Harvard won its first Ivy League championship in 1961 in somewhat surprising fashion under head coach John Yovicsin. After the favored 1960 squad settled for a third-place finish in the Ancient Eight, preseason forecasts for the following year had Harvard in seventh place. As the season began with three losses in the first four games, there seemed to be little reason for optimism. But the Crimson finished the year with five straight wins, including a 27-0 decision against Yale which left Harvard tied with Columbia at 6-1 in the Ivy League.
"the greatest back I ever coached" by John Yovicsin, led a strong Harvard ground game to the Crimsons second Ivy League title and an 8-1 season. Only a loss to Princeton kept Harvard from an unbeaten season the Tigers marched 93 yards for the go-ahead score in the fourth quarter. As it was, Harvard shared the Ivy title with Dartmouth and Princeton, as Leo went on to win the George Bulger Lowe Award as the top player in New England before enjoying a two-year professional career with the Boston Patriots.
Perhaps the best known of Harvard’s Ivy League championship teams is the 1968 squad, which gained a share of the league title by scoring 16 points in the last 42 seconds of the season finale against Yale to forge a 29-29 tie and give both squads 6-0-1 Ivy records. Both Harvard and Yale had reeled off eight wins to set the stage for what stands as arguably the greatest finish in the history of Harvard Stadium. Yale appeared to have the outright Ivy title in hand with a 29-13 lead in the final minute, but the Crimson scored two touchdowns and a pair of two-point conversions to ignite a festive celebration at the Stadium. The headline of the Harvard Crimson said it best: “Harvard Beats Yale, 29-29.”
While the finish to the 1968 Harvard-Yale game stands as the most exciting, the 1974 matchup between the two rivals was nothing short of extraordinary. Quarterback Milt “Pineapple” Holt ’75 engineered a 90-yard scoring drive in the final five minutes to lift Harvard, coached by Joe Restic, to a 21-16 win and allow the Crimson to share the Ivy League title with the Bulldogs. Yale had entered the game 8-0 overall and 6-0 in the Ivies, while Harvard was 5-1 in the Ancient Eight and needed a win to earn a tie for the championship. Harvard finished the season 7-2 overall, and Pat McInally ’75 was a first team All-America selection.
Harvard made history with its first outright Ivy League title in 1975, but it wasn’t easy. To the surprise of no one, the Ivy title chase came down to the final game of the season against Yale. A Harvard win would leave the Crimson as the sole champion of the Ancient Eight, while a Bulldog victory would create a tie between the schools for the second straight year. As Harvard and Yale celebrated the 100th anniversary of their first meeting, Mike Lynch ’76-77 kicked a 26-yard field goal with 38 seconds left to lift the Crimson to a 10-7 victory in New Haven.
Harvard had been shut out by Yale in each of the two previous seasons, but in 1982, with a chance to grab a share of the Ivy League championship, the Crimson left little doubt that it belonged on top. The Crimson took a 45-7 win against the Bulldogs at the Stadium to forge a tie with Penn and Dartmouth for the Ancient Eight championship, Joe Restic’s third as Harvard’s head coach. Michael Corbat ’83 was a first team All-America selection.
Harvard won back-to-back Ivy League championships for the second time in its history when the 1983 squad went unbeaten in its last five games to share the title with Penn. Led by a defense that allowed just 14 points per game, a motivated Harvard squad registered a 28-0 win against the Quakers to set the Crimson up for an Ivy title split the following week against Yale. The win against Penn came just one year after a controversial Quaker victory that accounted for the three-way tie for the 1982 championship.
Harvard won its second outright Ivy League title and gave head coach Joe Restic his best season along the Crimson sideline with an 8-2 overall record and a 6-1 showing in the Ivies. Once again, the championship chase wasn’t decided until the final week of the season, as the Crimson denied Yale a share of the title with a 14-10 victory in sub-zero temperatures at the Yale Bowl. Defensive end Don Peterson ’89 was named a first team All-America selection.
Harvard ran the table in the Ivy League for the first time by going 9-1 overall and 7-0 in the league to capture its third outright Ivy championship. Paced by an offense that averaged better than 30 points per game and a defense that allowed just four touchdowns to league opponents, Harvard gave head coach Tim Murphy his first title with the Crimson. Running back Chris Menick ’00 set the team’s single-season rushing record with 1,267 yards.
Staking its claim among the best teams in Harvard Football history, the 2001 squad became the first Crimson eleven to finish with a perfect season in 88 years. Having knocked off Penn in a battle of unbeaten teams in the second-to-last week of the season, Harvard took a 35-23 win against Yale in front of 52,000 for its 10th Ivy championship and second under current head coach Tim Murphy. The Crimson was led by wide receiver Carl Morris ’03, who won the first of two consecutive Asa S. Bushnell Cups as the Ivy League player of the year.
Harvard registered its second perfect season in four years and finished with its best record in 103 years as the Crimson went 10-0 and captured its fifth outright Ivy title. Just two games were decided by fewer than 10 points, and the Crimson completed the perfect year with a 35-3 decision against Yale at a sold-out Harvard Stadium. Ryan Fitzpatrick ’05 was unanimously chosen as the winner of the Asa S. Bushnell Cup as the Ivy League’s player of the year. The Crimson offense scored at least 30 points in all but one game, while the defense dealt two shutouts and held the last six opponents to 14 points or less.
Harvard started the year at 1-2 following two last-second road losses but the team rebounded in tremendous character, streaking through the Ivy League season behind backup quarterback Chris Pizzotti ’08-09 who would go on to be named first team All-Ivy as one of an astounding 20 team representatives for the Crimson. In the 124th playing of The Game, undefeated league teams met for just the fourth time in Ivy history with an 11th-ranked and 9-0 Yale team vying for its first unblemished season since 1960.The Crimson dashed those hopes early in a 37-6 victory in front of 57,248 fans at Yale Bowl as the Harvard defense, keyed by its four all-Ivy defensive backs, held Yale to 109 yards.
A solid offense and a defensive unit that made timely stands allowed Harvard to become just the eighth team in Ivy League history to win the championship after losing in its league opener. The 14th-ranked Crimson finished the season at 9-1 overall, capped by a 10-0 blanking of Yale. All-American Chris Pizzotti '07-08 earned the Asa Bushnell Cup Player of the Year honors and was a finalist for the Walter Payton Award. He finished his career with a 20-2 record as a starter, while leading the Crimson to its first back-to-back titles since 1982-83. Andrew Berry '09, Matt Curtis '09 and James Williams '10 also garnered All-America honors and were three of Harvard's league-high 18 all-Ivy selections.