We can’t be losing to Harvard like this. Not this badly. Not five years in a row.
We had our hopes up this year, too. Maybe we had an excuse to lose last year. Harvard did go undefeated, and Ryan Fitzpatrick was good enough that he is now busy winning games for the Rams. And “The Prank” did make it hurt a little less. After all, ’06ers like me knew Old Blue would get another shot at it, at home, our senior year.
Ask any senior, and they’ll tell you: We thought this year was going to be when we turned it all around. This time was going to be different. It was our senior year, so we let ourselves believe it could happen. The Yale Bowl was packed with the biggest college football crowd in the Northeast all season. And then there was the beautiful, sublime score: 21-3. We were winning by 18 points. Eighteen points in the third quarter.
Anyone who rooted for the Red Sox before last year knows that if you throw all your hopes into a team, you’re liable to get burned. In the back of every cautious fan’s mind there’s always that nagging doubt, even when you’re one strike away from that title — even when you’re leading by 18. The cautious fans always keep in the back of their minds that it’s not over until it’s over, that somehow we could find a way to lose. That’s why no one popped the champagne before Foulke recorded that final out last October.
But on Nov. 19, we seniors lost hold of that caution. We had seen the ups and down, and we weren’t going to be left like ’05: winless, crying into our beers. Lehigh had scored 22 unanswered points on us just over a month before, but we seniors knew that wasn’t going to happen again. Yale was going to win The Game, and everything was going to be alright.
Then Aaron Boone hit that home run. Then Norwood’s kick went wide right. Then there was the tuck rule. Then there was Buckner.
Then Harvard, impossibly, unbelievably, crushingly came back.
A four-hour game seems even longer when you can see your team coming apart at the seams. Anyone who was there can tell you that watching Yale lose was pure agony. I can only imagine how awful, how frustrating, how personally devastating it must have been for the players. Harvard scored 27 — count ’em — 27 unanswered points in the second half and overtime.
That wasn’t even the worst of it. This was just bad football. Turnover after turnover, screw-up after screw-up, and not just on our side of the ball, either. The 2005 Harvard squad was nothing like the team that clobbered us in Cambridge last year. This was a bad football team we lost to, a team that made dozens of mistakes that should have been fatal. We still lost.
I have thought a lot about Jack Siedlecki’s part in this. It’s obvious that the problem with Yale football over the past five years has not been lack of talent. Cowan, Plumb, Wright, Walland — the list of record-breakers goes on and on. The Yale recruiting machine, which Siedlecki runs, is really working wonders. Yale’s players can score, they can play defense, and they can even play well on special teams. They prove it in the first half of almost every game.
But a coach’s job goes beyond bringing in great players. A great coach has to condition his players, train his players, and, most importantly, take the excuses away from his players. He has to create a team that can play a full 60 minutes of football. Anyone who follows Yale football knows that this is a team that has been consistently and cripplingly unable to perform in the second half. This is not a talent issue — it’s an issue of conditioning and training, mental and physical. And it’s an issue of stupid, formulaic and utterly predictable play-calling that even Harvard’s defense could anticipate after seeing it for 30 minutes. The blame has to lie with Siedlecki.
It’s not just Harvard that has beaten us five years running. Penn has dominated us, too. And don’t let all the talk about HYP fool you — the Ivy League title matters, because if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best. Harvard is not the best team in the league, Brown is. A winning league record is another load of P.R.-alumni hype. 4-3 is not impressive when you remember that one of those victories was over the bad high school team that pretended to be the Columbia Lions this season, one was a thrashing of 1-6 Dartmouth, and another was a straight-out gift from Princeton. Sure, we beat Cornell, but we did not win a single non-league game. We couldn’t even beat San Diego, the patsy we set up as a warmup for the “real” season.
What are Coach Siedlecki’s halftime talks like? “We’re going to run it up the middle and punt a lot, and hope for the best”? “Don’t worry, the defense can do all the work”? “Just give them the ball — I’m sure we can stop them”? The cliche is that anything can happen in the Ivy League, but no one blows games like Yale.
We can’t even win when the other team is practically asking us to. The worst of this year’s problems was that we could not take advantage of Harvard’s mistakes. It was unbelievable that after so many mistakes we still got another chance in overtime when the Cantabs missed a field goal and then we stopped them on the next drive. But with three chances from the 25-yard line, the Yale offense could not record a single point. We couldn’t even hold on to the ball.
A relevant anecdote: My uncle was a great soccer player, for Staples High School in Westport, Conn., for Penn, and then for the Cosmos of the North American Soccer League. The man played with Pele. Steve Baumann is a great, smart man. But when he came back to Penn to coach, the Quakers did not win. He went 29-51-10, and then he was gone. No one at Penn was going to be okay with mediocrity, not even from an alumnus.
Coach Siedlecki’s record isn’t close to as bad as 29-51-10, and he has a title under his belt, something my uncle never had. But football is Yale’s flagship sport. We just can’t be losing to Harvard like this. Harvard sucks, remember? So people are saying Sid should go.
The sad part for Sid is that if one thing had gone differently, we would have won, and the turnovers and the second-half collapses and the losing record and the four-year drought and the stupid play-calling wouldn’t have mattered. No one would be writing nasty articles in the student newspaper. But we didn’t win. We lost. The seniors, the players, the alumni — everyone is pissed.
In 1993, Theo Epstein wrote a front-page article for the Yale-Harvard football issue asking, “Is it Time for Carm to Go?” But Carm Cozza, the winningest coach in Ivy League history, stayed on, and the next year the Bulldogs won The Game.
Now I am no Theo Epstein, and this isn’t the front page. I don’t think I could coach a football team half as well as Bob Shoop, let alone Jack Siedlecki. But I am sure of one thing. Nothing would make me happier than coming back next November and, after watching 60 minutes of great football, seeing a Gatorade-drenched Sid standing on the sidelines.
Win it again, Sid. Then all is forgiven.
Nick Baumann is a senior in Morse College and a former Sports Editor for the News. His column on Ivy League and Yale sports appears on Wednesdays.