First of all — and I feel silly writing this in the first place, because I think most of you know it already — allow me to dispel the notion that tomorrow’s game does not matter.
Sure, the Yale football team has been in possession of a share of the Ivy League title for almost a week, and yeah, Harvard is mathematically eliminated from earning a piece of the championship. Relative to last year, when Harvard needed a win to grab a share of the title (they lost), or 2014, when the Bulldogs played for a share (we lost), this year’s game — at least ostensibly — has less on the line.
However, The Game tomorrow is certainly not implication-free. A win on Saturday would give Yale its first outright title since 1980 — and if you’re wondering what the difference between a shared and solo title is, just ask Yale volleyball (and maybe stop by their playoff game against Princeton on Saturday night).
More importantly, it’s the chance to stick it to our overinflated, self-important, sanctioned friends from up north. Contrary to popular opinion, losing to Harvard won’t ruin a championship season, but kick-starting our own little winning streak in The Game will certainly be a nice cherry on top. It has been a good year for Yale football, but there’s no doubt in my mind that this team is still hungry. We’re not looking for a moral victory. We’re looking for complete and utter domination, both of Harvard and of the Ivy League as a whole.
Yale is the best football team in the Ivy League. That might not mean much to many of you, but to the 120 men on the team, it’s everything. It’s days of waking up sore and achy, months of morning lift and years of shuttling back and forth from practice. And for the 31 seniors on the roster in particular, it’s three years of finding themselves coming up short.
After years of giving credit to the other guys and promising to return to the fundamentals, it’s finally Yale’s time. For years, the story has been why Yale football isn’t succeeding — injuries, bad defense, parity in the Ivy League. Now, it’s about why it is.
I covered the Yale football team for the News in 2015, a 6–4 season that saw me write not one but three different stories about injuries or illnesses decimating various position groups. That’s no longer an issue. This year, the original offensive and defensive lines have started almost every game, and four wide receivers have seen time in all nine games.
Although last season’s breakout star, running back Alan Lamar ’20, suffered a season-ending injury in preseason, Deshawn Salter ’18 split time in the backfield with Zane Dudek ’21, a first-year phenom whose impact has exceeded even that of Lamar a season ago. Quarterback Kurt Rawlings ’20 has played well beyond his years, while cornerback Spencer Rymiszewski ’18 has played like the fifth-year senior he is — in his final year of eligibility, the captain has demonstrated the stratospheric football I.Q. that named him first-team All-Ivy two seasons ago.
A season removed from ceding an average of 33.9 points per game, the Yale defense has been holding its opponents to fewer than 300 yards per game. It also leads the Ivy League in sacks by nearly a two-digit margin, due in large part to linebacker Matthew Oplinger ’18 and his nine-and-a-half sacks (a year after he inexplicably received All-Ivy Honorable Mention status, I certainly hope this gaudy stat will elevate Oplinger to First Team status).
All of this is to say that Team 145 is pretty good. I’m going to refrain from prognostication, but from my point of view, the Yale team that will take the field on Saturday is the most complete team head coach Tony Reno has fielded. It’s an Ivy League champion-caliber team, and regardless of what happens tomorrow, this team will be enshrined in the history books.
As we all make the biannual trek to the tennis courts Saturday morning, we find ourselves in an unusual position: confident but unsatisfied (I’m sure Harvard students can understand what that’s like). The guarantee of a championship banner means that we have an opportunity to treat this weekend not only as the final test for the members of Team 145, but also a celebration of them.
Maya Sweedler | firstname.lastname@example.org