In January, at his first press conference as Yale’s head football coach, Tom Williams welcomed reporters to “a new era of Yale football.” He said he had two main goals for the year: To win the Ivy League championship and to beat Harvard.
Well, here we are. It goes without saying that the Ivy League crown is out of reach. The question now is whether Williams and his team can beat the odds and pummel the hated Crimson on Saturday.
If Yale does win, it will be the first Bulldog victory over Harvard at the Yale Bowl since 1999 and it will be welcome revenge for last year’s frigid 10–0 loss.
If Yale does not win, though, it will be too soon to make any serious judgments about Williams and his program.
This season has obviously not lived up to anybody’s expectations. The Bulldogs may end the campaign with a losing record for the first time in four years and some of the team’s best players are battling injuries. The team’s offense struggled to score points all season and the defense, especially in recent games against Brown and Princeton, has not fared much better.
All of this is frustrating, but it says less about Williams than one might think. He does not have a single class of his own recruits on the team, he took over a squad that had lost two of its best players, Bobby Abare ’09 and Mike McLeod ’09, and his primary quarterback is new to the school.
Williams has not made any major mistakes this season. There have not been significant play-calling errors this year — unlike in the past — and the team has for the most part avoided disciplinary issues. Williams has instituted some sound new policies, such as morning practices, that make sense for a school that produces not just athletes but scholar-athletes.
It has indeed been a season of adjustment, with a new system and new coaches and new play schemes. Over the next three years, as Williams begins to recruit his own players and as his staff gets more comfortable at Yale, we will expect better results. Ideally, his tenure at Yale will be as successful as Jim Harbaugh’s has been at Stanford. (It’s not lost on us that Williams probably does want the Stanford job, but the good news is that he will have to win at Yale to earn that post.)
For now, let’s hope the Bulldogs pull off an upset and win tomorrow. Let’s remember that we were once the favorites; that Harvard lost in 2006 and was expected to fall again in 2007, a year in which the Bulldogs were defeated 37–6 in one of the team’s worst losses ever. Let’s hope that this is the year in which Yale will “turn The Game back into a rivalry,” as Williams put it in January.
But let’s also remember that The Game is about more than just the game. It’s about the bands trying to best each other, about T-shirts and pranks that remind us all how clever or not clever we can be, about filling the Yale Bowl and about always remembering that the Cantabs have nothing on the Elis.
If we can’t prove that on the football field this year, we won’t despair. There’s always next year.