Yale students have a complex. It isn’t a clear-cut complex either. With regard to pretty much every university in the country, we adopt an unjustified sense of superiority thanks to our affiliation with the Big Y. Then Harvard comes around and we start throwing around petty insults, a posture that belies a strange inferiority complex when it comes to our neighbor to the north.
Princeton falls somewhere in between. Despite its higher ranking and comparable pedigree, Princeton doesn’t evoke nearly the same visceral reaction among Yale students as does the school that sucks. It’s almost like we scoff and shoo Princeton to the side because we won’t allow ourselves to have two legitimate rivals. We can’t accept the notion that there might be more than one school on a par with our bad self. But make no mistake about it: Princeton matters, and so does this football game. Oh, they sure do.
Princeton matters because it has always mattered. HYP for years meant far more to players and students than did an Ivy League championship. As much as we’d like to ignore that third letter these days, it’s foolish to not realize the importance of this game in a historical sense. Yale prides itself on its wealth of past glories, and the Yale-Princeton has one hell of a history. Only Lafayette and Lehigh have played more football games against each other than have the Elis and the Tigers. Yes, ye of a Crimson-centric world view, Yale started playing Princeton in 1873, two years before it ever took on a team from Harvard. The history itself renders this game significant.
Princeton matters because the Yale-Princeton contests in recent years have been the most exciting games of the season. Two years ago, a perfectly terrible windy, rainy, freezing day made for a very ugly and very sloppy football game. It was great to watch. Yale scored very late for a 7-3 win. Last year’s game was a classic as the Bulldogs rallied from a two-touchdown halftime deficit to tie the game late before winning it in double overtime in New Jersey. Even without the familiarity, this game would matter simply because it breeds great competition.
Princeton matters because Dominick Martin left Princeton for Yale and doesn’t want Princeton to win. Princeton matters because winning this game could mean a temporary reprieve for head coach Jack Siedlecki. At this point, an HYP crown would take some of the sting out of a fifth consecutive season without a league title and take some of the heat off the coaching staff. Merely beating Harvard would be something to work with, but again, it’s the three-way title that really means something here. To win that, you have to take care of the Tigers.
Princeton matters because when it comes down to it, both schools are in the same boat here. You can make fun of Princeton all you want for its snobbery (trust me, I saw a lot of nose hairs when I was down there), but the fact remains that the schools are essentially similar in that respect. Princeton knows this. Princeton knows the applicant pools overlap. Princeton displayed this knowledge two years ago when it hacked into our online admissions Web site to see if certain people would be getting in here before it made its own admissions decisions. That was pretty slimy, but it showed this rivalry runs deep. With this football game, we get to exact revenge and demonstrate our moral advantage. The Cold War was played out on the ice hockey surfaces of Lake Placid, and this raging university bloodbath has its outlet on the gridiron. A Yale win vindicates our uprightness and advantage when it comes to being honorable and good.
Princeton matters precisely because we claim that it doesn’t. The best way to measure your own worth is by looking at those with whom you are associated. We say Princeton doesn’t matter only because we’re actually concerned with them. We focus our loathing on Harvard and its fascist alcohol policies, but that doesn’t absolve Princeton of relevance in our lives. The Yale-Princeton football game is the long-standing symbol of this enmity between two of the world’s most senior and preeminent universities. This game still matters not just because it typically produces compelling football (something not every Ivy League contest can claim) but because it has mattered for over a hundred years. Harvard occupies our minds and fills our pathological need for an evil counterpart, but Princeton has an equal stake in this tweed triumvirate.
Princeton matters. Just allow yourself to admit it.