Media Center: Crimson Football - Harvard-Yale: "The Game"

Pete Varney's two-point conversion catch sealed one of the greatest all-time games in sports history as Harvard "defeated" Yale, 29-29, in 1968
Pete Varney's two-point conversion catch sealed one of the greatest all-time games in sports history as Harvard "defeated" Yale, 29-29, in 1968
All About The Game

132 And Counting

With its 132nd playing this year, the Harvard-Yale rivalry is the third-most played series in college football. Only Lehigh-Lafayette (150meetings) and Princeton-Yale (137) have played more often.

Instant Classic
Harvard’s 30-24 triple-overtime win in 2005 stands as the longest football game in Ivy League history.

Familiar Faces
Harvard assistant coaches Joel Lamb is a former Yale assistant. Yale coaches Tony Reno, Joe Conlin, Dwayne Wilmot and Kris Barber were previous Harvard assistants. 

The Last In Line
In every formal season since 1898, Harvard’s final opponent has been Yale. There is only one exception, as the 1920 campaign was completed with a 7-6 Rose Bowl victory over Oregon. Harvard got there with a 10-3 decision over the Elis.

Double Duty
Wayne Johnson, Jr. (Harvard A.B. ’44, L.L. B. 48) is the only player to have lettered for both Harvard and Yale in football. In 1942, Johnson played fullback for the Crimson and, against Yale, dropped a critical pass in a 7-3 defeat to the Elis. Soon after, he joined the Marines, where the Corps assigned him to Yale in a program that permitted undergrads to continue their studies while preparing for a commission. He played just one game for the Elis before an injury ended his season but was still awarded a letter.

Home Field Advantage?
Harvard is 26-22-1 at the Yale Bowl; Harvard is 26-25-3 at Harvard Stadium. The visiting team has won 16 of the last 27 Games.

On The Charts
The Harvard-Yale rivalry was tabbed as the sixth-best rivalry in college athletics, according to Sports Illustrated On Campus. Alabama-Auburn was first on the list, followed by Duke-North Carolina, UCLA-USC, Army-Navy and Cal-Stanford.

It was the first rivalry in all of college athletics. Today, 159 years later, Harvard-Yale still stands as one of the best series in the world of sports.

These schools are familiar with being first and foremost. Yale fields 35 varsity sports and Harvard has 42, the most of any Division I school in the nation.

Harvard teams have won 140 national titles in sports ranging from crew to football and lacrosse to fencing. Yale has 105 national titles to its credit, including several in football, swimming and diving, squash and golf.

The schools have combined to capture 497 Ivy League championships since the circuit was formed in 1956 and combined to win 12 League titles in 2011-12 with Harvard claiming 10 of them.

Former Harvard football coach Joe Restic, who guided the Crimson for 23 seasons until his retirement in 1993, quipped, “Each year, we’re friends for 364 days and rivals for just one.” While he was primarily assessing his relationship with his legendary Yale counterpart Carm Cozza, those words apply across the board.

Harvard-Yale is as much a debate as it is a feud. Think Lincoln-Douglas, not Hatfield-McCoy, though it should be noted the two schools jousted some eight years before the 1860 presidential candidates squared off on opposite podiums. In politics, the last four U.S. presidents have earned a combined five degrees from Harvard and Yale. Twelve presidents have earned a combined 13 degrees from Harvard and Yale. In all, a high of five U.S. presidents did their undergrad at Harvard (compared to three at Yale), and three earned graduate degrees at Harvard (compared to two at Yale).

Yet a rivalry doesn’t grow in stature by accident. Both schools have played major roles in advancing and shaping college athletics.

In 1843, Yale started the first college boat club in America; in 1884, Eli runner Charles Sherrill first demonstrated the four-point crouch for sprinters; in 1890, Yale introduced “cheerleaders” at a football game, a first in college sports; in 1896, the first intercollegiate ice hockey game featured Yale and Johns Hopkins (a 2-2 tie); and in 1897, Yale men’s basketball played in the country’s first 5-on-5 game.

Harvard, founded in 1636, has the distinction of being the nation’s first college. Among its athletics firsts are: in 1877, the first baseball catcher’s mask was used in a Harvard game, a fencing mask adapted by inventor Fred Thayer for Alexander Tyng; in 1896, Harvard freshman James B. Connolly became the first gold medalist of the modern Olympics (winning the hop, hop and jump); in 1901, women’s field hockey was first introduced to America on the Harvard (Radcliffe) campus; in 1903, Harvard Stadium, the nation’s oldest football stadium, was built; in 1905, Harvard played in the first intercollegiate soccer match (falling to Haverford, 1-0); and in 1947, Chester Pierce ’48 became the first African-American footballer to play against a white college in the South when the Crimson met the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

The football rivalry, however, is arguably the most revered. Harvard and Yale have met 128 times on the gridiron since November 13, 1875 in New Haven (a 4-0 Harvard win). The series is the third-most-played in college football history and is now referenced around the country simply as “The Game.” And, while combining for 18 national championships and 28 Ivy crowns, the annual contest still attracts sellout crowds to Cambridge and over 50,000 fans to the Bowl in New Haven.

Yet it was football that nearly splintered relations between these two schools. In 1894, following a game known as the “Springfield Massacre” when seven players were carried off the field in “dying condition,” Harvard and Yale broke off relations. Each blamed the other for the contest’s unprecedented brutality.

Historian George Sullivan wrote, “So savage was combat on a neutral Springfield gridiron … that newspapers printed a casualty summary similar to those listing victims of a disaster. The game’s violence appalled the world and ignited a national uproar about football ferocity-outrage that threatened the sport’s future.”

And the rivalry’s as well. The schools didn’t meet in football for two seasons, while the baseball, crew and track and field teams avoided each other for one. But the allure of competition was too great, and by 1897, the schools were back at it. Harvard’s student newspaper, The Crimson, welcomed the resumption: “forgetting the past and resolving a generous open-handed rivalry for the future, Harvard joins hands with Yale and welcomes her heartily and joyfully to her old place as Harvard’s nearest and dearest foe.”

By 1898, the football game had relocated to its now-familiar and permanent perch as the final one on each school’s docket.

Football has also generated the most lore. The notorious flying wedge, the brainchild of Harvard assistant Lorin Deland, was introduced in the 1892 H-Y game. Harvard coach Percy Haughton is purported to have choked a bulldog to fire up his troops for the 1908 game (although just a story, whatever he did worked as the Crimson won 4-0). In 1923, Yale’s T.A.D. Jones told his players, “Gentlemen, you are now going out to play football against Harvard. Never again in your whole life will you do anything so important.”

The 1930s had the majestic Barry Wood (Harvard)-Albie Booth (Yale) battles. It was also the era when a Harvard illustrator drew a game program cover of a pilgrim unceremoniously sitting on Yale’s famous captain’s fence. Some Eli alums were so outraged that a suspension of the series was briefly discussed, before cooler heads prevailed (Harvard’s 1995 football captain, Justin Frantz, became the first Harvard athlete invited to sit on the fence, and his picture with Yale captain Tony Mazurkiewicz graced that year’s program).

The 1952 Game is remembered for the “ultimate insult” when Yale’s football team manager, Charlie Yeager, was put in the game to catch a two-point conversion that culminated a 41-14 Eli blowout at the Stadium. More than half a century later, that one still hurts.

Harvard’s 1968 “win” over Yale is still rated as one of the top college football games ever played. Both schools entered The Game owning identical 8-0 records, but Yale appeared well on its way to victory and a perfect season as thousands silently streamed out of The Stadium as the clock counted down. That’s before Harvard miraculously scored 16 points in the final 42 seconds to “defeat” the Elis, 29-29. An extra edition of The Crimson, issued just five minutes after the final gun, carried the now famous headline, “HARVARD BEATS YALE, 29-29.” Some joke that Harvard’s greatest “win” was actually a tie, but none of those people were wearing Crimson that afternoon.

Another memorable day came in 1982, when a group of MIT frat boys exploded a balloon out of the Stadium turf — at midfield, no less — during Harvard’s 45-7 triumph.

More recently, Yale rallied to win thrillers in 1998, 1999 and 2000. Harvard has had the edge through the early 21st century, however, as the Crimson won an unprecedented five straight against the Bulldogs (2001-05) and nine of 10 from 2001-10 with 2006 being the lone exception. The 2005 Game immediately joined the ranks of the greatest in the history of the series as the Crimson rallied to force overtime before prevailing, 30-24, in the third extra session of the longest game in Ivy League history.

Another memorable moment was written in 2007 when the teams met at Yale Bowl in front of 57,248 fans with the Bulldogs ranked 11th and Harvard 25th. The teams were undefeated in Ivy play, marking just the fourth time in league history that two unbeaten teams had met in the final game of the year.

For Yale, a victory would also mean its first 10-0 season in 47 years and its first outright league championship in 26. Instead, the previously 9-0 Bulldogs were whipped, 37-6, marking Harvard’s most lopsided victory at the Yale Bowl since a 35-6 win in 1959. Had it not been for a late punt return for a touchdown by the Eli’s, Harvard would have had its most uneven victory since a 36-0 victory in 1914.

In 2009, Harvard limited Yale to just 90 yards of offense on a bone-chilling day at the Stadium as Harvard, which finished ranked 14th nationally, cruised to a 10-0 win. The victory gave Harvard its second-straight Ivy championship and would mark the final game for Yale coach Jack Siedlecki.

In 2010, Harvard again came away victorious, winning its fifth straight game at Yale Bowl by scoring two late touchdowns in a 14-10 thriller. With Yale leading 10-0 late in the fourth, Harvard drove 76 yards in just 1:50 on six plays to make it a 10-7 game. Yale got the ball back and converted a pair of first downs to move the ball to its own 37 as the clock crept inside the four-minute mark. Yale eventually found itself in fourth down with 22 yards to go from its 25 yard line at 2:40 on the clock. With the league's best punter in Tom Mante waiting to boot it down field, new Yale coach Tom Williams instead called an improbable reverse run on a fake punt. John Powers evaded a would-be tackler in the backfield and moved behind a wall of blockers along the left sideline but Collin Zych blew up a double team block and Anthony Spadafino stopped Powers seven yards shy, giving Harvard the ball at Yale's 40 yard line with 2:25 as a stunned Yale crowd looked on. It took Harvard just three plays to devastate the crowd again as Chris Lorditch cut across the middle of the field and then swiftly past two defenders up the seam as QB Collier Winters lofted a perfect pass over the inside coverage. Thirty two yards later, Harvard suddenly led 14-10 before linebacker Jon Takamura finished the victory with an interception.

In 2011, Harvard scored 45 unanswered points to win, 45-7, and mark its highest output against Yale since an identical score of 45-7 at Cambridge in 1982.

Harvard's offensive might was on display from the beginning as the Crimson ran up 357 yards and 20 first downs in the opening half alone. All told, Harvard had 506 yards of offense as the Crimson set a single-season scoring record with 374 points. Defensively, Harvard sacked Yale's Jeff Witt four times, intercepted him three times and also forced a fumble.

In the 2012 edition, Treavor Scales dashed for 177 yards on 19 carries, while quarterback Colton Chapple threw for 209 yards and two touchdowns, while also adding 128 yards on the ground, as the Crimson knocked off the Elis, 34-24, for the sixth straight season.

Paul Stanton, Jr. tied the Harvard record for touchdowns in The Game with four, helping the Crimson top Yale, 34-7, for the seventh straight season in 2013. Stanton had two scores on the ground and two as a receiver in the 130th Playing of The Game in New Haven.

In the 2014 edition of The Game, Harvard continued to roll, as Conner Hempel ’15 connected with Andrew Fischer ’16 for a 35-yard TD pass with 55 seconds remaining, lifting the Crimson to a 31-24 victory at Harvard Stadium. Fischer finished with with 264 all-purpose yards, including 149 receving yards. With the win, the Crimson capped a 10-0 season, claimed the team’s 16th Ivy crown and defeated Yale for a program-record eighth-straight occasion. 

-updated Nov. 30, 2014