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Harvard-Yale Rivalry a Tribute to the Student-Athlete

10/2/2008

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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.

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."