Twenty-six national championships, 13 Ivy League titles and over 800 wins in school history. Despite the immensely rich history of Yale’s football program, even the most devoted Eli fan may need a refresher from time to time, considering the school’s recent lack of trophy production.
The Bulldogs have not recorded an Ivy League title since the 1990s, and, as their 1989 and 1999 championships were shared, have not finished a season alone at the top of the Ancient Eight since 1980. After dropping five straight games to archrival Harvard — and another five straight to Penn before this weekend’s liberating victory — Yale followers may have had good reason to believe that Ancient Eight success was a thing of the past.
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Enter the 2006 Bulldogs. While being blown out in their home opener may have spelled disaster for the entire season of many teams, this year’s squad has taken it upon itself to grow and improve each week, running off an impressive string of five consecutive wins. The relatively young team seems to mature in each outing and has put Yale in the much sought-after position it has not been in since 1989: Undefeated through three games in the Ivy League.
“I couldn’t be happier to be a part of this team. Everyone is making plays and we are really having fun,” captain wideout Chandler Henley ’07 said. “I came back for an experience like this and I’m so thankful for the guys on this team. I just want to continue enjoying this incredible experience of playing ball for the last couple weeks I ever will.”
But with each success the Bulldogs encounter early in the season, the expectations for the team seem to increase exponentially. Eli fans have not had the opportunity to witness so many back-to-back clutch last-minute performances in recent memory, and through the recent run, the team has set the bar high. Players said they are not bothered by the added pressure, but rather view it as a welcome challenge.
“I don’t think it’s going to be difficult for us to stay focused,” All-American offensive tackle Ed McCarthy ’07 said. “I know, at least in my case, that not being successful as a team for the past three years has really made me appreciate how lucky am I am to be on a team that’s winning. I don’t think that anyone is taking our success for granted.”
With the team atop the Ancient Eight standings as Halloween approaches, it is easy to start having initial dreams about the first meaningful Princeton-Yale and Harvard-Yale matchups in years come mid-November. But one must remember that, in fact, more than half of the Ivy season remains to be played, with two games before those sure-to-be heated battles with Yale’s oldest rivals. The pollsters still seem to think that Yale is the weakest entry of the Big Three, with Princeton and Harvard finishing 13 and six spots, respectively, ahead of the Bulldogs in Monday’s Division I-AA rankings. And before they even take the field against the Tigers and Cantabs, the Elis will have to face off against defending Ivy League champion Brown, a dangerous team with something to prove after being dismissed as a title contender this year.
“My philosophy for the season never changes: This week’s game is our total focus,” Yale head coach Jack Siedlecki said. “We must prepare well, practice well and play at a high level on Saturday. This team is winning because we are taking care of business on a daily basis.”
No matter what the outcome of this season, the team nevertheless has sparked a palpable buzz on campus and, with three wins already under its belt, is well on its way to accomplishing vastly more than pre-season critics believed it could.
In the end, 2006 Ivy League title or not, Yale still has those 26 National Championships — 15 more than any other school in the nation.