Back in 1952, Yale pummeled Harvard so badly that the Bulldogs reversed Harvard’s score, had no need to score in the fourth quarter, and even inserted the team’s manager into the lineup.
The 41-14 victory marked the largest point difference in The Game since 1884. And the final point was scored by Charlie Yeager, the team’s 5-foot-5-inch, 137-pound manager.
In a move still considered controversial by many players and spectators from the game, head coach Jordan Olivar called on Yeager in the third quarter to convert an extra point.
Back then, conversions after touchdowns always counted for a point — whether they were scored by kicking, running or passing.
“Our football coach at the time was Jordan Olivar, who in my opinion was a true gentleman — this just didn’t seem his style,” said Yale quarterback Ed Molloy ’54, who threw the infamous pass to Yeager.
On the 50th anniversary of the play, members of the Harvard community still angrily remember the event. Just last week, former Cambridge mayor Francis Duehay, from Harvard’s Class of 1955, called the event “inexcusable.”
“The diminutive Yale manager rubbed salt, pure unadulterated salt into Harvard wounds when he caught a Molloy flip for the Blue 41st point,” the Yale Daily News wrote on Nov. 24, 1952, in the Monday edition following The Game.
But Yale sources and Yeager himself insist that no poor sportsmanship was intended. The act helped to solidify Harvard’s football program in the play’s aftermath, preserving the Yale-Harvard rivalry for years to come.
Everyday before practice in the autumn of 1952, Yeager, who stands dwarfed in his coat and tie in the 1952 team picture, was known for asking Yale assistant coach Angelo Bertelli, the 1943 Heisman Trophy quarterback from Notre Dame, to throw him passes for fun. Olivar promised Yeager the chance to catch a pass in a game if an opportunity arose.
“About a week or 10 days before the game — we’d be on the field for practice at about 4 o’clock, and the coach instructed me to take hold the ball and roll out to the right end — Then Charlie Yeager played the position. We thought that was cool,” Molloy said.
At halftime in 1952, Yale was leading Harvard 27-7. Olivar told Yeager to put on a uniform. Molloy sealed the win with a 57-yard touchdown pass to Ed Woodsum ’53, bringing Yeager into the game.
“I was in the huddle about to call the point, and I look over and I see Charlie Yeager, running across the field in full uniform, number 99,” Molloy said.
During the play, Yeager was slow in his pattern, knocked down by a Harvard defender. By the time Molloy spotted Yeager in the Harvard end zone, the play was falling apart. But with a deft flip, Yeager was cemented as part of Yale-Harvard history.
“I realized later that Charlie was lined up against the Harvard captain, at about 230 pounds, and he was not a happy captain,” Molloy said.
Yeager, already in the end zone, began running with the ball. In a post-game interview, Yeager said, “I had to get out of there so I wouldn’t get hit. Do you think I wanted to get killed?”
The team’s roster did not list a player with the number 99, confusing the press box. But when the secret was revealed, Bulldog fans were thrilled and Crimson fans crushed.
“They didn’t know at the time what had happened, but what happened was that one of the announcers — said, ‘Gosh, number 99 is not on the roster,’ went down the stairs and then discovered it was the Yale manager who scored that, and that’s how [spectators] found out, and that was humiliating to the Harvard fans,” said Bob Parcells ’53, Yale’s placekicker who stepped aside to give Yeager a chance to play.
Other Bulldogs also set records in the game. Woodsum finished the game with 17 touchdowns for his college career, breaking the team’s old record of 14 held by Larry Kelley ’37. Molloy’s nine completed game passes set a new Ivy Group record of 93 completions for a season. The Ivy League did not form until February 1954.
Once dwarfed in team pictures, Yeager earned a special honor at the end of the season, alongside team captain Joe Mitinger ’53.
“The Yale fence where the pictures are taken — that’s really reserved for captains of teams — and [Yeager] was unique in that he had his picture taken solo on the fence,” Parcells said.