The Elis who broke the 0–3 streak

Trust in your teammates, trust in yourself, and play with all your heart — those, say alumni of the Yale teams of 1967, 1998 and 2006, are the keys to breaking long losing streaks against Harvard. And they have the results to back it up, for these teams did just that.

If the Yale football class of 2011 is to graduate with a win over Harvard under its belt, those are what Yale must possess to win on Saturday. According to four seniors on the team, the Bulldogs do have what it takes to win; it’s just a matter of putting together the pieces for the right game at the right time.

In the 127-year history of The Game, Yale has lost to Harvard four years in a row twice, 1912-’15 and 1919-’22, and five years in a row once, 2001-’05. This year’s Bulldogs do not want to be a figure on this list.

November 25, 1967

The Bulldogs were already Ivy League Champions, and for any other team, an extra victory would just be the icing on the cake. Yet in the Harvard-Yale rivalry, The Game is everything. With just under three minutes left, Harvard took the lead, 17–20. Only 20 minutes earlier, the Elis had had a 17–0 lead. But Yale was not about to bow out with a loss.

Among other reasons, the packed Yale Bowl of 68,000 fans had its hopes placed on one man who always delivered — quarterback Brian Dowling ’69.

“Dowling was a demi-god,” teammate and end Del Marting ’69 said. “He really had an aura about him on campus. In those days he really was a hero.”

Dowling said he hadn’t played particularly well that game. A Dec. 4, 1967 Sports Illustrated article, “Blue Power Wins a Bowl Game” chronicled how in five tries Dowling threw no completions and two interceptions. In the second quarter, he was trapped on Yale’s 47-yard line.

But the Elis said they knew Dowling would come through; he always did.

“We had a lot of confidence in Brian to make a play when he had to,” Marting said.

Dowling did deliver.

“I think two guys went with Calvin [Hill] and Del was wide open,” Dowling said. “I just threw it up, it was like a punt. It all happened quickly so the stress of running a two-minute offense wasn’t really there.”

Marting’s touchdown clinched what he described as one of the biggest moments of his football career.

And while Dowling clearly energized the crowd, Marting said the key to victory was a sense of team unity and everyone doing his piece of the play. Marting said each of his teammates knew the other Elis were not going to let him down.

“If you do that, it’s greater than 11 guys playing on the field. It’s a multiple of 11.”

Despite a career in the NFL, Dowling said The Game of 1967 remains among the most important he has ever played. He added that the Harvard-Yale rivalry is the “ultimate competition.”

November 21, 1998

Thirty-one editions of The Game had passed before a class of Bulldog seniors again risked a winless career against Harvard.

Just like their 1967 counterparts, the Bulldogs of ’98 had a late fourth quarter rally to beat the Crimson by a narrow margin, two points, at Harvard Stadium, 9–7. And while the senior Bulldogs did not face a crowd of 68,000 in the Yale Bowl, captain and defensive lineman Corwynne Carruthers ’99 said that the thought of becoming the first class in recent Yale history to lose four games in a row to Harvard weighed heavily on the team’s mind.

“It’s obviously a big deal for the seniors. You don’t want to go down in the history books at Yale as a senior class that didn’t defeat Harvard,” quarterback Joe Walland ’00 said.

Walland described The Game of 1998 as a “defensive battle.” Although Yale scored first in the game, the Bulldogs missed the extra point on the touchdown. Luckily for Yale, Walland said, the defense caused a turnover late in the game with Harvard ahead 7–6. Yale’s Mike Murawczyk ’01, an All New-England kicker, kicked a 30-yard field goal with just three minutes left for Yale to take home a victory.

“It was a pretty suspenseful afternoon, especially for the fans,” Walland said.

Leading up to The Game, Carruthers said the ’98 season had already shown a marked improvement over his prior three years on the team, and Yale held the second place position in the Ivy League heading into The Game.

With a 2–8 record for the 1997 season, the Elis used 1998 as a year to bounce back. Like the 2010 team, the 1998 team was led by a coach in his second year, Jack Siedlecki.

Walland said not only had the team gotten used to Siedlecki’s coaching style, but the team’s attitude was improved markedly by Corruthers’ leadership.

“Winning the Harvard game in 1998 was kind of like the momentum builder going into the ’99 season, when we ended up winning the Ivy championship,” Walland said.

November 18, 2006

Most recently, the Bulldogs of 2006 broke the longest Yale losing streak in the history of The Game — five years.

After losing to Harvard, 24–30, in triple overtime on home turf, the Bulldogs were more than a little hungry for victory against the Crimson in 2006.

Quarterback Matt Polhemus ’08 said the difference between the previous years’ teams and the roster of ’06 was the camaraderie.

“Every guy on that field is not thinking about himself, his glory, his success: he’s thinking about the ten guys next to him, and the pride of the entire institution and 125 years of history on the line,” cornerback Casey Gerald ’09 said. “That’s something you’ll see on the field in a Harvard-Yale game when Yale is coming off a loss against Harvard. That game is about so much that losing puts a taste in your mouth that you can’t get rid of until you win, and you can’t get rid of it by yourself.”

Captain and wide receiver Chandler Henley ’07 said a loss to Princeton the week before and the chance to share the Ivy League title meant the Harvard game had a lot riding on it.

He added that while the team had suffered a string of losses against Harvard, the younger players on the team helped the Elis move beyond the mediocrity of years past and just focus on winning.

Tom Mante ’10 was one of those “younger players.”

“It’s kind of funny,” Mante said. “We had been losing to [Harvard] for the past couple of years … but I never got the sense we were the underdogs. We were 7–2 heading into The Game.”

Even though Mante said that no one thought the team had a legitimate chance, the Elis dominated the Crimson, winning 34–13.

Gerald said one play in particular, a blocked punt, was symbolic of the entire game. He said the performance of special teams comes down to hunger, and you can always tell one team is hungrier than the other team when there’s a huge special teams play.

Gerald added if the Bulldogs play like that on Saturday, it will be clear that they really want a win on a day which Gerald said “has the magnitude of the birth of your child or your wedding.”

November 2010

The teams of 1967, 1998 and 2006 all have striking similarities to the Bulldogs of 2010. The team has a newfound sense of unity, a talented crop of younger players, a strong, 7–2 record, and the ability to come out ahead in close games.

Cornerback Chris Stanley ’11, said the new coaching staff has a lot to do with this new team dynamic.

“They’re a younger bunch, and they have a history together,” captain Tom McCarthy ’11 said. “They’re good coaches and best friends.”

Wide receiver Gio Christodoulou ’11 said the strong dynamic among the coaches has transferred to the team.

Defensive end Sean Williams ’11 said the older guys on the team made fast friends with its newest members this year, enabling the Bulldogs to monopolize on fresh talent. Williams cited offensive lineman Wes Gavin ’14 as an example of a freshman who has made an immediate impact for the Elis.

“Wes was able to play right away,” Williams said. “You need all 11 guys able to work together as a unit. Having the older guys able to trust the younger guys really helps.”

Looking ahead to Saturday, Stanley said the difference between wining and losing will be mental. The senior cornerback said that some of the team’s wins this season have been too close for comfort because of self-induced mistakes.

Yet McCarthy, Williams, Stanley and Christodoulou are confident Yale has what it takes to take on Harvard.

“No matter what they throw at us or what problems arise, we will be able to react and turn situations to our advantage,” Williams said.

McCarthy and Williams said the team’s desire for a win comes more from within the team than external pressure from the student body. Williams said each player has to fight for his starting position every day, which raises the expectations for each player of himself. He said after “getting our tails kicked the last few years,” the team is eager to come out on top.

“[A victory] would be a great cap to me and all the rest of the seniors on the team,” McCarthy said. “The four years here are pretty demanding when you’re on the football team. We’ve put so much time, energy and effort into this.”

From the alumni perspective, Walland added that a victory or a loss in The Game is something that stays with you for the rest of your life.

Defensive lineman Brandt Hollander ’08 advised that the Elis have to keep in mind that while circumstances were different in The Game with more alumni and family members present than usual, the team should focus on doing what it had done all season.

The Bulldogs have already heeded Hollander’s advice. McCarthy said every week the Bulldogs train for a win on Saturday, and they don’t approach the final few games any differently.

What will be different, however, is the feeling of walking off the field representing Yale for the final time.

“It’s like a coming of age thing,” Stanley said. “I’ve done football every fall season for the last ten years of my life. I knew at some point my career would end. I couldn’t imagine better case than the Harvard-Yale game on Saturday afternoon.”

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