On Saturday, the Harvard Crimson and the Yale Bulldogs will meet for the 121st playing of The Game. At a quick glance the battlefield does not appear to be even, as Harvard (9-0, 6-0 Ivy) enters the game undefeated while Yale (5-4, 3-3) has endured a much tougher season. Most say the measure of any good football team is its overall win-loss record; these types of people have probably spent a little too much time away from the gridiron to make those types of assumptions. As any good athlete can tell you, while Harvard’s winning streak is nothing short of amazing, the Bulldogs’ win-loss record hardly characterizes this year’s team. Various reasons have accounted for these tallies in the loss column but none of those reasons can be attributed to the dedication or talent of the players on the team, especially the senior class. Even the quickest of glances at the Bulldogs’ class of 2005 will put the win-loss record’s ability to describe a season or predict a game’s outcome to shame.
Robert Carr, Alvin Cowan, Rory Hennessey and Ralph Plumb; these are names that even the most casual Bulldog fan has come to know well. Carr, Cowan and Plumb have spent the fall rewriting the Yale record books. On top of it all, senior captain and NFL prospect Rory Hennessey has led this team remarkably through its ups and downs with an intensity and work ethic that at times has left his teammates in awe. His fellow Bulldogs are still talking about a hit he delivered to a certain Brown player that sent the Bear flying onto the nearby track. He will no doubt inspire the Bulldogs when they face off against the mascot-less (sorry boys, a Pilgrim just doesn’t cut it) Cantabs. For the Bulldogs, it is their intangibles, like these players, and an incredible defense that must be measured against the Cantabs’ squad.
To begin with, let’s take a look at some of the losses the Bulldogs have endured this season. Two games that stand out are their two most recent losses to Penn Oct. 23 and Brown Nov. 11. The final score of the game at the Yale Bowl against the Quakers was 17-7, but this does not mean that Penn dominated the Bulldogs for the entire game. Yes, Penn scored first, but it came nearly halfway through the first quarter. Yale’s defense managed to keep Penn from scoring another touchdown until the offense had a chance to even the score, which it did in the final 45 seconds of the first quarter. The second quarter watched both teams fail to reach the endzone and most of the third quarter was slow as well. Unfortunately, with 10:25 left to play in the third quarter, Quaker Peter Stine kicked a 25-yard field goal to put the Quakers up by three points. The score stayed at 10-7 until Penn scored the go-ahead touchdown of the game with 59 seconds remaining in the third. This would be the last time either team would score as the fourth quarter turned into a grudge match between Penn’s offense and Yale’s defense. During the quarter, Yale’s defense remarkably held Penn scoreless, even though the Quakers — much to the dismay of the Bulldog offense — had possession of the ball for a staggering 12:20. With only two minutes and forty seconds worth of possession, it’s no wonder Yale wasn’t able to stage a comeback in the fourth quarter.
Against Brown Nov. 6, the Bulldogs were defeated 24-17. Yet, ask many Bulldogs what they thought of the game, and aside from the loss, you’ll get mostly positive responses. Unlike the Penn game where the Quakers took advantage of Bulldog mistakes and outplayed the Bulldogs in nearly every statistical category, against Brown it was the Elis who held the statistical upper hand. Yale completed 26 first downs to Brown’s 22. Cowan had a big day, amassing 419 passing yards, trumping Brown’s 240. And yet the Bulldogs came up short. There was one key place where Brown outplayed Yale: the red-zone. Yale had five chances to score in the red-zone while Brown only had four, but the Bears were able to capitalize on all four of their opportunities while the Bulldogs only scored three of the five times they were within the Brown 20.
The most recent Bulldog losses can be best characterized by what truly is a tremendous, record-setting offense failing to help out a defense that has been working overtime. Versus Penn, Yale’s defense, which features veteran seniors such as Tim Barrett, James Beck, Ben Breunig, Adam Brown, Nick Campbell, Tyson Crawford, William Cruz, Bryant Dieffenbacher, Cole Harris, Fred Jelks, Barton Simmons and Don Smith, outdid itself, holding a team like Penn to only 17 points, giving the Bulldog offense plenty of time to even up the score. Even with Carr amassing 167 yards and becoming Yale’s all-time leading rusher, passing Rashad Bartholomew ’01 with 3,047 yards, the Bulldog offense was not able to score on three out of six chances in the redzone. Again, in the Brown game, Cowan and Plumb set three new Yale records between the two of them with Cowan resetting the records for career total offense and passing yardage and Plumb bypassing current San Francisco 49er Eric Johnson ’01 for most receiving yards in a game and career receiving yards. While Yale has had its share of struggles in the redzone this season, having record-setters like Carr, Cowan and Plumb on the field should make an opposing team think twice before it takes solace in Yale’s redzone stats.
Harvard has already established itself as Ivy League champions for the 2004 season, but there is still work to be done. If the Cantabs can’t defeat the Bulldogs in Cambridge, they will have a game in their loss column and the Bulldogs will have achieved the HYP crown for the first time since 1999. Between the Big Three crown and a perfect record, there is plenty at stake in Saturday’s game. Between the Harvard stats and the Yale talent, there will be plenty of excitement. Yet with all of the statistics on the line, The Game will come down, as it always does, to a sole intangible: pride.