, 1903 was the first hosted at Harvard Stadium. Yale won, 16 - 0.

Alleged Cruelty to Animals[edit]

The game played on November 21, 1908 marked the end of a six-game winning streak for Yale. Harvard won, 4-0, at Yale Field in Orange, CT; however, more remarkable is the myth Percy Haughton, Harvard's first professional coach and future member of the College Football Hall of Fame, strangled to death a live bulldog during the pregame pep talk.

Contemporary research yields that at worse the first year Harvard coach strangled a papier mache bulldog and tied another such creation to the back fender of his automobile.[5]

Let's Bowl[edit]

The game played on November 21, 1914 was the first hosted at the Yale Bowl and the inaugural event at the facility. William Howard Taft and Theodore Roosevelt were said to be among the spectators, a throng estimated at more than 70,000 but less than 74,000.[6] Harvard won, 36 - 0.


The game was played on, according to Grantland Rice, "a gridiron of seventeen lakes, five quagmires and a water hazard,"[7] November 24, 1923 in Boston. Yale won, 13-0.

Yale head coach T.A. Dwight Jones, future member of the College Football Hall of Fame, advised before kickoff, "Gentlemen, you are about to play Harvard. You will never do anything else so important for the rest of your lives."[8] Future Yale and Bates College football Head Coach Ducky Pond returned a fumble 67 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter.[9]

Wood 2, Booth 1[edit]

The game played November 21, 1931 showcased the final gridiron competition between Albie Booth, a literal hometown hero (born and raised in New Haven), and Barry Wood, a consummate scholar-athlete, and this season's football captains, respectively, of Yale and Harvard.

Harvard was undefeated. Yale was 3 - 1 - 2. Booth kicked a late fourth quarter field goal, the sole points scored.

...then Pearl Harbor[edit]

The game played November 22, 1941 was Harvard senior Endicott Peabody's final performance versus Yale. Peabody was a starting left guard for three straight seasons. Harvard shut out Yale, 28 - 0, in 1940, and did likewise in 1941, 14 - 0.

Peabody finished sixth in the balloting for the season's Heisman Trophy.[10] The namesake and grandson of the founder of the Groton School for Boys would later serve a term as Governor of Massachusetts.

Soon after the celebration ended for Harvard's second consecutive shutout in the series, the attack at Pearl Harbor absorbed attention.

Charles Yeager?[edit]

The game played November 22, 1952 was won by Yale, 41-14, in Boston. The box score noted Charley Yeager scored the 40th and 41st points on a pass, a two-point conversion; however, this Yeager was Yale's head football manager, wearing a pristine jersey numbered 99 as he scored, rather than the flying ace and Brigadier general.

Future U.S. Senator scores touchdown[edit]

The game, played on November 19, 1955, a snowy day, had two names in the box score familiar to many of a particular age. Ted Kennedy, in jersey 88, caught a pass for a touchdown in the third quarter for Harvard. Bing Crosby, but not that Bing Crosby, kicked the extra point. Yale won, 21 - 7.[11]


The game played November 30, 1963 was postponed from November 23, 1963, in mourning for assassinated POTUS John F. Kennedy, Harvard College, Class of 1940 and Yale University honorand and guest speaker, 1962 commencement.[12] It is the only postponed contest in the football rivalry.

Harvard Beats Yale, 29–29[edit]

The game played November 23, 1968 was highlighted by the Crimson scoring 16 points in the final 42 seconds to tie a highly touted Bulldog squad. Yale had a 16-game winning streak. Both teams were 8–0 coming into the contest. For the first time since 1909 both adversaries were undefeated and untied for the contest. Yale was ranked 16th in a national college football poll.[13]

The outcome inspired The Harvard Crimson to print the logically impossible "Harvard Beats Yale, 29-29" headline.[14] This headline was later used as the title for a 2008 documentary about this Game, directed by Kevin Rafferty.[15]

Meet you at Soldier's Field[edit]

The game played November 22, 1975 in New Haven -- in addition to elevating Harvard to its first undisputed Ivy League football championship (it had shared titles three other seasons since 1956, the League's first year) -- featured future Chicago Bears teammates Harvard captain Dan Jiggetts and Yale captain Gary Fencik. Harvard won, 10 - 7, on a fourth quarter field goal, with 0:33 on the official time clock, by Mike Lynch.

Brown's four touchdown passes one too few[edit]

Future three time Super Bowl champion Ken Hill ran well from the I formation and Yale played well enough to win, 35 - 28, on a near-balmy 68 degree day in Boston. But Larry Brown, Harvard's senior quarterback, set a Harvard standard for touchdown passes in The Game. Neil Rose, Ryan Fitzpatrick, a future NFL starting quarterback, and Chris Pizzotti would each toss four touchdowns versus Yale in 2001, 2003, and 2007, respectively, matching Brown. But the most memorable pass of the afternoon was tossed by another future NFL veteran playing for the visitors. Yale quarterback Pat O'Brien passed laterally to John Spagnola, a future eleven year NFL veteran, who then lofted a spiral to fellow receiver Bob Krystyniak for a touchdown. The extra point provided the 21 point cushion that Brown almost wore out with two more touchdown passes.[16]

100 and counting[edit]

The game played on November 19, 1983 marked the 100th time the programs met on the gridiron. Harvard won, 16-7, in New Haven.

Murphy's law and order[edit]

The game played November 19, 1994, Harvard coach Tim Murphy's first year managing the program, was won by Yale, 32-14, in Boston. Including that loss, Murphy's record is an astounding 17-6 versus Yale, including a nine-game win streak.

Morris moves the chains[edit]

The game played November 18, 2000 was the first of Carl Morris's five 11-plus reception efforts for Harvard. Morris caught 13 passes, gaining 142 yards. Yale won, 34 - 24, but Morris started rewriting record books.

Morris, in the vertical game era of football, holds Harvard football receiving records for career receptions (245), single-game receptions (21), single season receptions (90, 2002; 71, 2001; and 60, 2000, the top three single-season tallies); most career yards, 3,488; most yards, season (1, 288, 2002; 943, 2001; and 920, 2000, the top three single-season tallies); career touchdown receptions, 28 (tied with Corey Mazza); season touchdown receptions, 12, 2001; and most receiving yards in a game, 257.[17]

Dawson delivers[edit]

Clifton Dawson's 258th carry, a Crimson season record, delivered the triple-overtime victory to Harvard, November 19, 2005, in New Haven. The contest was the longest ever at the Bowl and in Ivy League football history. Yale led, 21 - 3, in the third quarter.

Dawson is the Crimsom leader in career rushing attempts (958), career rushing yards (4,241), single-season rushing yards (1,302), career rushing touchdowns (60), and single-season rushing touchdowns (20).

Yale denies Harvard fourth straight Ivy title[edit]

The game played November 19, 2016 ended two streaks. Harvard was denied a fourth staight shared or outright Ivy League football title, and its nine game winning streak versus Yale ended. Yale won, 21 - 14.

Noteworthy Pranks[edit]

Dog food[edit]

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, an image was captured of Handsome Dan licking John Harvard's feet. The photo ran on the front page of papers throughout the country.[18]

The Crimson scores[edit]

As if THE 16 points in less than a minute prank the season before wasn't satisfactory, two staffers of the Harvard college paper concocted then published and distributed a mock copy of The Yale Daily News, datelined November 22, 1969. Readers were greeted with headlines "Disease Strikes 16 Eli Football Starters; Bulldogs Forced to Forfeit Harvard Game" and "Last Year's Stars Want to Fill in". Female cheerleaders were the alledged source of a std rampaging through the football roster. Yale was in its first semester of coeducation.[19]

Yale scored twice, a touchdown and an extra point, and shut out Harvard at the Bowl.

Wonderlic Test[edit]

The 2004 Harvard-Yale prank was the flying wedge of prank card stunts. Yale students, costumed as the Harvard pep squad, handed out placards to some 1,800 Harvard partisans. When raised on cue, the cards displayed WE SUCK to applause from Yale students, alumni and fans across the field. Harvard won the game, 35-0.

Harvard students refused to believe eye witnesses to the prank until video confirmed the obvious. The prank was featured in various print media, Jimmy Kimmel Live, and MSNBC.[20]

MIT "Hacks"[edit]

MIT has a roster of hilarious "Hacks" against supposed haughtiness by Harvard. Both universities are located in Cambridge, MA.

During the second quarter in 1982 at Harvard Stadium, a Harvard score was immediately followed by a huge black weather balloon inflating near midfield. "MIT" was proclaimed in painted letters on the slowly inflating balloon until it exploded, spraying powder over a few square yards of the field. Again in Harvard Stadium, MIT students secretly replaced the "VE-RI-TAS" insignia on the scoreboard with "HU-GE-EGO" in 2006.[21]


The Game has also become known for the Harvard-Yale tailgate parties. The parties continue througout the afternoon in the fields next to the host stadium every year. The tailgate party was televised by ESPN in 2004. The tailgate(s) entertain thousands. The Boston Police Department has cracked down on underage drinking at the student tailgates, as well as moving further away from the stadium the festivities and reducing the space available.[22]

Little Red Flag[edit]

Harvard's Little Red Flag.jpg

The Little Red Flag is a Harvard pennant that, since 1884 (Yale won, 52 - 0, at Yale Field that afternoon; Harvard banned football in 1885) has been waved by Harvard's "most loyal fan" after each score by Harvard against Yale.

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). To this day the flag has been handed off to a deserving fan.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The GAME by2016,Numbers, Boston Magazine, November , 2016, by line Hannah Flynn
  2. ^ THE GAME: The Yale Harvard Football Rivalry, 1875 - 1983, pgs. 48 - 49, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, Bergin, Thomas, 1984
  3. ^ [1]
  4. ^ Memorable Games in Harvard - Yale history, Yale Daily News, November 18, 2011, by line Jacqueline Sahlberg
  5. ^ "Did a Harvard coach strangle a bulldog to motivate his team to beat Yale?, LA Times, November 2, 2011
  6. ^ THE GAME: YALE BOWL FACTS and FIGURES, New Haven Register, Saturday, Nov. 19, 2011, Sports Staff by line
  7. ^ New York Herald Tribune November 25, 1923, III, 1
  8. ^ Washington Post, November 18, 1983, HARVARD VS YALE: 100 YEARS, by line John Ed Bradley.
  9. ^ Bergin, pg. 316, Appendix 1. Summary Of The Hundred Games
  10. ^ Groton School Quarterly, Fall 2012, Groton School, pg. 63
  11. ^ Bergin, pg. 327, APPENDIX 1. SUMMARY OF THE HUNDRED GAMES.
  12. ^ "Yale University Commencement Speech," New York Times, June 11, 1962, p. 20
  13. ^ HARVARD BEATS YALE 29 - 29, Edited by Kevin Rafferty, The Overlook Press, Peter Mayer Publishers, Inc., 2009
  14. ^ "Harvard Beats Yale"
  15. ^ Documentary
  16. ^ Yale Runs Past Harvard, 35 - 28, Harvard Crimson, November 18, 1978, by line John Donley
  17. ^ THE GAME program, Saturday, Nov. 19, Harvard Football News 2016, Harvard University
  18. ^ "First Eli Bulldog Barked at Opponents In 1890; Second Licked Harvard's Feet, Harvard Crimson, Nov 25, 1950"
  19. ^ The Game, 30 Years Ago, The Harvard Crimson, November 22, 2004, by line The Crimson Archives
  20. ^ Sahlberg, Yale Daily News, November 18, 2011
  21. ^ "MIT 'Hacks' at Harvard-Yale Games"
  22. ^ Yale Daily News - Tailgate relocated to 175 N. Harvard St


  • 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)