Only one man on the Yale roster has ever beaten Harvard. While relative literacy rates of the two teams would suggest that Yale players would be (much…) more aware of the odds stacked against them, they are also well aware that no game in a rivalry like this is played on that particular page.
Instead, it’s played with the weight of 127 years of history looming over it — 127 seasons of players who defined their careers by the success of this game. For Yale football players, careers are defined not by stats and not by expectations, but simply by whether they upheld a tradition of class, hard work and commitment to beating Harvard.
In a game that defines everything, emotions run high, injuries are irrelevant and season records hardly matter. The way players have handled the first nine games matters little compared to how they handle the tenth. Grit, mental toughness and individual responsibility become paramount: the game falls into the hands of its individual players. The individual members of a senior class that has never beaten Harvard will make the difference Saturday.
On paper, Harvard comes in with the Ivy League’s top offense, but it will face a Yale defense that features some stellar achievers. Captain Jordan Haynes ’12 is the Ivy League’s leading tackler with 9.3 per game. Defensive end Jake Stoller ’12 is eighth in the league in sacks. Corner Drew Baldwin ’12 is second in passes defended. Safety Geoff Dunham ’12 is Yale’s active interceptions leader. But off the page is where the real difference lies. Haynes said he considers the tight-knit senior defensive corps “his brothers.” That group gets one last chance, not only to beat Harvard, but to play with each other as family in a Yale tradition to which they feel they still have a duty.
Yale’s doing pretty well at quarterback, too. Patrick Witt ’12 has thrown for 238 yards per game and 16 touchdowns, second in the league. Witt’s the most prolific passer in the 139-year history of Yale football, but the real story is Witt’s decision to give up the Rhodes Scholarship to play in the Game. Rhodes was the logical choice for a political science major seeking a career in politics. But the importance of one game, one chance, one tradition goes far beyond logic.
Running back Alex Thomas ’12 is Yale’s active career rushing leader with 1,684 yards. Thomas broke Connecticut’s all-time records for high school rushing yardage, touchdowns and overall points, and grew up just minutes from the Yale Bowl. Thomas knows there is one thing Yale fans must see their hometown hero do: beat Harvard.
Punt returner Gio Christodoulou ’12 is second in the league in punt return average, and Yale’s all-time leader in punt return yardage. Returning for a fifth season after medical hardship, he said his “main reason” is “to beat Harvard.”
On paper, I’m making an argument the way only a Harvard student would: providing counterexamples I can’t disprove, citing only intangible evidence and substantiating nothing. But any Yale student understands that it is something more than stats, history and paper that separates us from Harvard. It’s camaraderie, tradition and attitude. It’s an understanding of responsibility; it’s pride, and it’s heart. On paper, Harvard is better this year. But we don’t measure things here on paper: we measure them in duty, belief and tradition. And that will make all the difference Saturday.