Six years ago, the Yale football team entered Harvard Stadium hoping to end a five-game losing streak against the Crimson and reinvigorate a program at a crossroads.
On Nov. 18, 2006, the Elis knocked off Harvard by a score of 34–13, behind a three-touchdown performance by running back Mike McLeod ’09 and a stout defense that allowed just 218 total yards and forced four turnovers. Members of the winning team cited the weight of the rivalry and the potential for an Ivy League championship as motivations behind Yale’s only victory over Harvard in the last 11 years.
After another five-year drought and multiple scandals, the 2012 Yale football team may face an even greater challenge. With a 1–5 Ivy record — the league’s worst — Yale will not have a chance at the league title this time around. But despite the program’s recent setbacks and Harvard’s five-year dominance of The Game, all former Yale football players interviewed emphasized their desire to see the Elis top the Crimson.
“This group of seniors has really been through a lot. I know that they’re tough kids. I’m just hopeful that they can come out and end the season on a good note,” said Kirk Porter ’08, a former starter on the defensive line.
In the past year, the Yale football team has seen its coach resign due to a fradulent claim on his resume, its quarterback accused of sexual assault and denied the chance for a Rhodes Scholarship and its captaincy vacated after a nightclub fight.
While the 2006 team did not face such public scandals, the program found itself at a potential turning point entering The Game. The Bulldogs had suffered a tough loss the previous week to a talented Princeton team that outscored Yale 20–3 in the second half to win 34–31, ending Yale’s hopes of winning the Ivy League title outright. Still, the chance of winning a share of the championship remained. All the Elis had to do was beat Harvard the next week, a feat that had not been achieved since 2000.
In the week leading up to The Game, head coach Jack Siedlecki and his staff made significant strategic changes to address the weaknesses exploited by Princeton the previous week. Porter said the change caught Harvard off guard, giving the Elis a schematic advantage.
The Elis played a complete game in Cambridge, dominating all three phases of the game. Yale never trailed in the contest, taking a commanding 20–7 lead into a fourth quarter that saw two more Bulldog touchdowns, including Steven Santoro’s ’09 38-yard fumble return, which secured the victory.
“We just kept on rolling and putting up points and kept stopping them. It was one of those games that was in our favor from the beginning, and we rode that wave,” said Matt Polhemus ’08, Yale’s starting quarterback during the 2006 and 2007 seasons.
Once the clock ran out, students in the crowd rushed onto Harvard’s field to join the team in celebrating the victory, and in turn, the championship.
Brandt Hollander ’08, captain of the 2007 team, called the postgame festivities “really gratifying” and added that he is hopeful this year’s team will get to experience something similar on Saturday.
“To beat them at their place was awesome. They literally had to remove me from the field. I had a bottle of champagne and a cigar on the field. I was going to soak up every last second of that,” said Chandler Henley ’07, then a fifth-year senior captain and wide receiver. “It’s the closest thing we’re ever going to get to a bowl game.”
Yale currently leads the series against Harvard by 10 games.