If Ivy League athletic competition can occur in fall 2021, the 137th edition of the Yale-Harvard football game is set to occur in New Haven.
In 2019, the Bulldogs hosted The Game at the Yale Bowl, capturing a dramatic double-overtime victory over the Crimson in front of 44,989 fans. This November, Harvard would have hosted the 2020 installment of the rivalry on Nov. 21 in Boston. But with the COVID-19 pandemic putting a stop to fall-semester competition in the Ancient Eight, both teams and their respective fan bases are set to meet back in New Haven for the second consecutive time in fall 2021.
“We’re going to be following our 2021 schedule,” Yale football head coach Tony Reno told the News. “I just think from a big picture standpoint, and from the perspective of all eight teams in the conference, if you’re going to change the league scheduling, it would create a lot of inequity in home and away games. So for the athletic directors to just reset it and aim for what the original 2021 fall season would have looked like makes much more sense.”
Mike Gambardella, Yale’s associate athletic director for strategic communications, also confirmed to the News that the Bulldogs are set to host The Game in fall 2021. Ivy League Executive Director Robin Harris and Harvard’s Associate Director of Athletics Tim Williamson did not respond to the News’ requests for comment.
“We’ve really just pressed the reset button because we would have finished our season next week,” Reno said. “So hopefully, in December, we’ll be back on track to play football in 2021.”
Last November, the Bulldogs’ dramatic 50–43 win over Harvard capped a 9–1 season and secured the Bulldogs an Ivy League championship. Quarterback Kurt Rawlings ’20 led the Elis with 417 passing yards and 101 yards on the ground in a game that lasted four hours and 36 minutes, delayed by halftime protesters and two overtimes.
Yale wide receiver Mason Tipton ’24, who hauled in a crucial touchdown for the Bulldogs with 1:10 remaining in the fourth quarter during last year’s edition of The Game, expressed excitement about being able to play in New Haven again next fall.
“I’m not complaining,” Tipton said. “The atmosphere at the Yale–Harvard game was pretty dope. So I’ll take it, I’ll take that again.”
Although fall-semester play has been canceled, Yale student-athletes enrolled in residence have been able to engage in limited training for most of the fall. Phase I weight training has given enrolled players the opportunity to get into the weight room in order to regain any strength that was lost during quarantine.
Punter Jack Bosman ’24, who is on a leave of absence, said there are weekly meetings for remote players to receive updates on Yale’s training and the University’s COVID-19 situation. He said the team breaks out into their position groups on Zoom, where unenrolled or off-campus students can discuss footage taken of the players enrolled. Bosman said he thinks a spring 2021 football season is unlikely.
“I don’t really see us playing in the spring because it would make it really difficult for future seasons,” Bosman said. “Then at some point you’d have to have a back-to-back season, which wouldn’t really make much sense for injuries and postseason surgeries.”
Bosman believes that starting when the players get back from winter break, the team will begin preparing like they would for a normal fall season. He thinks the coaches will have them in a regimen that is pretty much identical to other years’ postseason plans.
Although the future of athletic competition remains uncertain, Tipton is certain the group will be ready for next season, regardless of when it begins.
“I know the team,” Tipton said. “Whether we play in the spring or we play in the fall, everybody on the team will be ready when it comes. The guys have definitely taken advantage of the time we’ve gotten off.”
After 136 meetings with Harvard, Yale leads the series, 68–60–8.
New York City — Friday night redemption could not have been much sweeter for the Yale football team. After getting demolished 42–7 by Penn at home last Friday, the Bulldogs notched their second win of the season against Columbia in the Big Apple.
The Yale (2–5, 2–2 Ivy) defense, ranked last in the Ivy League entering this game, had its best performance of the season versus the Lions (2–5, 1–3). Yale forced five turnovers en route to a 31–23 victory, despite the offense totaling just 250 yards.
“I’m very proud of this football team,” head coach Tony Reno said. “It’s not easy to win a game in this league with its parity. [Our players] play their best football when their backs are against the wall.”
Both offenses struggled in a first quarter that amounted to a field position battle. Columbia picked up 56 total yards in the opening frame while Yale finished with negative yardage and gave up three sacks. Quarterback Kurt Rawlings ’20 replaced Tre Moore ’19 at the beginning of the second quarter and though he only passed for 150 yards, he also threw three touchdowns — the best mark for a Yale quarterback in any game this season.
The Eli defense picked up the slack from the offense, forcing two turnovers in the first period. On the first play of Columbia’s second drive, cornerback Jason Alessi ’18 intercepted quarterback Anders Hill after stepping in front of a deep post route. Linebacker Victor Egu ’17 then forced a fumble that was picked up by safety Foye Oluokun ’17 on Columbia’s next possession. However, neither of these turnovers led to offensive success.
Yale finally found the endzone at the start of the second quarter, when defensive lineman John Herubin ’18 picked up a Columbia fumble forced by linebacker Darius Manora ’17 and rumbled 61 yards for the first points of the game.
“Our secondary played really well and the linebackers were hitting the gaps and forcing fumbles,” Herubin said. “We were getting some pressure on the D-Line. It was an all-around effort.”
While the Yale drive would end in a punt, the Lions returner muffed the ball and the Bulldogs recovered inside the redzone. The Elis capitalized, with Rawlings tossing a 12-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Myles Gaines ’17 in the back of the endzone.
The Bulldog defense continued its strong play, setting up the offense with good field position. The Elis drove down the field once again and finished the drive with a 15-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Robert Clemons III ’17 on a fade to the back corner of the endzone.
After an impressive 38-yard run by Rawlings got them into the redzone, Yale finished off the half with a field goal from 30 yards, to bring the score to 24–0.
Neither team put points on the scoreboard in the third quarter. Columbia marched into Yale territory twice, but the Eli defense held fast with two fourth-down stops, one of which was an interception by cornerback Marquise Peggs ’19.
Yale scored a touchdown on the second play of the fourth quarter to increase their lead to 31 points. A 40-yard pass to running back Alan Lamar ’20 set up an 11-yard touchdown reception by tight end Leo Haenni ’17, Rawlings’ third touchdown pass of the day.
Columbia finally got on the scoreboard when Hill found wide receiver Cameron Dunn for an 11-yard touchdown with 9:21 to play in the fourth quarter. Less than three minutes later, Hill connected with wide receiver Ronald Smith II for a 28-yard score as the Eli defense began to fatigue.
Yale could not gain any momentum offensively for the rest of the game, and Columbia would add another touchdown with under a minute to play, again by Smith. However, the Elis would close out the game by recovering a last-ditch onside kick, holding on for a 31–23 win.
Last Halloween, Columbia (2–4, 1–2 Ivy) bested the Yale (1–5, 1–2) football team at home 17–7 by limiting it to only 120 yards of offense and five first downs — the Bulldogs’ only points came on an 80-yard punt return touchdown by Jason Alessi ’18. To avoid the same fate as last year and notch their second Ivy win of the season, the Elis need to run the ball effectively, impress on defense and limit turnovers.
CAN A DOG OUTRUN A LION?
This year’s iteration of Yale’s up-tempo spread offense has leaned heavily on its game, not only because it boasts a talented group of rushers and the second-best ground attack in the Ivy League, but also out of necessity — its passing game is better than only Columbia’s in the Ancient Eight. Facing a mediocre Lions’ rush defense on Friday night, fans are likely to see another heavy dose of Alan Lamar ’20, who has averaged just shy of 150 rushing yards per contest in his two games. While he will likely take the bulk of the team’s carries, it would not be a surprise if Dale Harris ’17 or Deshawn Salter ’18 feature heavily in this game as well. Harris was utilized more at cornerback, the position he played for his first two-and-a-half seasons, against Penn but could see more action on offense this week, while Salter received carries earlier in the season before sustaining an injury.
A STOPPABLE FORCE MEETS A MOVABLE OBJECT
If the Yale defense is to get back on track this season and gain some confidence heading into The Game, it will have to come against Columbia this week: in their three Ivy League contests, the Lions have scored just 32 combined points. While the Bulldog defense ranks just as badly as the Lions’ offense, Team 144 has faced some seriously potent opposition, most notably a trio of diesel-fueled Patriot League foes. Before giving up 42 points to Penn last weekend, the Bulldog defense had been much better in Ivy League play, ceding 27 points to Cornell and just 13 to defending champion Dartmouth. Yale needs its playmakers on defense to step up on Friday and get the group back on track. Linebacker Victor Egu ’17 had a strong game against Penn, which included a stop on fourth-and-one during the first quarter, and fellow linebackers Matthew Oplinger ’18 and captain Darius Manora ’17 have combined for 67 total tackles this year.
TURNOVER OR TREAT
Yale has been very generous in granting its opponents extra possessions and short fields this season. Since first seeing significant snaps behind center against Cornell, quarterback Tre Moore ’19 has thrown five interceptions, compared to just three touchdowns, and coughed up three fumbles. While some of these were strip-sacks difficult to avoid as a quarterback, Moore also fumbled last week against Penn on a scramble out of the pocket. Avoiding turnovers will go a long way towards keeping the Bulldog offense on the field, as well as denying Columbia favorable field position. By not treating the Lions to free possessions in Yale’s own territory, the Elis will make significant strides towards limiting an already-weak Columbia offense.
The stage was set on Friday for the Yale football team: After starting 0–3, the Bulldogs gutted out a win over defending conference champion Dartmouth and put themselves in a position to beat Penn to seize second-place in the Ivy League standings. Yet it was the Quakers who had the last laugh once the curtains closed, serving the Bulldogs a 42–7 defeat under the lights at the Yale Bowl.
The Penn (4–2, 3–0 Ivy) offense imposed its will on Yale (1–5, 1–2) through the air and on the ground. Quaker quarterback Alek Torgersen threw for 229 yards and four touchdowns, while top wideout Justin Watson reeled in three of those touchdowns along with a career-high 166 yards. Penn running back Tre Solomon, who entered the game leading the league in rushing, added 120 yards on the ground in addition to 66 from Torgersen.
Yale’s attack followed the same formula as in weeks past. The run game was bolstered by 118 yards from Alan Lamar ’20, but quarterback Tre Moore ’19 struggled to connect with his receivers, totaling just 93 passing yards along with a touchdown and two turnovers. Moore was not helped by a poor performance from his receivers, who dropped a number of on-target balls.
“We knew [Penn was] a really good team and we’d have to stay with them,” head coach Tony Reno said. “At times we did and at times we didn’t. We have to work to get better as a football team.”
While the Bulldog offense managed just seven points, the game was undoubtedly lost on the defensive side of the line. Torgersen, an Ivy League Offensive Player of the Year favorite, fired the ball all over the field with impressive accuracy in the first half, and Watson ran around and behind the Eli secondary with ease. Penn attempted just six passes in the second half, two of which came courtesy of Torgersen’s backup, Michael Collins, as the senior sat during the entire fourth quarter.
Complementing Solomon’s 120-yard game, Torgersen contributed just as many problems in the run game as in the passing game. The quarterback did not rush for fewer than four yards on any attempt, and kept the struggling Bulldog defense on the field by scampering for two third-down conversions in the first half.
“They came in and stuck to their game plan and we had to make a few adjustments,” captain and linebacker Darius Manora ’17 said. “We didn’t play well and needed to tackle better. They executed their plays and we didn’t execute ours.”
The Elis entered the game with the top rushing offense in the Ivy League. Although the unit saw some success against Penn, it did not dominate as it recently had against Dartmouth and Fordham. Moore contributed just four rushing yards from the quarterback position and Dale Harris ’17 played mostly at cornerback, getting only three carries on offense.
Lamar kept the running game afloat in his return from injury, rushing for 118 yards to reprise his 180-yard performance in the Dartmouth game two weekends ago. The freshman shouldered the load without his usual ensemble in the backfield — in addition to Harris playing mostly defense, backs Deshawn Salter ’18 and Candler Rich ’17 both missed the game due to injury.
“I wasn’t cleared until the end of the week,” Lamar said. “I just took it as I was going to play so I just worked hard all week and went from there.”
Moore completed just 13 of 30 passes in the pocket, with his longest going for just 13 yards. The sophomore also fumbled on a run on the opening drive and threw an interception three series later. Penn scored touchdowns on both possessions following Moore’s early turnovers.
In what seemed to be the prologue to another quarterback controversy, Moore was benched for a series in the second quarter after his interception, with quarterback Kurt Rawlings ’20 assuming the spotlight under center. The freshman assembled a middling 14-yard drive that resulted in a punt, and Moore returned the next drive with noticeable uptick in accuracy.
“I just wanted to give Tre a break,” Reno said. “Things were going really fast, and at every other position you can give a guy a break when they need it. We’ve done that before with Morgan Roberts ’16 and we did it today with Tre.”
Struggles in the passing game cannot rest solely on Moore’s shoulders, as young receivers, playing instead of an injured Christopher Williams-Lopez ’18, dropped several potential first-down passes.
Yale’s late touchdown ensured that the team narrowly avoided tying the worst home loss in its history on Friday, faring slightly barely better than in its 42-point losses to UConn in 1998 and to Colgate in this year’s season opener. The Elis will look for a better result under Friday night lights next week as they travel to Columbia for a 7 p.m. clash.
On the evening of March 14 at the University of Pennsylvania’s historic Palestra arena, the Harvard and Yale men’s basketball teams were tied at 51 in a game that would send the winner to the NCAA tournament. Then, with seven seconds left, Harvard forward Steve Mondou-Missi hit a 15-foot jumper left to pull ahead of Yale by two points.
Yale got the ball back in time for Javier Duren ’15 to make one final drive to the net, but he missed a layup as time expired, and Yale failed to advance to tournament play, just as they had for the past 52 years.
Ansh Bhagat ’18, who doesn’t play a varsity sport, caught up on the highlights after the game.
“I think I just forgot about it, to be honest,” he said. “I might have been asleep.”
Many Yale students might have had a similar experience: of 155 students who responded to a News survey, 70 percent knew the game’s significance, but only 43 percent reported that they watched it. But Bhagat and others’ relative ambivalence would have seemed out of place on campus 50 years ago.
History professor Jay Gitlin ’71, who teaches the course “Yale and America,” recalls the sense of dejection that gripped campus in the days following Yale’s infamous 29–29 “loss” to Harvard in 1968. In the last 42 seconds of the game, Harvard scored 16 points, tying the game against a heavily favored Yale squad.
“We were in a foul mood,” he remembers. “These things affected the mood of the campus. When it was a Yale victory, everybody was happy.”
But Gitlin also remembers that the Yale team won a lot more than they do now.
UConn, for example, posed no problem. “We assumed that we’d win more than we’d lose, and the teams that we thought we might lose to were more often than not, Dartmouth or Harvard.”
But even with the football team going 8–2 this season, attendance at their games paled in comparison to the sold-out games of Gitlin’s day. This part of Yale’s culture, it seems, has been lost to history.
Some, though, are not content to let sports slip from the campus consciousness. Ralph Molina ’16 is the president of the Whaling Crew, an organization dedicated to supporting Yale’s sports teams.
“I think the Whaling Crew’s job isn’t done until every single sporting game is sold out,” he says. “We’ll probably never get there, but that’s the goal.”
* * *
In 1914, construction crews finished work on the largest amphitheater built since the Roman Coliseum: the Yale Bowl.
Costing the University $17.7 million, the imposing concrete stadium reflected the athletic dominance of a football team representing a school that had helped invent the sport. But the administration’s efforts came too late: By the time the Bowl was completed, the Bulldogs had already won 26 out of their 27 total national championships.
The 80,000-seat behemoth would never again see the kind of national spotlight it once enjoyed. Since then, attendance has fallen, and renovations to the stadium have reduced its capacity to just over 60,000
Still, attendance didn’t suddenly fall off once Yale stopped winning national titles. According to Joel Alderman ’51, “It was a gradual process.” Alderman, a retired lawyer who now writes about Yale athletics for SportzEdge.com, said Yale was still a top team in his day, and the noticeable decline in attendance came in the late 1980s through the 1990s.
Prior to that, though, sports — and football in particular — remained an important part of campus life. Gitlin emphasized the greater importance that football had in the University’s social culture when he was a student.
“Football was part of the social calendar,” he said. “You went to football games. We dated a lot, and dating often included going to the football game and then to a dance.”
Since then, though, student interest in sports has declined markedly.
Last fall, the Bulldogs celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Yale Bowl with a rare contest against Army. In an extravagant pre-game spectacle, the game ball was delivered by a cadet parachuting out of a helicopter and landing at midfield. That day, the Bulldogs managed an unlikely victory over a highly competitive team.
But the Bulldogs’ rousing win came in front of tens of thousands of empty seats. Pat O’Neill, associate director of marketing for Yale athletics, estimates that there were around 1,000 fans in attendance, a figure dwarfed by the crowds of 50 and 60 thousand that Yale games drew during the mid-20th century.
And the Army game offers only one example: 58 percent of survey respondents said they had been to three or fewer sporting events this year.
Alderman thinks this dip in attendance is a symptom of something deeper.
“Sports themselves don’t carry as much meaning to the students,” he said.
* * *
Yale students’ attitudes towards sports have been shaped by social and institutional factors. But according to athletes and administrators alike, the most important determinant in a team’s support remains its win-loss record.
“In my experience being here at Yale, kids are pretty educated when it comes to our sports teams,” O’Neill said. “You can’t fool Yale students. Our teams need to win and they’ll come out.”
But since their heyday early last century, Ivy League sports in general have ceded ground to other, larger institutions.
In 1923, Harvard, Princeton and Yale signed the Three Presidents’ Agreement, affirming that all athletes would be admitted as students and would have to conform to the same academic standards expected of others. This restriction opened the door for schools like Michigan and Ohio State to surpass Yale in athletics by using scholarships to recruit top talent. In 1945, the other Ivies agreed not to offer athletic scholarships either, clearing the way for bigger schools with millions of dollars to spend on their athletic programs.
An Ivy League policy prohibiting postseason play further isolated the league’s teams, preventing them from participating in much-publicized bowl games.
“A lot of the time academia and national [athletics] don’t really work well together,” said Molina.
But some say that certain aspects of Yale itself keep athletics from flourishing on campus. Many remarked on the distance from campus to athletic facilities like the Yale Bowl, Yale Field and Coxe Cage.
Although Caroline Lynch ’17, a member of the women’s tennis team and secretary of the Yale Student-Athlete College Council, said sporting events at Yale are generally well attended. She added that those taking place at the Smilow Field House, as opposed to in Ingalls Rink or Payne Whitney Gymnasium, tend to attract fewer viewers because of the distance from campus.
Ree Ree Li ’16, also on the women’s tennis team, reiterated that sentiment.
“We always have good showings for sports that are in the gym because it’s so close,” Li said. “The biggest challenge is getting people to come out for the games that are at the fields.”
Jackson Stallings ’17, a member of the football team and the president of YSACC, said he would like to see an investment in the Yale Bowl’s infrastructure. He thinks that making seating more comfortable or adding or a jumbotron, like Cornell or Harvard have, would encourage more students to attend football games.
O’Neill said budget constraints left no room for investment in the Bowl’s infrastructure right now. But Li said there are non-financial measures that Yale can take to show more support for its athletes. She mentioned a policy in place at Princeton that ensures classes never take place while sports teams practice, meaning athletes could take whatever classes they want. Yale’s athletes, who must tailor their schedules to avoid conflicts, do not enjoy this luxury.
Li said she didn’t receive full credit for a course last fall semester because she had to miss class to travel to California with her team.
Those institutional features might also bleed over into Yale’s campus culture itself: Molina said one source of student disinterest might be administrative attitudes toward sports. Since Yale can’t give athletic scholarships, he said, many feel that sports aren’t important.
But not everyone thinks that Yale’s campus culture doesn’t support sports.Lynch, for one, said the idea that Yalies don’t support their sports teams isn’t true. Some will know more about sports than others, she added, but that can be said of any aspect of Yale’s campus life.
If people are divided as to how Yale students feel about sports, everyone agrees that a supportive campus is vital to thriving athletic programs. And key to that support is a sense of connection between athletes and non-athletes.
“If we can create a culture where the students as well as student-athletes are all close, people will want to go out to support each other,” Li said. “I go to plays and dance shows because I have friends that are in them. If more people have friends who are athletes, they’d be more willing to go out to games.”
But the distance that some Yalies feel between themselves and those representing them on the field became clear in a video released by the Harvard comedy group “On Harvard Time” before the Game last fall.
In the video, disguised Harvard students interviewed Yalies about the state of Yale’s football program and asked them to sign a petition to defund it.
Li and Molina said it disappointed them to see how easily the actors were able to convince Yale students to publicly endorse cutting funding for the football team.
“We have funding issues already within athletics, and to see people wanting to take money from a program that hundreds of students are a part of, I was surprised by that,” Li said.
* * *
If such a petition ever passed, at least two names would certainly not be on it.
In their first weeks as freshmen, Andrew Sobotka ’15 and Hal Libby ’15 noticed a lack of support for Yale’s sports teams. They decided to take matters into their own hands.
“The first football game had decent attendance but the second one was absolutely abysmal,” Sobtoka said. “Hal and I were shocked that on this beautiful fall day, nobody was out at the Bowl cheering on the ‘Dogs.”
In response, the pair founded the Whaling Crew, the organization of which Molina is now president. Starting out as a small group of friends, it now has over 1,300 likes on its Facebook page.
This year alone, the Whaling Crew has organized student tailgates, ordered pizza for fans in the student sections at home games and arranged transportation so interested students can travel to away games.
“Before the Whaling Crew existed, there was no group to get students to come out to athletics,” Molina said. “It was just the athletics office, or through the grapevine. It’s different when you’re hearing about it from students than when you’re hearing about it from the administration.
O’Neill said the Whaling Crew’s efforts have had a tangible effect on sports attendance, enticing more students to come out to games, and the group now receives funding from the athletics office. “We value them immensely,” O’Neill says.
The Whaling crew also appeared in August at a new event called Yale UP!, which Molina says added to their legitimacy and increased student interest in joining.
Yale UP!, inaugurated this year during Camp Yale, consisted of presentations made by members of the athletics department to the incoming freshman class. Students were taught Yale’s historic cheers, and the event featured a relay race between residential colleges, among other competitions. Yale UP!, a conscious administrative effort to encourage support for Yale’s sports teams, was mandatory.
* * *
Despite the lackluster competitive spirit of the past few decades and the eight-year winless streak in the Game, Yale sports fans have reason to hold out hope.
The Bulldogs have seen major successes in recent years that are leading to attention on a national scale: the men’s hockey team took home the NCAA title in 2013, Yale football star Tyler Varga ’15 is competing for NFL consideration and the men’s basketball team missed March Madness by a hair. And survey data suggests that campus support is on the rise: more than a third of respondents said they were more interested in Yale sports this year than last.
“Sports are on the up at Yale,” said Molina. “My attitude about athletic attendance on campus is not necessarily proud, but it’s optimistic.”
As Yale’s upper administration deliberates on the names for our new residential colleges, I strongly encourage they consider our unstoppable force of nature on the football field, Tyler Varga ’15.
Sure, President Salovey may have quite clearly said that we would not name our college after a living donor. But Varga isn’t a donor, unless you count touchdowns as donations. And since when has a little opposition ever been an issue to Varga? He’s unstoppable.
Varga brought Yale through some of its harshest hours on the field, unified the student body in devotion to Yale’s success, and gave our friends in Cambridge a run for their money last Saturday. We may not have won this year, but Varga gave us hope.
Then we get to the question of the progressive potential for the college name – how can we improve the diversity of the people we recognize in such a profound manner? Well, Varga College would break down almost as many barriers as Tylar Varga breaks down Princeton men who stand in his way.
In the past, our residential colleges have been named after either locations or regular human beings. We don’t have a single college named after quasi-human beasts made of distilled thumotic rage. These beings have faced harsh discrimination ever since Achilles was forced to give up his spoils of war to Agamemnon. We can’t expect to end this mistreatment with a simple gesture, a name, but we can create a safer space for beasts with the capacity to tear men’s heads off.
And Varga College would also be one step by the university to stop all the colleges being named after dead white people. Varga isn’t a dead white man – he’s still filled with explosive vitality. Varga College would send the message that life is for the living, that we at Yale value excellence as a lifelong pursuit, and that a true Yale Man can establish his place in history through service to the school, not through profit margins.
I’ll leave you with one final question to consider as you think about the perfect college name: could Grace Hopper rack up 26 touchdowns and over 1,400 yards in one season?
In 1916, Yale head coach T.A.D. Jones gathered his team in the locker room before the game and said, “Gentlemen, you are now going to play football against Harvard. Never again in your whole life will you do anything so important.”
He wasn’t far off.
Yale and Harvard first met on the gridiron in November of 1875 at Hamilton Park in New Haven. A ticket was 75 cents and 2,500 fans showed up. Harvard won. Since that afternoon, The Game has inspired fanfare and history, and Yale-Harvard has become the quintessential college rivalry.
In reaction to the popularity of The Game, in 1903 Harvard built a colossal U-shaped stadium out of reinforced concrete — a novel engineering idea for the time — on the far side of the Charles River, across from the campus. The seating capacity 30,323. In 1914, Yale erected an even larger stadium. Dug deep into the West Haven soil, this structure was the first of its kind: a full, oval-shaped, wrap-around bowl. Since its completion, the Yale Bowl, as they decided to call it, has served as the prototype for modern football stadiums. Its seating capacity: 61,446. The two stadiums marked the permanence and grandeur of the rivalry. Sprawling across their respective landscapes, the structures symbolized each university’s enthusiasm and respect for the game.
Since that November day at Hamilton Park in 1875, The Game has generated an unparalleled history. Presidents, politicians, movie stars, singers, people from all over the world have attended The Game. It is reported that even the governor of Hawaii attended the first Yale-Harvard game played in the Bowl, in 1914. In 1920, 80,000 fans, the largest crowd ever assembled at The Game, made the trip out to the Bowl to witness Harvard goose-egg Yale 9-0. (The Bowl’s capacity used to be higher.) In 1930, The Game became the first U.S. football match broadcast in England. In the 1940s, columnist Red Smith affirmed the popularity of the Yale-Harvard football contest when he dropped “Harvard-Yale,” and capitalized “The Game,” elevating the matchup from normal sporting contest and defining it as the collegiate athletic event par excellence.
Both teams have produced casts of characters of equal historical importance. Walter Camp, “the Father of American Football,” a player and a coach for Yale in the 1870s, ’80s and ’90s, created the modern scoring system, the positioning of players on the field, the system of downs, the line of scrimmage and the snap back from the center. The list goes on, from Tommy Lee Jones, to Stone Phillips, to Ted Kennedy, to Larry Kelly and Clint Frank, to John Hersey, to Archibald MacLeash and Calvin Hill. Players have gone on to become politicians, pioneers in business, Pulitzer Prize winners, poets, actors, television personalities and NFL stars. One can’t help wondering which of the current players will fulfill this legacy.
The cast of characters and the rivalry’s storied history distinguishes The Game. Quarterback Morgan Roberts ’16, who is from North Carolina and played one year for Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) powerhouse Clemson University, said, “In the South, the only Ivy League game people really talk about or think about is The Game. It’s the only game people ever really put any thought into because ESPN puts some broadcasting on it. They give it some national coverage because of the history and legacy of it […] It’s America’s amateur pastime.” Former Yale linebacker Kerr Taubler ’14 added, “It’s our bowl game.” Yale-Harvard is at the forefront of America’s old football rivalries. That November day in 1875 marked the birth of the great Ivy League rivalry, the first of a line of many collegiate rivalries like Michigan–Ohio State, Texas-Oklahoma and Army-Navy.
But despite the Bulldogs’ upper hand in the overall record, 65-57-8, in recent years the Crimson has owned The Game, however one may measure it. Harvard has won 12 out of the last 13 meetings, including the last seven in a row. The Crimson have out-scored the Elis 202-75 in that seven-year span. Last November, the Yale faithful watched as the 8-1 Crimson steamrolled the injury-stricken Bulldogs 34-7.
This year, though, things are looking different.
* * *
The evidence is everywhere. Last year, Yale went into The Game with five wins and four losses. After their victory against Princeton last Saturday the Bulldogs are 8-1 and in contention, with Harvard and Dartmouth, for a share of the Ivy League title — a distinction the team hasn’t enjoyed since 2006. And the improved record comes as no surprise. The Yale offense leads the league in just about every category: passing, rushing, total yards, first downs, conversions and total points.
Asked about the differences between this year’s offense and last year’s, Roberts responded, “Certainly more confident. Once we’ve put some good numbers and score some points and get some guys involved, you get to the point where you become really confident.”
Anchored by a seasoned line that Roberts says “is just unreal,” this year’s offense features a host of Ivy League standouts. Senior Tyler Varga ’15, a two time All-Ivy running back, has had a record-breaking season, leading the Ivy League in rushing yards and touchdowns. His numbers double those of the runner-up in the category.
As for the aerial assault, the Elis feature dangerous weapons in receivers Deon Randall ’15, the team’s captain, and senior Grant Wallace ’15. In his first year as quarterback for the Bulldogs, Roberts is having an exceptional season, leading the league in passing yards, touchdowns, completion percentage and passing efficiency.
Defensively, the Bulldogs have had similar successes. Although the core of the defensive unit is young, starting mostly sophomores and a few freshmen, a number of key players have returned, three of whom — Cole Champion ’16, Foyesade Oluokun ’17 and William Vaughn ’15 — earned All-Ivy honors last year. As sophomore linebacker Darius Manora ’17 — who took an interception into the endzone against Brown — asserts, “We obviously don’t have as much experience as a lot of the teams we’ve been going against […] but we’ve been growing steadily every game. We’ve been getting better and better. Just recently we had our best defensive game against Princeton.” He went on, “We’re very strong up front […] We have guys who like to come up and hit. That’s what we preach, that’s what we strive for in our defense. We want hitters.”
This new success has much to do with to a new approach to training the Bulldogs have adopted. A sign hangs above the entrance to the tunnel that runs under Derby Avenue, connecting the Smilow Field Center and the football practice field. It reads, “One Play Warrior.” Every day before practice, players walk beneath the sign. Its message: Focus, stay in the moment, one play at a time. The team has embraced these ideals since last April when mental conditioning coach Brian Cain began to talk to the team.
Asked about the effectiveness of the mental training, sophomore fullback/tight end Jackson Stallings ’17 noted, “The mental approach is 90 percent of athletics […] Your ability to control the game mentally allows you to do more physically […] It has really changed the culture of Yale football from someone who looks to the last game of the year and says, ‘All right, we gotta beat Harvard like everybody says,’ and instead focuses on a small picture and executes his job each play.”
Manora adds, “[Cain] preached to us to focus on the process rather than the outcome. And our defense tries to do the same thing. So each play we try to play as hard as we can, rather than get caught up in if we gave up a big play or made a big play ourselves. And I think that is the key to us winning games. We don’t get caught up […] We just keep playin’.”
The team adheres to this system of beliefs. And they’ve proven their devotion again and again throughout the season. In the first game, Lehigh scored three unanswered touchdowns in the first quarter. Unfazed, the Bulldogs got to work, creeping back, and then winning the game 54-43. A week later they pulled off an even more stunning feat, upsetting Army 49-43. Since those two games, this faith in the process and focus on the moment have served the Bulldogs well in countless situations throughout the season. One can only wonder how it will help against Harvard tomorrow.
During halftime of the Princeton game last Saturday, Calvin Hill ’69, likely the most accomplished living Yale football player, stepped out from under the archway at the 50-yard line. Hill had returned to the Bowl as part of the game’s “Legends of the Bowl” ceremony.
When asked how it felt to be back, he smiled and said, “It’s wonderful.” Then he motioned to the field, “I haven’t seen Bruce Weinstein in 40 years.”
Really? That’s it? Here he was: Calvin Hill, perhaps the greatest player in 142 years of Yale football. A guy who played in the NFL for 12 years, four-time all-pro, two-time Ivy-League champion, record-breaking track star, an athlete so good legendary Yale football coach Carm Cozza said he could have played all 22 positions on the field — and this struck him the most upon returning to Yale.
He wasn’t aglow with memories of past glory, his victory over Harvard in 1967, or the legendary tie game in 1968. He didn’t seem awestruck at the grandeur of the Bowl, or the exuberant crowd, or the medal he was awarded as an honorary “Legend of the Bowl” to commemorate the one-hundredth anniversary of the stadium. Instead, Hill was happiest to see Bruce Weinstein, his pal and former teammate, whom he hadn’t seen in ages.
Later that evening a couple more recent alumni affirmed Hill’s statement. When asked what he missed most about Yale football, Kyle White ’14, former Yale defensive tackle, said, “It’s all about the brotherhood. There’s a really special bond with Yale football. It’s really quite unique.”
Former Bulldog left tackle Wes Gavin ’14 said: “The bottom line is that Yale football is a brotherhood. It takes a lot to become a part of it. It has a long history behind it. And it’s something really special.”
Yale football is unique. And the Yale-Harvard game is special. In terms of fanfare, publicity, and hype, Yale-Harvard doesn’t hold a candle to Florida-Florida State, Auburn-Alabama, or USC-UCLA. The Yale Bowl has no jumbotron, there will be no 300-person marching band performing at halftime, Mariah Carey won’t sing the national anthem, and it’s been decades since the Yale Bowl has seen a full crowd.
Nevertheless, ESPN’s College GameDay will cover the Game on Saturday, instead of any of the number of ACC, SEC, or PAC-12 games. As Roberts states, “This game means so much to the community. It means so much to Yale. It means so much nationally […] I think there are great rivalries in the ACC, great rivalries in the SEC, that might get a little more media coverage than we get, but … I think the emotional investment, the equity over 130 years is much greater than any other rivalry. And that is why it’s so special.”
Irrespective of media attention or massive fanfare, this “emotional investment, the equity over 130 years” places Yale-Harvard in the same echelon as any of the great collegiate football rivalries across the country. It also creates the brotherhood Gavin, White and Hill touched upon. A brotherhood, the three alumni suggested, which transcends the final score of the Game, which lasts so long that when they return to the Bowl, after one year or 40 years, their old friend’s face brings back more fond memories than the Bowl, The Game, or the University itself.
There’s no complex explanation to it. “In all honesty … It’s just fun,” Stallings admitted. “It’s fun to go out there and play with your buddies, it’s fun to play with confidence.”
For Morgan Roberts ’16, Candler Rich ’17, Khalid Cannon ’17, Jackson Stallings ’17, Darius Manora ’17 and the 101 other players on the Yale football team, The Game has an entirely different meaning. For them, the fun comes from playing The Game well, doing the job right, “sticking to the process,” and knowing that, when the clock hits zero, the final tally will take care of itself. It comes from all of their 106 teammates. And the ultimate reward they may draw from The Game will come years from now, when, stiff-kneed and gray-haired, they walk into the Bowl once more.
When I asked running back Candler Rich if, with everything on the line, he was feeling anxious about The Game. He smiled, almost holding back a wink, and asked, “What’s there to be anxious about?”
Americans love sports. They don their paraphernalia — a cap, a hoodie, a proof of fandom — and sit on a couch to have one-sided conversations with their television screens. They frequent stadiums to enjoy the action mere feet away, to relax, not relax, revel in the crowd. They get their fix, paradoxically enough, by creating their own fantasy teams, virtual fiefdoms in which the average father of four can concoct and manage a perfect roster of players built from real-life athletes. They cheer, jeer, cry, harangue, fill the taverns to celebrate a victory, take to the same taverns to mourn a defeat. No matter the outcome, pride for the sports junkie, in all its expressions, becomes a take-no-prisoners mentality, a stimulant and a shield.
The ways of the American are, naturally, not that uncommon. How could they be, when sports have been so vital, so universal to human history, ever since our Olympian forebears threw their first disc? A steadfast Red Sox fan in Massachusetts is no different from my dad back home in the Dominican Republic, whose right knee pops up every time David “Big Papi” Ortiz scores another decisive grand slam on ESPN. Forget plantains, forget rum: gifted baseball players have been the leading Dominican export of the past half-century. Accordingly, it is with baseball that I began my stormy dalliance with sports.
Age five, maybe six. It’s a Saturday. Dad wakes me up. We’re going to take a short trip, it seems, so no “Pinky and the Brain” for me this morning. I have vague impressions of what follows next.
In my polo shirt and khakis, I am driven to a nondescript, large terrain surrounded by low walls. I stand on a diamond of dirt, hiding behind my father’s legs as he talks to another man, the leader, I assume, of the pack of uniformed children sprinting and screaming around me so intensely. Dad takes me to the edge of the field. It takes me very few words to win this round against him. I shake my head, growing more reluctant even as he kneels down to plead his case. But, no, no, no, I say, I will not join a Little League baseball team. End of story.
In a stab at self-validation, I did join the soccer team in third grade. We practiced every Wednesday after class. I’ll rephrase: the other kids ran back and forth along the makeshift field while I sat and observed. I regularly grabbed handfuls of soil to smear on my white shirt so I could feign the illusion of an afternoon well spent.
Then, I tried my hand at golf, till a mishap with a 7-iron almost knocked my eye out of its socket. I never tucked away the bumpers at the edge of my bowling lane. I did a little bit of swimming. My foray into roller skating crumbled under weak ankles. The hacky sack outsmarted me. The exception, like manna from René Lacoste’s version of heaven, was the racquet. I hit those tennis balls with vigor no one ever thought I could muster. The clay courts, however, quickly bored me and the zeal vanished.
Given my athletic record, any modicum of sports knowledge I have I gained through watching my father watch baseball on TV, or hockey or college basketball or professional basketball or soccer or, most curious of all, football. American football. Legs crossed on the living room ottoman, I spent years teasing out the logic of what I considered the most martial of sports. Men in helmets, wearing protective gear, trying to burst through the rival’s defenses in order to achieve a sense of territory.
It never hit me. An imaginary playbook tried to form itself piecemeal in my head, to no avail. My own lack of interest made me wonder about the genesis of my father’s enthusiasm for football. Ah, well, of course, it was all that time rubbing elbows with those WASP-y chums in military school in New Jersey, and then college in Boston. Surely, I thought, this football, this fascination over a sport, was part of that addictive miasma of Americana of which we Gassós can’t get enough.
So I stuck it out. I stayed put by the TV. If I wasn’t going to fully connect with football, then at least it could provide me with cultural exposure through osmosis, with some kind of conditioning for the bumbling soul. But it was time wasted. I learned nothing about American fanaticism, no rules, no definitions for terms like “fake punt” and “cut blocking.”
Such futility is what dissuades me from picking up a ticket to The Game this Saturday. Year after year, The Game — that alleged zenith of school unity and “bow wow wow” — turns out to be one of the most alienating moments of my fall semester. It’s not the tailgate; roistering students I can handle. It’s not the blistering cold circling in the vacuum of the Yale Bowl.
It is the feeling that, even amid all the fanfare, I am still the scrawny teenager sitting on the ottoman, failing to find myself within that collective experience, the thrill of belonging that only sports can foster.
You woke up with a song in your heart this morning because the WKND you’ve been waiting for all year has just begun. Yes folks, it’s the Harvard-Yale game.
Though I trust you are already singing Cole Porter’s “Bulldog” and “Bright College Years,” the real question this WKND is — what other tunes will be blaring from your speakers? So here’s a guide for all you musically challenged people to make sure your best H-Y WKND ever will have the best soundtrack ever.
As soon as you’re done with classes for the week, break out the disco take on Gladiator with Izzy’s “Now We Are Free” — feel that Thanksgiving freedom running through your veins, throw papers to the wind and embrace the fact that you will get no work done over break. Done that? Now let’s move on.
As the night approaches, transition to some Icona Pop. I recommend “All Night” because you will at this point believe that you can “do this all night.” That is, of course, until you get to Commons for what is in effect the closest thing to a Harvard-Yale rave. Once there, you consider giving up and heading home. But as the temperature climbs, just accept the sweaty bodies and grind along to Nelly’s “Hot in Herre.” But please, do not take off all your clothes. This is Commons, not Toad’s.
With a little bit of luck, you will not wake up with a Crimson in your bed. But sometimes, somehow, they find their way there, usually with the help of a healthy dose of tequila and that pre-break “slutever” attitude. If it’s too late to prevent this dreadful event, shake it off with a little Lovato-Lloyd combo in “Really Don’t Care” — let’s be real, you really don’t want that Cantab back into your life.
You might have also gone a little too hard the night before — don’t worry, it’s inevitable. On your way to catch the bus to the Bowl, plug in your headphones and groove (read: stumble) along to “Hangover” by Taio Cruz. And then pour yourself some more, because it’s game day and you will rally.
Keep killing the game (teehee) on the bus ride over with Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger.” Not only will this get you pumped up for The Game (HARVARD SUCKS, amirite?!), it’ll emotionally prepare you for the long day of drinking and merriment that lies ahead. Mostly the drinking. If you’re feeling some serious spirit, I recommend replacing the word “Tiger” with “Bulldog” because we’re not about that Princeton life here. Time for that 16–52 score to go.
On arriving at the Tailgate (shout-out to TD, winning the Tailgate since forever), you might feel a little uncomfortable about starting to drink so early in the a.m. For this, I suggest listening to Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffett’s “It’s 5 o’Clock Somewhere.” I think the message here is pretty clear.
We don’t care if we’re not in the South. Today is the day to show your Yale pride and pretend that we actually go to a big football school. So keep up the country classics and tailgate necessities by swinging around with your friends to “Wagon Wheel,” grilled food in one hand, Solo Cup in the other. Even if it is cold and rainy, dancing/liquor will certainly keep you warm.
As noon draws near, we are called to the Bowl. In a last effort to swing The Game in our favor, blast DJ Khaled’s “All I Do Is Win” because no matter what the outcome of The Game is, you know that Yale wins because “SCHOOL ON MONDAY! SCHOOL ON MONDAY!”
The other day, I learned that I had gotten an F on a final paper for my political science seminar, “Yale After 1845.” My thesis was, “Harvard is better than Yale.” I emailed my TA and asked her to explain the failing grade. This was her response:
Thanks for your question. The first thing that let your essay down was the fact that you printed it on unbleached paper towels. I don’t know whether this was some environmental statement or a prank, but this made the essay very difficult to read. Furthermore, I hear that this is the reason that the printers in Bass Library have been out of order for the past week. Why did you think stuffing the paper towels into the printer tray would work? That’s not relevant to the grading of the paper, I’m just curious. I’m curious about a lot of things about you, actually.
Once I transcribed the essay onto normal printing paper, I found some other problems with it. Your central thesis was “Harvard is better than Yale (in every respect so just DEAL WITH IT),” which is, to be frank, quite a lofty claim. I’m not just saying this because I’m a Yale grad student and am therefore partial to the school that I have attended for the past three months of my life (it’s really grown on me, let me tell you… sorry, that’s neither here nor there). It’s too broad a thesis, especially when the paper’s prompt asked you to “examine a single, specific case of Yale’s portrayal in the media.”
Another weak point of the essay was the paragraph about this year’s apparel for the Harvard/Yale football game. You write: “Okay, so Yale’s shirts have a bulldog POOPING on clothes and SURE I guess that’s a timely reference, given the whole Poopetrator debacle, but that doesn’t really excuse the fact that there is POOP on our shirts. Like, I don’t want to wear this shirt that has POOP on it because that is DISGUSTING.” This is a fair point, but it shows a lack of depth in your research; you do not seem to be aware that the fabric of this year’s Harvard’s shirts is a blend of cotton, polyester and excrement. Thus, there is actual “poop” woven INTO the shirts, which, in my mind, makes the Yale’s better. Your contention that Harvard is better because of their recent streak of wins in The Game is similarly shortsighted; the series record since 1875 is 65-56-8 in favor of Yale. What confuses me is that the Wikipedia article from which you cited this statistic also contains the series record. Also, Wikipedia is not a proper source for research papers. I thought we went over this in section, that day you wore a cute scarf.
There were also several mechanical errors. As you can see from the prior examples, you often type in all capitals, as if this would somehow drive your point home (moreover, I’d prefer to read “poop” over “POOP” – the latter is kind of gross, no?). There was also a point midway through the essay where you appeared to have just punched the keyboard repeatedly. I understand that eight pages can be difficult to fill, but this is not the way to do it. Also this: “Harvard kids and their stupid ugly dumb-dumb faces.” This is a fragment.
And then there was this paragraph: “Mostly, Harvard is better than Yale because I go to Yale and my high school girlfriend Allison Freedman goes to Harvard. She is so smart and pretty. We were friends until college decisions came out, and I realized that she got into Harvard and I got into Yale. And then I said, ‘Why didn’t you apply to Yale so we could go to college together?’ And she said, ‘Why would I do that?’ And I said, ‘So we can keep seeing each other!’ And she said, ‘We aren’t dating.’ And then I said, ‘What? But I thought…’ And then she said, ‘Please stop crying in the middle of our Spanish presentation.’ God, I miss her so much. Allison, if this gets published in The Economist or The New Yorker or whatever smart-people stuff you read and you’re seeing this now, I’m sorry about that time at junior prom when I elbowed you in the face because the DJ played ‘Hey Ya!’ and that’s my favorite song. You’re great. Please call me sometime. Have you been getting my voicemails?” This is a personal anecdote and has no place in an academic paper. Also, get over her. There are plenty of fish in the sea. Ha, not to use a cliché or anything! That would be embarrassing for a TA to use a cliché, right? But also sort of endearing, no?
Are you taking this class Credit/D? What do you do in the spare time when you could be preparing for the class? Do you have a lot of spare time? Like, for example, Friday night around 9 p.m.? Are you 21? Just curious.
Please let me know if all this makes sense. I’d be happy to meet with you in person to discuss more. Please consider meeting with me to discuss ways to make up the grade, especially on, for example, Friday night around 9 p.m. Also, maybe consider switching majors?
When I told friends or family I was currently engrossed in a book about college football, the reaction I always received was: “Really?” Yeah, I’ll admit it; I’m less than even a casual college football fan. I’ll root for Yale over anyone else and I’ll support the University of Pittsburgh out of hometown pride, but I’d be hard-pressed to name a single player or coach. My ability to follow a sports team begins and ends with the Steelers.
And yet, I was utterly captivated by — and thoroughly enjoyed — “The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football,” by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian. In fact, I may have enjoyed it all the more because many of the stories that would have been familiar to college fans were completely new to me, and thus surprising. Benedict, an acclaimed and prolific investigative reporter, and Keteyian, chief investigative correspondent for CBS News, do an excellent job making the topic digestible even for someone like me.
College football is, according to the authors, “the biggest game in the United States, in terms of overall impact.” While the NBA or MLB or NFL may have higher salaries and better coverage on ESPN, they have fewer teams, which cover less area, than college football; the only television program more watched than the 2013 BCS College Football National Championship was the Super Bowl. College football “is everywhere.” It is a glorious, monstrous, nearly religious system that is as widespread geographically as it is in its fan base.
And, for all the excitement, college football exists within a highly flawed system. Sex, sin, scandal, and billions of shady dollars stuff its hidden underbelly.
With the rigor of professional journalists, Benedict and Keteyian demonstrate how student athletes are working full-time jobs in a system that does not pay them. College athletes are far more likely than non-athletes to commit crimes, including and especially sexual assault, but much of this misconduct is covered up by team “janitors” (highly paid fixers) or even the police. Injuries — especially head injuries — are everywhere and nearly inevitable. A staggeringly high percentage of players who never go pro also don’t graduate college, and a black player is far more likely than a white player not to receive a diploma. Top-tier high school recruits — 17-year-olds — are sometimes offered illegal recruitment packages in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, and they are frequently seduced by “hostesses” — leggy college girls who are explicitly directed to flirt (or more) with the boys in order to recruit them. Many teams have budgets over $100 million, and many coaches are the highest paid public employees in the state. Yet for all the money flooding the game, 90 percent of major athletic departments operate at a loss.
It’s crazy. And it’s also highly entertaining. The authors create a gripping narrative through a series of profiles — of coaches, players, recruits, NCAA investigators, agents, strippers and more. We meet Ricky Seals-Jones, the most sought-after recruit in the country, who is being stalked, bribed and threatened by big-name schools. We see Mike Leach, one of the most controversial and successful coaches in the game, who took a nothing team at Texas Tech, made it into a powerhouse, and then was forced to resign in disgrace. We learn about Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah, a Mormon from Africa who, after walking on to the BYU team (never having played the game) and starting for just a half a season, is catapulted into the NFL as the fifth overall pick in the 2013 draft. We hear the tales of donors who make Charles Johnson look tight-fisted and players who make Patrick Witt look like a choirboy. And the money, oh the money.
Benedict and Keteyian, who have both written for Sports Illustrated and numerous other publications covering athletics, make good use of their contacts, gaining unprecedented access to the 2012 season. At times hyperbolic, at times self-congratulatory, their coverage is nonetheless fresh and eye opening.
“The System” is ultimately more of an indictment than a celebration. It dwells more on the scandal than on the glory. Its authors do not, however, provide many concrete policy suggestions. The system of tutoring college athletes, recruiting college athletes, paying administrators and funding teams is a little scary, but, even after reading “The System,” I wouldn’t know where to begin trying to fix things. Hopefully, “The System” will serve to start a more productive conversation among a wider audience.