For most seniors by this point, those essays are in and life feels pretty good right now. Sure, most of us have a few more papers and tests to take care of in the next couple weeks, but this is the last week of classes in our Yale careers, and for many of us, the last few days of our formal educational lives.
For centuries, enough people have talked about how daunting life after school will be. We all know it’s going to be challenging and exciting and a little scary, so I’m not going to talk about that.
Instead, I’m going to look back at some of the great moments in Yale sports over the last four years and what our time will come to represent long after we’re off into the world.
I haven’t sat down and done the math, but I would guess that these four years did not see Yale win more Ivy League titles than in any other four-year period. But it was a vital time for building Yale athletics into the “Champion of Champions” that Athletic Director Tom Beckett envisioned when he took the job seven years ago this month.
These past four years saw Yale athletics get a much needed facelift. From the Lanman Center to Johnson Field to the varsity weight room to the new softball stadium to the sparkling boathouse, the athletic department has created an environment more conducive to Yale becoming “Champion of Champions” in the Ivy League.
With these facilities in place, coupled with the improved relations between admissions and athletics, more success should be just around the corner. And as Jack Siedlecki and his staff have been proving in a short amount of time, winning goes a long way in successful recruiting and establishing a team as a perennial contender for an Ivy title.
This is all wonderful for Yale, the institution, but unless you plan to keep a close eye on Yale sports in the coming years, it’s all pretty irrelevant to you.
With that in mind, let’s take a look back at some of the great moments we’ve witnessed as Yale fans over the last four years.
There have certainly been a lot of memorable moments, and everyone has their own favorites (we’ll get to my top three in a moment). Football fans will never forget Eric Johnson ’01 making a juggling catch in the back of the end zone at Harvard this past year.
Personally, I’ll always keep with me the memory of Mike Murawczyk ’01 nailing what turned out to be the game-winning field goal in that game. After all the struggles that Murawczyk endured the whole season, it was great to see him come up with such a big kick to all but clinch Yale’s third straight win over Harvard.
Basketball fans fondly remember two upsets of Princeton on the Lee Amphitheater floor, including a thrilling overtime affair Feb. 12, 1999.
Over at Ingalls Rink, the 1997-98 season was like one long highlight, but the ECAC quarterfinal series against St. Lawrence will stay with everyone who was there. On consecutive nights, Yale earned ties with St. Lawrence thanks to miracle goals by Ray Giroux ’98 and Jay Quenville ’00 with Yale’s net empty. In the deciding game the Bulldogs put away the upstart Saints 4-1 to move onto Lake Placid, ending one of the most exciting weekends in Yale hockey history.
To go on listing all the memorable moments of the last four years would take up more space than I’m allotted, so I’ll just cut to the chase and go to my top three.
I didn’t have to think too long or hard about this because these three moments were pretty clear-cut in my mind based on the following criteria. First, I had to have been at the game to include it on my list (which eliminated the basketball wins over Princeton — I was busy watching the hockey team lose to Harvard both times). Second, the moment had to have historical significance, in a Yale sports sense.
I basically defined “historical significance” as leading to a championship or postseason win of some kind. So while Jake Borden ’00 reeling in the Hail Mary from Joe Walland ’00 against Brown in 1998 was memorable and ended up signaling the re-emergence of Yale on the Ivy football scene, the game was not independently special like the three on my list.
So here they are, in ascending order — the best Yale sports moments (that I witnessed) from September 1997 until April 16, 2001.
No. 3 — Nov. 20, 1999
Piscataway, New Jersey
NCAA men’s soccer tournament
Yale at Rutgers
Since this was the same day as the Harvard football game, not many students made the trip to rainy Rutgers to see the Yale men’s soccer team in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1991.
It was Yale’s fifth appearance in the NCAA tournament, and as the underdogs in the first round, the Bulldogs had to face Big East tournament champion Rutgers at Yurcak Field in Piscataway.
Rutgers prided itself on its defensive prowess, and the Scarlet Knights indeed held the high-scoring Bulldogs off the board through regulation. But the Yale defense, anchored by goalkeeper Danny Moss ’01, shut Rutgers out through 90 minutes as well.
As the teams headed to sudden-death overtime, the Bulldogs started to take over, peppering the Rutgers goal with shots. But through the first overtime, the Brian Tompkins crew still could not get the elusive winning goal. Meanwhile, Rutgers could not even manage a shot.
Just 21 seconds into the second overtime, however, the game turned. Reserve forward John Walker ’03, just into the game, drew a foul for which the referee awarded the Bulldogs a penalty shot.
The moment: Jac Gould ’00, the man who scored more goals than anyone in Yale history, calmly strode to the ball and struck it into the Rutgers net, touching off a wild rain-soaked celebration as the Bulldogs moved on in the NCAA tournament.
No. 2 — Nov. 20, 1999
New Haven, Connecticut
Ivy League football
Harvard at Yale
Yes, this game was the very same day as the soccer team’s upset of Rutgers, and significantly more fans saw this one (52,484, to be exact).
So much was on the line in this game. Most important was the chance to realize the team’s annual goals — beat Harvard and win the Ivy title.
Early on in the game, the prospects of achieving those goals looked slim. The Harvard defense was shutting down Rashad Bartholomew ’01 and the Yale running game while Walland looked shaky at quarterback (it was only after the game that most people learned that Walland had spent the night in the infirmary with a temperature of 103 degrees).
Trailing 14-3 in the third quarter, Jack Siedlecki decided to scrap the running game and focus on the short passing game out of the shotgun. Did the tactic work? Well, you tell me: Walland threw for 437 yards and three touchdowns, setting school records for completions, attempts and passing yards in a game. At wide receiver, Eric Johnson reeled in 21 passes for 244 yards, both of which were school records.
Still the game was in doubt in the final minute while the Bulldogs drove down the field, trailing 21-17.
The moment: On third down from the four-yard line, Walland dropped back to pass, looking over the middle for Johnson. He unfurled a pass that was tipped at the line of scrimmage, slightly altering its initial trajectory. Johnson recovered, diving for the ball in the end zone. The Harvard players and coaches clamored for a call of incomplete, but the officials thought otherwise — Yale touchdown, victory over Harvard and Ivy League championship.
No. 1 — March 7, 1998
Troy, New York
ECAC men’s ice hockey
Yale at Rensselaer
It was the last day of the ECAC regular season, and Yale stood atop the conference standings by just one point over Clarkson to clinch an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Yale had never won an ECAC crown and had not gone to the postseason since 1952.
Since Yale started playing in the ECAC in 1961, its team had never before been in a situation like this.
As if there weren’t already enough pressure on this game, Clarkson went out and won its afternoon game to leapfrog into first in the ECAC standings before Yale and RPI even faced off. Plus, without the regular season crown, the Elis were not assured of making the NCAA tournament, despite their miracle season.
With defensemen Daryl Jones ’98 and Jeff Glew ’98 out of the lineup, Tim Taylor had to turn to inexperienced players Joe Dart ’01 and Jim Morrissey ’99 to fill out the defensive corps.
Like every other move that Taylor made that year, it worked and the Bulldogs allowed just one goal all game. All-American Jeff Hamilton ’01 gave Yale a 2-1 lead with five minutes to go in the second period, and Yale fans held their breath for 25 more minutes of playing time.
Alex Westlund ’99 and the defense held the lead but the offense could not muster an insurance goal as the clock ticked down to the final minute. RPI pulled goaltender Scott Prekaski for an extra skater, but to no avail.
The moment: Matt Cumming ’98 took a pass from Jeff Brow ’00 up the left boards and fired the puck into the empty net with 34 seconds left to clinch the victory and the ECAC title. Bedlam ensued.
Yale, picked to finish 10th in the ECAC that year, had finished in the top three in the conference standings only once and hadn’t cracked the top 10 in five years. Yet here were these Bulldogs, led by the eventual national coach of the year and three All-Americans, shocking the college hockey world.
All of these moments have enriched our college experiences, brought us together, made us proud. And nobody in attendance at any of these games will ever forget them.