Not everyone gets to attend the school with the most national championships in college football.
But we Yalies do. Even though it’s been almost 80 years since the last one, the Bulldogs’ 18 titles still lead all schools. Today, the Elis play Division I-AA football, but Yale athletes still win Division I national titles in other sports. Recently, it’s been squash, crew and sailing bringing home the national championships, but the men’s soccer, women’s soccer, women’s lacrosse, volleyball and field hockey teams have all played in NCAA postseason tournaments in the past four years.
But it is still a football game that remains the touchstone for all Yale sports. Every year, Yale and Harvard face off in what is simply known as “The Game,” continuing one of the most storied rivalries in sports. Think Ivy League sports don’t matter? Tell that to the tens of thousands of fans who flock to Cambridge or New Haven on alternate years to participate in the weekend of rivalry and revelry that surrounds The Game.
Ivy League sports produce some intense fans and deep-seated hatreds, but no rivalry is as bitter as Yale-Harvard. The Cantabs may suck, but they do something for us that no one else could — they make us care, truly and deeply, about Yale sports. In every sport, from fencing to ice hockey, the best Yale athletes prove their mettle by showing that they can play their best against Harvard.
When Yale beat Harvard in women’s hockey for the first time in 20 years last winter, the result — and All-American goalie Sarah Love’s ’06 48-save performance — made The New York Times. But any win over the Crimson, on the field, the ice, or the basketball court, makes for a raucous celebration in New Haven that evening, Times story or not.
Alumni across the country really care that Yale has lost The Game for the past five years, and the outcome of this November’s contest will make a difference to them — and to us. The Yale-Harvard rivalry is one of the things that makes Yale sports matter.
But the rivalry with Harvard is not the only reason why Yale sports matter. Sports at Yale also matter for many of the same reasons they do at the University of North Carolina and the University of Southern California. We have good teams, but you just have to know where to look. Payne Whitney Gymnasium may not be home to a national basketball powerhouse, but it does host some of the best squash in the world, and faceoffs of epic proportions occur almost yearly on Yale’s soccer fields.
The men’s soccer team fell in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in 2005, but the women’s team advanced to the round of 16. The Bulldogs pulled off one of the greatest upsets in NCAA tournament history, scoring the go-ahead goal as time expired and upsetting third-seeded Duke. The game was so good it was featured on ESPN.com, and head coach Rudy Meredith’s team has emerged as one of the premiere destinations for women’s soccer recruits in the Northeast.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about Yale sports is the number of incredibly talented athletes here. Fencer Sada Jacobsen ’07 won the bronze medal at the Athens Olympics. Helen Resor ’06 won a silver with the U.S. women’s hockey team just months ago in Torino. Michelle Quibell ’06, Molly Carapiet ’06 and Julian Illingworth ’06 have all won individual national championships in their sports in the past four years. Various Yale soccer, baseball, basketball, and football players have gone on to play professional sports. But even the non-Olympians and the players without national championships or pro deals can be great. Love is one of the best goaltenders in Ivy League history. Stu McNay ’05 is among the most talented sailors in the Yale Corinthian Yacht Club’s 125-year history. And Brandon Wai ’07 makes shots every weekend on the Yale courts that even some pros would envy.
The great thing about sports on any level is that their appeal is universal. The crowds might not be as big, and the press not as rabid, but the passion and effort that Yale athletes put into their seasons is unmatched. It’s that passion — whether you see it at a Yale-Harvard rivalry game, in a crucial contest for a national contender, or in a single athlete’s standout performance — that makes watching Yale sports so great. It has been a blast for us, and we can only hope that the experience will be just as rewarding for you.