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 World War I; 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. The contest concludes the season for both programs, usually 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,[2] and social competition between the respective student bodies and alumni contingents animate the athletic rivalry. "The problem is that Harvard is the best, and being the best, the only competition is number two. Princeton talks about the Big Three...Yale talks about Yale - Harvard, but all Harvard talks about is Harvard," remarked candidly a student from Harvard .[3] Public perception is the rivalry is academic as well as professional. "A whale-ship was my Yale College and my Harvard" from Moby-Dick by Herman Melville examples public fascination with both institutions.[4]

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 rivalry is also constituent to the Big Three academic, athletic and social rivalry among alumni and students at Harvard, Yale and Princeton universities.

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 been contested 152 times on a gridiron. The Game is, however, 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]


The game played on November 19, 1892 introduced the flying wedge. Harvard unveiled the formation at the beginning of the second half before 21,000 spectators.[5] Lorin F. Deland, an unpaid adviser to the Harvard team and an avid chess player, suggested the tactic. Yale withstood history and won, 6-0. Deland would assume duty as Head Coach at Harvard for three games in 1895 and would co-author with Walter Camp the seminal Football, published in 1896 by Houghton Mifflin.[6][7]

The Harvard Crimson suggested years after the contest Walter Camp, Head Coach of the 1892 Yale team, acknowledged "Father of American Football" and future member of the College Football Hall of Fame, had been warned of the new formation by post from San Francisco.[8]

Mass-momentum plays based on the flying wedge were the rage in the sport. The result was mayhem that eventually prompted intervention in 1909 by POTUS Teddy Roosevelt to help reform rules governing play. Camp is championed as an advocate for the sport for his suggestions.[9]


The game played November 24, 1894 in Springfield, MA, was violent.[10] 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 Yale and Harvard 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, has been alleged to have broken the collarbone of a Harvard player following a fair catch. "Accounts vary widely as to what happened in the Harvard - Yale game of 1894," notes author Julie Des Jardins.[11] Violence ensued among fans after the contest in the streets of Springfield.[12]

The Harvard faculty voted by a two-to-one margin to abolish football. Harvard President Charles W. Eliot, a lifelong oarsman and participant in Harvard boatrace when crew donned crimson silk hankerchiefs, the origin of crimson as Harvard's school color, loathed football.[13] Eliot opined, "Football is to academics what bull fighting is to agriculture."[14]

The Harvard Corporation sided, however, with alumni and students who championed the sport.[15] The Harvard Board of Overseers invited Camp to chair an investigative committee to determine the extent of "character-building" as well as "brutality" on college and prep school football fields. Rev. Joseph Twichell, Endicott Peabody and Henry E. Howland were among the committee's members.[16]

Ray Tompkins, a former teammate of Camp, confided during the crisis of '94 that football was too American to be abrogated by any one or more faculty.[17]

Yale and Harvard took a two-year hiatus on the football rivalry. The programs have played annually, excluding the World War I and World War II years, ever since.


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


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.[18]


The game played on November 21, 1914 was the inaugural event at the Yale Bowl. 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.[19] Harvard won, 36 - 0.


Harvard concluded an undefeated regular season November 22, 1919 with a 10 - 3 victory in Boston. Harvard then won the 1920 East - West Tournament Bowl, now known as the Rose Bowl, versus the Oregon Webfoots, now known as the Oregon Ducks, 10 - 7.


The game was played on, according to Grantland Rice, "a gridiron of seventeen lakes, five quagmires and a water hazard,"[20] 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."[21] Future Yale and Bates College football Head Coach Ducky Pond returned a fumble 67 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter.[22]


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

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


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.[23] The namesake and grandson of the founder of the Groton School for Boys would later serve a term as Governor of Massachusetts.

A few weeks after the contest, "a date which will live in infamy" absorbed all attention.


The November 19, 1949 game, won by Yale, 29 - 6, in New Haven, featured the first African-American captain at the opening coin toss. Levi Jackson—similarly to Yale football great Albie Booth a graduate of Hillhouse High School in New Haven—served in the military before matriculating at Yale. The G.I. Bill covered almost all tuition, room and board in New Haven. Jackson had been a sergeant in the U.S. Army Ordnance Corps.

Unlike Booth, Jackson, from the fullback position, enjoyed a winning record versus Harvard, 3 - 1, the program posting wins Jackson's freshman, sophomore and senior years. (Players were eligible for four years of varsity play, a rule variance allowed to accommodate returning WWII veterans.) Jackson turned down a professional contract (he'd starred on a military team while in the service) from the New York Giants to join the Yale program managed eventually by Herman Hickman, a future member of the College Football Hall of Fame. Jackson played two seasons for Howard Odell at Yale before Hickman. Jackson enjoyed a long corporate career in labor relations and human resource management with the Ford Motor Corporation.[24]


The game played November 22, 1952 was won by Yale, 41-14, in Boston. The box score noted Charley Yeager scored Yale's 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.


The November 19, 1955 game was won by Yale, 21 - 7. Ted Kennedy, in jersey numbered 88, caught a pass for a touchdown in the third quarter for Harvard's sole touchdown in New Haven.


Mike Pyle, future Chicago Bears center and NFL All-Pro, captained an undefeated, untied Yale team to the 1960 Ivy League football title and a share of the Lambert Trophy. Yale routed Harvard, 37 - 6, in Boston, November 19, 1960. Pyle, who captained the 1963 NFL Championship-winning Bears, lead the first and last untied and undefeated Yale team since 1923.


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.[25]


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. 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. Calvin Hill, later a First Round NFL draft choice by the Dallas Cowboys and father of Grant Hill, and Tommy Lee Jones, later an Academy Award, Golden Globe Award and Emmy Award recipient, were in uniform.[26] Both were eventual First Team All - Ivy selections, Hill as a running back, Jones as an offensive linemen. The Yale roster included two future Rhodes Scholars, Kurt Schmoke and Tom Neville. The Harvard roster included one future Rhodes Scholar, Paul Saba.

It's been suggested the Yale team became more famous as participants in the incongruous tie than if the team had completed an undefeated, untied season with a Top Twenty ranking.[27]

The outcome inspired The Harvard Crimson to print the logically impossible "Harvard Beats Yale, 29-29" headline.[28] This headline was later used as the title for a 2008 documentary about this Game, directed by Kevin Rafferty.[29]


The game played November 22, 1975 in New Haven—the outcome 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. Fencik helped win Super Bowl XX and a Gold Record with the Bears.

Harvard won, 10 - 7, on a fourth quarter field goal by Mike Lynch with 0:33 on the official time clock.


Future three-time Super Bowl champion Kenny Hill ran well from the I formation, 154 yards on 25 carries, and scored, racing down a sideline on an 18-yard pitchout,[30] and Yale won, 35 - 28, on a near-balmy 68 degree day in Boston, November 18, 1978. 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.[31]

The most memorable pass of the afternoon was tossed by a future participant in Super Bowl XV. Tight end John Spagnola, a future eleven year NFL veteran and participant in Super Bowl XV, lofted a spiral to fellow receiver Bob Krystyniak for a touchdown to conclude a trick play. The extra point provided the 21-point cushion Brown almost wore out with two more touchdown passes.[32]


The game played on November 19, 1983 marked the 100th time the programs met on the gridiron. Harvard won, 16-7, in New Haven. Yale lead series 54 - 38 - 8.


The game played on November 21, 1987 at the Bowl featured conditions similar to the 1967 NFL Championship Game in Green Bay, WI. Game time temps were slightly below zero degrees Fahrenheit, with wind chill temperatures sometimes as low as minus-30 throughout the day. Harvard won, 14 - 10.

Crimson Head Coach Joe Restic guided the team to an 8 -2 overall and 6 - 1 Ivy League records, both bests for Restic. Harvard won the League football title.


November 23, 1993, a gameballwas presented without much fanfare to Theo Epstein, a Yale Daily News sports section editor. Epstein had penned a column calling for Yale Head Coach Carm Cozza to move on from the sidelines, published the day before the 108th contest in the series. The column appeared to arouse to victory the almost listless and injury-plagued Bulldogs. Harvard, the program playing its last game under Joe Restic, appeared aroused, too. The 33 - 31 outcome is the all - time highest combined score in the series. Both teams had each won one game, and not versus Princeton, in the League entering the contest. Bulldogs gifted the gameball to Epstein, who later helped professionally MLB's Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs win the World Series for the first time in decades, apparently in gratitude for extra-motivation versus Harvard. Restic relinquished control of the Harvard football program to Tim Murphy, most recently Head Coach at the University of Cincinnati.


November 19, 1995 in New Haven, Harvard, 1 - 6 in the League, defeated Yale, 22 - 21. Coach Murphy's charges would soon dominate the series. Murphy is an astounding 17 - 6 versus four Yale counterparts, including Carm Cozza, a member of the College Foitball Hall of Fame.


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 all-time 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.[33]

November 17, 2001 Harvard defeated Yale, 35 - 23, in New Haven. The win sealed the Crimson's first perfect season since 1913. George Plimpton, author of Paper Lion and Harvard grad, reported on the scene with "New Haven Notebook: THE GAME, ONCE MORE", published in December 3, 2001 issue of The New Yorker.


Clifton Dawson's 258th carry for the season, a record, delivered to Harvard the triple-overtime victory, 30 - 24, 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).[34]


November 21, 2009 could be called an early Christmas Day for the Crimson. Rather than suffer classification as sissies or falling to a 5 - 2 League record, Murphy's team and Harvard men in general enjoyed protection by Yale's PC police on the sissie charge and Yale's head coach, Tom Williams, gift wrapped victory, 14 - 10, for Murphy. Williams, dismissed a few seasons later upon discovery of a misleading resume, nursed a 10 - 0 halftime lead to a 10 - 7 lead late in the fourth quarter. Then Santa visited Connecticut. Williams, on fourth down and 22 yards to go for a first down from the Yale 26, chose to fake a punt and run the ball, netting fifteen yards. Harvard, 5 - 1 in the League before kickoff, turned the gift of a shortfield into a game winning touchdown.

Before the contest the Yale administration, seemingly at the behest of the university's LGBT Co-operative, forced the Yale Frosh Council to drop the T-shirt design selected to commemorate the contest. The T-shirt lifted a line from former Princeton University student F. Scott Fitzgerald's This Side of Paradise. "I think of all Harvard men as sissies...." was the line with "WE AGREE" printed below it.


The game played November 19, 2016 in Boston ended two streaks. Harvard was denied a fourth consecutive shared or outright Ivy League football title, and Yale ended its nine-game losing streak versus Harvard. 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.[35]

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 alleged source of a std rampaging through the football roster. Yale was in its first semester of coeducation.[36]

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 well designed, managed and executed. The prank was a card stunt. 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 eyewitnesses to the prank until video confirmed the obvious. The prank was featured in various print media, Jimmy Kimmel Live, and MSNBC.[37]

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.[38]


The Game has also become known for the Harvard-Yale tailgate parties. The parties continue throughout 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.[39]

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 President Charles William Eliot, a former oarsmen, 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 by Numbers, Boston Magazine, November 2016, by line Hannah Flynn
  2. ^ ''Yale Alumni Magazine'', "Quarrels with Providence", March 2001 - Special Tercentennial Edition, by line Lewis H. Lapham
  3. ^ Yale Daily News, Special Issue, THE GAME, Saturday, November 17, 1979, "Let's talk about The Game", Grist for the Mill column, by line Ethan A. Hill
  4. ^ Moby Dick, conclusion, chapter XXIV, The Advocate
  5. ^ The Big Scrum, John J. Miller, Harper-Collins, 2011, NY, NY, pg. 128
  6. ^ THE GAME: The Yale Harvard Football Rivalry, 1875 - 1983, pgs. 48 - 49, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, Bergin, Thomas, 1984
  7. ^ The Publishers Weekly, [Nos. 1286 -7] Sept. 26, '96, Volume 50
  8. ^ "Flying Wedge first used in 1892 by Deland Coached Harvard Team", Harvard Crimson, November 5, 1926, by line S. deJ. Osborne
  9. ^ Miller, pg. 133
  10. ^ [1]
  11. ^ Walter Camp: Football and the Modern Man, Oxford University Press, pg. 334, 2015
  12. ^ Memorable Games in Harvard - Yale history, Yale Daily News, November 18, 2011, by line Jacqueline Sahlberg
  13. ^ The Big Scrum: How Teddy Roosevelt Saved Football, John. J. Miller, Harper-Collins, New York, NY, pg. 99
  14. ^ New York Times, Harvard - Yale football game story, Nov. 22, 1992, by line Ira Berkow
  15. ^ Harvard Magazine, September - October 2003, "First and 100", by Craig Lambert and John T. Bethell
  16. ^ Walter Camp: Football and Modern Man, Oxford University Press, Julie Des Jardins, pgs. 114 - 115
  17. ^ Walter Camp: Football and The Modern Man, Oxford University Press, Oxford, New York, 2015, Julie Des Jardins, pg. 122
  18. ^ "Did a Harvard coach strangle a bulldog to motivate his team to beat Yale?, LA Times, November 2, 2011
  19. ^ The Game: Yale Bowl Facts and Figures, New Haven Register, Saturday, Nov. 19, 2011, Sports Staff by line
  20. ^ New York Herald Tribune November 25, 1923, III, 1
  21. ^ Washington Post, November 18, 1983, Harvard vs. Yale: 100 Years, by line John Ed Bradley.
  22. ^ Bergin, pg. 316, Appendix 1. Summary Of The Hundred Games
  23. ^ Groton School Quarterly, Fall 2012, Groton School, pg. 63
  24. ^ Yale Alumni Magazine, October 1999, Levi Jackson: Hometown Hero The First African American to Captain a Yale football team continued his leadership off the field, by line Judith Ann Schiff
  25. ^ "Yale University Commencement Speech," New York Times, June 11, 1962, p. 20
  26. ^ Harvard Beats Yale 29 - 29, Edited by Kevin Rafferty, The Overlook Press, Peter Mayer Publishers, Inc., 2009
  27. ^ Yale Alumni Magazine, "Harvard Beats Yale 29 - 29", Nov/Dec 2008, by line Charles McGrath
  28. ^ "Harvard Beats Yale"
  29. ^ Documentary
  30. ^ Bergin, Appendix 1. Summary Of The Hundred Games, pg. 338
  31. ^ THE GAME Program, Nov. 19, Harvard Football News, Harvard University, pg. 68
  32. ^ Yale Runs Past Harvard, 35 - 28, Harvard Crimson, November 18, 1978, by line John Donley
  33. ^ THE GAME program, Saturday, Nov. 19, Harvard Football News 2016, Harvard University, pg. 70
  34. ^ THE GAME program, Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016, Harvard Football News 2016, Harvard University, pg. 73
  35. ^ "First Eli Bulldog Barked at Opponents In 1890; Second Licked Harvard's Feet, Harvard Crimson, Nov 25, 1950"
  36. ^ The Game, 30 Years Ago, The Harvard Crimson, November 22, 2004, by line The Crimson Archives
  37. ^ Sahlberg, Yale Daily News, November 18, 2011
  38. ^ "MIT 'Hacks' at Harvard-Yale Games"
  39. ^ 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.
  • Miller, John J., "The Big Scrum: How Teddy Roosevelt Saved Football", Harper-Collins Publishers, New York, NY ISBN 978-0-06-174450-1
  • 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)