Let’s go back to Friday Nov. 19, 1993. It’s a chilly, rainy day in New Haven, and the Yale Daily News’ front page is dominated by a photo of a lamenting Handsome Dan XIII, who faces the twilight of a 10-year career as Yale’s mascot. The inside of the front section includes a brief article about an ABC News correspondent’s take on President Bill Clinton’s LAW ’73 foreign policy.
And following a full-page aerial photograph of the Yale Bowl, the headline “Young Elis struggle to disappointing 2–7 record” stands bolded atop the News’ coverage of The Game.
The 1993 special issue features a story about the Bulldogs’ injury epidemic and lists eight starters lost for the year due to knee, neck, hand and groin injuries. The following page sports a piece about decreasing attendance at the Yale Bowl, with one anonymous source citing the Elis’ poor play as a reason for staying home on game day. The page after that profiles back-up-turned-starting quarterback Steve Mills ’94, and still another article attempts to explain why Saybrook students persist in going “au naturel” in the stands despite the frigid New England climate.
Fast forward now to 2016 and Team 144, an injury-riddled, 2–7 Yale squad sporting a third-string quarterback before a largely disillusioned and often-disrobed student body.
While the 1993 Yale football team went on to win The Game 33–31, the odds of winning this season seem lower even than they were 23 years ago. The Elis have not defeated the Crimson since 2006. Harvard is 5–1 in conference play, not 1–5 as they were in ’93. Yale now follows the guidance of fifth-year head coach Tony Reno, not that of 28-year veteran and 10-time Ancient Eight champion Carmen Cozza. Team 144 eclipsed 144 points allowed before the end of its third game of the season, while Team 121 took twice as long to meet that mark.
Maybe this year’s Yale squad is not the team to finally top the Crimson. Maybe Saturday will be another uncomfortable, rainy day, but this time in Cambridge with the Elis stumbling on the turf of Harvard Stadium. Maybe the Bulldogs’ detestable losing streak will live another year.
But what will happen if Yale wins?
In a 2016 season mired by injuries, blowouts and frustration, Yale has shown flashes of brilliance while Harvard has revealed hints of vulnerability. The Bulldogs boast a young trio of potent offensive weapons in wide receiver Reed Klubnik ’20, running back Alan Lamar ’20 and quarterback Kurt Rawlings ’20 — all three of whom have garnered weekly All-Ivy recognitions this season — and a veteran defensive duo of linebacker Foye Oluokun ’17 and safety Hayden Carlson ’18, who rank second and third in solo tackles against Ancient Eight opponents.
Meanwhile, the Crimson has defeated conference foes by a mere 7.8 points per game, and its five league victories include scares at the hands of 1–5 cellar-dwellers Dartmouth and Columbia. Though only 5–1 Penn has defeated Harvard this year, plenty of other squads have come close.
Whether we like it or not, the legacy of any Yale football season is inevitably dictated not by the history of its first nine matchups, but by the gravity of its last. While Yale may be the underdog, Harvard possesses no advantage but its home field once the first-quarter game clock begins its countdown.
The 1993 Yale Daily News Game issue featured one familiar name nestled in its masthead: that of Sports Editor Theo Epstein ’95, now the president of baseball operations for the Chicago Cubs. If Epstein — with his two World Series trophies a combined 196 years in the making — has taught his fellow Bulldogs anything, it is that losing streaks exist only to be broken.
Ten years of losing to Harvard is a long time. While the prospect of a Blue victory in this year’s matchup may seem daunting, the challenges Team 144 has faced will make a win — however improbable — all the sweeter.
It is with this in mind that the Managing Board of 2018 supports the Yale football team this weekend against Harvard. We are eager to embrace the underdog label, and even more eager to cast it away.