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This Saturday marks the 131st match up between the Harvard and Yale football teams. As of last year, Yale leads the all-time series 65–57–8. However, the Bulldogs have fallen on rough times as of late — the Elis have not won since 2006, when they triumphed over the Cantabs 34–1.
The two teams met for the first time on Nov. 13, 1875. That match up, which Harvard won 4–0, was only the second college football game in which players carried the ball. The unusual score was due to the soccer-style play, in which each team had to get the ball through uprights at the end of the field.
The four denotes the number of field goals Harvard scored. Although they scored two touchdowns in addition to the four kicks, touchdowns did not count as points until 1877. Between 1877 and 1882, touchdowns counted for one-quarter of a field goal.
Later, Walter Camp 1882, known as the “father of American Football,” developed the plays that became the hallmark of American football: the line of scrimmage and the down system. As the game developed, incorporating more complex elements such as the forward pass and standardized equipment, so did the rivalry.
In 1884, The Game ended with so many injuries that it became known as the “Hampden Park Bloodbath,” named after the neutral location at which the contest was played. One of the Elis was carted off the field in a coma. Harvard subsequently banned football, though caved two years later and reinstated the football program.
Thirteen years after the reinstitution of the yearly Harvard-Yale match up, it was moved to the end of the season. A former Harvard captain referred to it as “The Game” in an 1898 letter to the Crimson head coach, and once the name caught on later in the 20th century, it has been the title since.
The Game was an annual event throughout the twentieth century, with the exception of brief hiatuses for the World Wars.
The 1930s were the halcyon years for Ivy League football. Yale players Larry Kelley and Clint Frank won back-to-back Heisman Trophies in 1936 and 1937.
The majority of games played in the ’40s — which was fewer due to World War II — went to Yale as the Elis took five of the nine games.
The Bulldogs also had a one-game advantage in the ’50s, but lost the majority of games in the ’60’s.
Overall, Yale and Harvard split the mid-century games fairly evenly, as Yale took 19 of the 36 games played between 1930 and 1968.
Of course, no story about The Game can go without mentioning the famed 1968 matchup. Both teams entered the game 8–0 on the season. Yale, which had won its previous 16 games, was up by more than two scores with under a minute remaining.
Harvard came back from a 16-point deficit to tie the game in the final 42 seconds, spoiling both teams’ perfect seasons.
The Harvard Crimson famously printed the headline “Harvard Beats Yale, 29–29” the following day. It was the last time the two teams were to tie, as a mid-’90s rule changes eliminated ties from college football.
The two teams swapped victories from then until the turn of the century. Recently, Harvard has been on a winning streak, taking 11 of the last 12 games.
This year, Yale enters The Game with an 8–1 record. The Elis boast a high-octane offense and serious threats both on the ground and through the air in running back Tyler Varga ’15 and quarterback Morgan Roberts ’16. Yale’s Crimson counterparts are 9–0, with a formidable defense and an offense that would be top in the league if not for the efforts of Varga, Roberts and the Elis receiving corps.
But as The Game shows, history is rarely repeatable. This Saturday, just like the 130 matchups that preceded it, is anyone’s game.