Friday, November 28, 2014

Rivalry Week(s): Harvard-Yale

Oh, come on, like there's anything I can add about this one? The Crimson and the Bulldogs have been duking it out since Ulysses S. Grant was in the White House, and there's usually an Ivy League title, an undefeated season or both (as was the case this year) at stake. Heck, even ESPN College Gameday paid a visit this year!
Although Harvard has won 13 of the last 14 games, Yale still leads the all-time series, 65-58-8 -- the Bulldogs owned this series in the 19th century.
There are plenty of books on this series. The Game: The Harvard-Yale Football Rivalry, 1875-1983 has some great photos and interesting info, but it reads like a near-parody of haughty Ivy League dialogue. Oddity: Yale is rarely referred to as the "Bulldogs;" it's usually the "Blue" or the "Bulldog" -- singular, like the old Philadelphia Bell of the WFL. The Only Game That Matters, which I have but haven't read, centers around the 2002 game and the buildup. I don't have Harvard Beats Yale 29-29, nor have I seen the film (I’m feeling shame as I type this).
Let's look at a few highlights:

1968: Harvard Beats Yale 29-29
This game came in with ridiculous amounts of hype: Two 8-0 teams battling for the Ivy League title and an undefeated season. Harvard trailed by 16 points with 42 seconds left. You know the rest. The images of future MLB catcher Pete Varney holding the ball after the tying 2-point conversion and the classic Harvard scoreboard reading "29-29" are two of my all-time favorites. Somehow, this game did the impossible and surpassed the hype. (Having pored through the Boston Globe archives, I can definitely tell you the hype was pretty amazing.) 

Pete Varney celebrates his "winning" 2-point conversion as dusk descends upon Harvard Stadium.
Varney has coached the Brandeis University baseball team for more than three decades.

The most famous tie in New England football history has been commemorated
on record albums ...

... and posters. These are both from eBay listings.

The classic Harvard scoreboard tells the story.
This is from the Nov. 25, 1968 Yale Daily News.

1974: The Best Ever?
As great as The Game (excuse me, THE GAME) was in '68, some say the '74 edition was even better. Harvard QB Milt Holt led the Crimson on a 90-yard drive in the closing minutes, scoring the winning TD on a 1-yard run with 16 seconds left to give Harvard a 21-16 win over unbeaten Yale and a tie for the Ivy title with the Bulldogs. The Crimson had trailed 13-0 in the second quarter.

* Note the Harvard helmet, with the "Real Football Centennial" helmet, touched upon here.

The headline from the Nov. 25, 1974 Yale Daily News.

1976: The 'Drop Dead' Game
Yale backup QB Bob Rizzo, replacing starter Stone Phillips (yes, that Stone Phillips, of Dateline NBC fame in the 90s), led the Bulldogs to three second-half touchdowns in a 21-7 win and a tie for the Ivy League crown with Brown.

Geez, Yale, don't hold your emotions in or anything.

I included this game basically for the Yale Daily News headline, a parody of the New York Daily News' "Ford To City: Drop Dead" headline from that era.

1999: The Catch
Before he was a standout tight end for the San Francisco 49ers, before he was married to Jessica Simpson (and before that, a pole dancing instructor), Eric Johnson was a damn good wide receiver for Yale, and against Harvard in 1999, he had perhaps the greatest game of anyone in the history of the storied rivalry. 
Johnson caught 21 passes (the NFL record is 20) for 244 yards, including the game-winning touchdown with 29 seconds left, in a 24-21 win that gave the Bulldogs another shared Ivy title with Brown. A year later, his one-handed catch in the back of the end zone helped Yale to a 34-24 win. You can read a little more about it here.
Johnson left as the Bulldogs' all-time leader in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns.
Perhaps not coincidentally, Yale has beaten Harvard only once since then.

* Harvard began wearing solid crimson socks that year; Yale's uniforms, with the logos splashed all over and the outlined "Y" on the helmet, were in full post-Carm Cozza bloom.
Over the next few weeks, we'll update the 2014 uniforms for the teams covered on this blog, then get back to some more historical goodies!

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