Commentary

Harvard-Yale Rivalry a Tribute to the Student-Athlete

Updated: October 2, 2008, 2:35 PM ET
By Tony Guadagnoli | Special to ESPN SportsTravel


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Before two of the nation's oldest universities had a field to play on, they were eager to prove which school was superior in the rough-and-tumble new sport of football. Since 1875, the Harvard-Yale rivalry has emerged simply as "The Game."

Bernie Corbett, Harvard football play-by-play announcer who co-wrote the book "The Only Game That Matters" about the football rivalry, said The Game is special because it usually is the last time these men will put on pads.

History of "The Game"

Highlights in the Yale-Harvard rivalry:

1875: First contest played at Hamilton Park in New Haven, Conn. Yale guaranteed Harvard $75 to play; tickets sold for 50 cents. (Harvard 4, Yale 0)

1885: The Harvard faculty bans football, calling it "brutal, demoralizing to teams and spectators, and extremely dangerous."

1889: The bulldog owned by Andrew Graves (Yale class of 1892) and named Handsome Dan becomes Yale's mascot. (Yale 6, Harvard 0)

1903: First game is played at Harvard Stadium (Yale 16, Harvard 0)

1908: Percy Haughton is named Harvard's head coach. The story that he once tore a live bulldog to pieces in front of his team cannot be proved. (Harvard 4, Yale 0)

1914: First Yale-Harvard game played in the Yale Bowl. (Harvard 36, Yale 0)

1916: Students "shot off Roman candles and fireworks, writhed in snake dances, and caroused far into the night," wrote the New York Times of Yale's 6-3 win.

1920: 80,000 fans are in attendance at the Yale Bowl, the largest crowd ever at The Game. (Harvard 9, Yale 0)

1923: There were 54 punts during The Game. (Yale 29, Harvard 25)

1930: The Game becomes the first U.S. football contest broadcast to England. (Harvard 13, Yale 0)

1934: Handsome Dan was lured from the Yale campus with hamburger and photographed licking the boots of John Harvard's statue. (Yale 14, Harvard 0)

1945: Ivy League is formed, originally pertaining only to football, to prevent universities from becoming merely a training ground for the pros. (Yale 28, Harvard 0)

1955: Harvard students let three piglets loose onto the field as the Yale band played. (Yale 21, Harvard 7)

1963: For the first time in history The Game is postponed, because of President Kennedy's assassination on Nov. 22. (Yale wins 23-6 on Nov. 30)

1968: The Tie: In what has been known as "The Game of the Century," Harvard comes from behind to tie, 29-29, scoring 16 points in the final 42 seconds and leading to the headline in the Harvard Crimson, "Harvard Beats Yale, 29-29."

1982: Courtesy of MIT, an enormous black balloon rises out of the field in front of the Harvard bench. (Harvard 45, Yale 7)

1983: Led by parachutists before the game, the schools celebrate the 100th playing of The Game. (Harvard 16, Yale 7).

1990: MIT students launch a banner reading "MIT" from the goal posts during the third quarter. (Yale 34, Harvard 19)

2004: Yale students, dressed as the "Harvard Pep Squad," prank Harvard fans at Harvard Stadium by telling them to hold placards that will read, "Go Harvard." Instead the cards spell out, "We Suck." (Harvard 35, Yale 3)

Sources: Yale University, Yale Bulletin

Neither school competes in postseason play, few participants turn pro and, as Corbett said, "You don't have a lot of schools with coaches scheduling game plans around bio-chemistry labs."

It is one of the last bastions of the true student-athlete.

And with Satuday's tilt at the Yale Bowl the first time since 1968 both Yale and Harvard come into The Game unbeaten in league play, the rivalry game will determine the Ivy title.

"These are the captains of industry," Corbett said. "The guy you are running into on the line is the same guy you may be running into on Wall Street."

Corbett said with today's intercollegiate athletics often having the feel of being tainted and commercialized, The Game has a sense of timelessness.

"What it has allowed is a looking glass back in time of the more pristine state in terms of the game," Corbett said. "As they say, 'It is as it was.'"

The Bulldogs lead the Crimson 65-51-8 heading into the 125th meeting Nov. 22 at Harvard Stadium, but Harvard has won six of the last seven. Last year, both teams were 9-0 with Harvard spoiling Yale's bid for its first 10-0 season in 47 years in a 37-6 rout, Harvard's most lopsided win at the Yale Bowl since 1959.

According to Yale, it took 60 gallons of paint and four days to get the field ready for this year's tilt. The process began Nov. 6, when the "H-Y" logo was sketched on the field, and was completed Tuesday, when a second coat of color was added.

The Game has been interrupted only by World Wars I and II and a few years in the 19th century when the schools were not on good terms or had banned football altogether. And there remains one game that has become the epitome of The Game.

Leading 29-13 with 42 seconds remaining at Harvard Stadium, Yale appeared poised to take home the 1968 Ivy League crown, along with a perfect 9-0 record. Brian Dowling, starting quarterback for the Bulldogs, had not lost a game he started since the sixth grade. Yale also had a 16-game winning streak going into the game and was led by talented running back Calvin Hill, who would go on to NFL success with the Dallas Cowboys.

Harvard (8-0), however, was not content to allow its rival to leave its home turf with helmets raised aloft. With the assistance of offensive tackle Tommy Lee Jones — whose movie debut was in Harvard-based "Love Story" and who would find much more fame in Hollywood — the Crimson achieved the impossible, scoring 16 points in those final 42 seconds.

The Elis, obviously, were stunned and it led the Harvard Crimson to print the famous headline "Harvard Beats Yale, 29-29."

Longtime Yale coach Carmen Cozza had never seen a replay of that game until 1977, when he was on a panel for "The Way It Was," a PBS show hosted and moderated by legendary broadcaster Curt Gowdy.

"You could just see the anguish on his face while this thing is playing again," Corbett said of Cozza. "And he had never seen it.

"He told Gowdy, 'Curt, that tie was the worst loss of my career.'"

Despite that "loss," however, Cozza, remains the winningest coach in Ivy League history, securing 10 league titles along the way.

Of course, The Game features more than winning and losing.

Pranks and obscene cheers, along with copious amounts of alcohol, often have been part of The Game. Perhaps the best caper came at the hands of the home fans, literally.

In the 2004 game at Harvard Stadium, Yale students disguised as the non-existent "Harvard Pep Squad," handed out white and crimson placards to fans on the Harvard side of the stadium, which was comprised primarily of Harvard alumni.

The group told the crowd that by displaying the placards at the same time they would spell "Go Harvard." The placards were actually arranged to spell "We Suck."

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