“Yo Bill Belichick: I’m really happy for you, and Imma let you finish, but Yale coach Tom Williams made the worst call of all time!”
Most of us who went to The Game (the ones who didn’t, immediately suppress the memory) know what happened at the end. On fourth down with 22 yards to go on his team’s own 25-yard line, Yale coach Tom Williams decided to go for it. Maybe he misread the down and distance as second-and-4. Maybe he heard that New England Patriots’ coach Belichick actually made a good decision to go for it on fourth-and-2 against the Indianapolis Colts a couple of weeks ago, and thought 22 yards was pretty close to two. Regardless, his decision did not pass the Madden test: If you would not make a certain decision in the video game Madden NFL, then you should definitely not make that same decision in a real game.
I do echo the News’ belief that we should preach patience with a new coach — one that has not yet had a chance to recruit his own players and needs time to institute his own system (“Looking beyond The Game,” Nov. 20). But his decision-making gives me pause. The editorial tragically prefigured what was to happen by writing before the Game that “there have not been significant play-calling errors this year.”
Belichick’s decision to go for it on fourth-and-2 instead of punting with the lead on his own side of the 50-yard line, although flying in the face of conventional football wisdom, was at worst a 50-50 coin flip in terms of winning the game. However, the chances of stopping the Crimson after deploying your all-Ivy League punter who had been averaging 50 yards a punt that day, or at least holding them to a field goal and sending the game to overtime, were over 50 if not 75 percent, especially since the Yale defense had previously held the Crimson scoreless for the better part of three-and-a-half quarters. However, the chances of converting fourth-and-over-20 were likely well under 5 percent. However you want to quibble with the percentages, Coach Williams flatly made a horrific, historically-bad decision that cost his team the game. And if in fact the reports are true that the play was called due to a miscommunication, then it is unconscionable for a head coach to allow such a miscommunication to occur.
The more worrisome aspect is the effect this game has on Yale’s sports spirit. Winning in the big two college sports of basketball and football has the power to galvanize a campus in a way that other things such as a squash championship or a pair of Rhodes scholarships just can’t do. Nobody likes having the idiotic decision your coach made as the only mention of your college’s sports on Sportscenter or your Facebook wall. And although not many want to admit it, it irks Yalies to have lost to Harvard eight out of nine times in what is, for most Yalies, the only sporting event they attend all year.
I harken back to those bright college years when the men’s basketball team won a share of the Ivy League title in 2002 and the excitement about sports that the student body had the following year. But pride in Yale sports has been replaced first by indifference and now by embarrassment. As losses to Harvard in The Game accumulate and as the big two of college sports continue to be mired in mediocrity or futility, interest in sports will continue to wane.
Of course, the vast majority of Yalies — both current students and alums — would not trade their time at Yale for anything. But I often look with jealousy at my friends who attended colleges with more able athletes and coaches — where The Game and the events surrounding it aren’t a once-a-year tradition but rather a weekly occurrence during football and basketball season. The Yale experience is wonderful, but with more competent sports, it could be much more.
The Game has often been about the tailgate and, for alums, reconnecting with old friends. But as regulations become more strict (especially in Cambridge, where tailgates were shut down at halftime last year) and losses become more commonplace, going to The Game becomes less and less palatable. There are no easy answers on how to turn things around. But the mantra of “Just Win, Baby!” applies, as the danger of continued losing is not just increasing the irrelevance of Yale’s sports but the irrelevance of The Game as well. And that would be a shame.
Dan Ly is a 2006 graduate of Morse College.