It may not have the same ring as “break their arms, break their knees, we have higher SATs” or “that’s all right, that’s ok, you’re gonna work for us some day,” but that headline sums the feeling that finally, after more than 50 years, Yale has its own version of a legend to match the 1968 version of The Game that produced the memorable Harvard Crimson “Harvard Beats Yale 29-29” headline.
Every edition of The Game is special — but to paraphrase George Orwell, some are more special than others. This weekend’s thrilling double-overtime 50–43 Yale win in The Game is one of those. Yes, it garnered Yale a share of the Ivy League title. But better yet, it finally eradicates the Scourge of ’68.
Let’s face it. Yale football and Ivy League football are not what they used to be. Those of us in the Yale Class of ’86, the first to arrive on campus and not see Old Eli compete in 1-A (the top rung of NCAA football) know this all too well. We started the tradition of seeing Yale and Ivy League football not be what they used to be.
All classes since the Class of ’86 have only seen Yale and the Ivies play 1-AA football. National championships, top 25 rankings and even crowds over 50,000 for contests other than The Game recede into archives, outside the realm of personal memories.
Our senior year was the last time over 57,000 attended The Game when Yale was not playing for a league title, back when Yale football was in its infancy of not being what it used to be. And our senior year is, if memory serves, the only time in the history of the Ivy League that Yale beat Harvard as an underdog to deny Harvard a piece of the Ivy League title.
The memories force one to confront the reality that what we took pride in doing to Harvard in the fall of 1985 was something Harvard through then and since regularly has done to Yale. Whether it has been denying Yale a share of the title or simply beating Yale head-to-head to claim it outright, it has happened too many times, too painfully, for me to list them all. It is why I take such great solace in our senior year’s unique triumph.
This past weekend’s playing of The Game allows a higher form of solace. It gives Yale its own version of improbable come-from-behind heroics so eerily parallel to what happened in The Game in 1968. Too often, The Game of 1968 is held up as the epitome of The Game, and its heroics always have Yale on the short end. How could any Eli fan not yearn for a playing of The Game that would produce for Yale something to salve the pain of the memories of 1968?
After this most recent The Game, yearn no longer.
The parallels are eerie. In ’68, both teams came in unbeaten and untied for the first time since 1909 (the year after Harvard coach Percy Houghton supposedly dismembered a live bulldog limb by limb while exhorting his squad in a pre-game pep talk). Both teams coming into The Game with perfect records has happened only once since then and, of course, Yale was crushed by Harvard that year.
In 2019, Yale (with some help from Cornell’s vanquishing of Dartmouth the week before) could (and did) earn a share of the league title with a The Game win. Doing so would be Yale’s first stretch of two Ivy League titles in a three-year period in the 1-AA era — if it could only beat Harvard.
In ’68, it was Yale who raced to a 13–0 lead, stretching it to 22–0 and then 22–6 at halftime. Yale failed on a two-point conversion on its third touchdown, a failure that would haunt them.
In ’19 it was Harvard who raced to a 15–3 halftime lead, but who failed on a PAT kick and then a two-point conversion. Despite stretching that lead to 22–3, Harvard would later be haunted by its conversion failures.
In ’68, Yale stretched its fourth-quarter lead to 16 points, a comfortable margin yet, as later events would show, still technically a “two-score lead.” In ’19, Harvard had a 17-point fourth quarter lead (yes, more than a “two-score lead.”)
In ’68, Harvard roared back with a touchdown with 42 seconds to play, followed by a two-point conversion, a recovery of an onside kick, a pass interference call on the last play of regulation that stretched the game one more play, then another touchdown and two-point conversion. That crazy set of twists and turns of events not surprisingly produced that irksome Harvard Crimson headline.
It has been a long time, more than half a century, but now Yale can claim its own version of this story. And, this time, Yale actually did win The Game!
Ok, it was with 1:28 to play in ’19 instead of only 0:42 in ’68 that Yale scored the touchdown and PAT that cut the lead to seven (not eight). But, like Harvard, Yale recovered an onside kick. And, Yale marched on down the field, not needing the last 18 seconds or a last-second stretch-the-game-one-more-play pass interference call to tally the touchdown that, combined with the PAT, tied the game at 36–36.
That made it two years in a row that 72 points were scored in regulation at The Game — the two highest combined scores in the rivalry’s history. But, with the advent of tie-breakers in college football, this 36–36 tie could not stand. This precluded any The Yale Daily News or The Yale Herald “Yale Beats Harvard 36–36” headline.
Thanks to a Zane Dudek ’21 rushing touchdown, and what looked to be a Ryan Burke ’20 tackle to stop Harvard on fourth down on its second overtime possession, Yale did not have to settle for a 36–36 tie. Instead the headline can accurately read “Yale Beats Harvard 50–43.”
It was the highest scoring The Game ever, with two touchdowns and an onside kick in the last 90 seconds. Two Ivy League titles in three years for the first time since my class entered Yale. Yes, the scourge of ’68 Yale did now eradicate.
Contact Gary Eisenberg at firstname.lastname@example.org