Victory in the first Harvard-Yale football contest went to Harvard on November 13, 1875 because Yale wasn't familiar with the rules of the game. Since that time there have been 66 decisions, and the preponderance of Yale victories since that day would indicate the early confusion has been cleared up.
Just why football was started on an intercollegiate level in that year has never been determined, for the sport had not yet reached the form which was to enable it to take the lead position in college athletics later.
It was not until 1908 that football became firmly established at Harvard. After losing to Yale six years in a row the Crimson realized that something had to be done. Percy D. Haughton had the answer: he introduced deception.
Ernest Ver Weibe was called upon to spearhead the Crimson attack for the entire first half and a part of the second half of the game that year. At a moment of confusion on the field, Haughton sent in an unknown, vic Kennard, to replace Ver Weibe. Kennard received the pass from, center standing on the Yale 25-yard line and the Yale line, expecting a field goal attempt, rushed in on the right side.
Kennard, however, was a left-footed kicker, and when the ball sailed over the goal posts, the Elis were amazed--so amazed in fact, that they never got around to scoring.
Haughton was the great mastermind of the time and when he resigned from the head coaching position in 1916 his teams had given up a total of 19 points to Yale opponents, while scoring 119 themselves. Haughton's great achievement, the winning of the Big three title for four straight years, 1912-15, was never challenged until Princeton duplicated the feat this year.
Harvard football continued on this high plane until the great upset of 1923. Going into that game, Yale had not scored a touchdown in the Harvard Stadium in 16 years; the names of Brickley, Hardwick, Pennock, Bradlee, Trumbull, Mahan and Casey were discussed by schoolboys throughout the country. Yale wasn't given a chance by the sports writers.
But it was raining on that November day and the Harvard team was unable to hold the ball. Offensive football was impossible the statistics prove: Yale punted for 1,095 yards and Harvard for 1,042. Two Harvard fumbles were recovered by Yale, and two kicks were blocked, enabling the Elis to score a touchdown and two field goals. The final score was 13 to 0, and the string was broken.
Interest in Harvard-Yale football reached a high point in the years of 29, 30. and '31, the days of the great Barry Wood-Albie Booth battles. Booth's first appearance in a H-Y game was in 1929 when he went into the game to try a field goal from the Harvard 25 yard line.
Booth's first attempt was blocked and Harvard took possession of the ball, marching 82 yards for the first score of the game. Wood added a field goal to this total and the final score was Harvard 16, Yale 6.
More was expected of Booth the second year after he had been firmly planted is the lineup and dubbed the "mighty mite" by the sportswriters. Wood still held the upper hand though, as he teamed with Art Huguley for two scoring passes.
1931 was Booth's year for revenge. Wood was unable to connect with a single long pass and even his 77-yard return of a kick-off was stopped eight yards short
Harvard won 23; lost 36; tied 6 of a touchdown. With only three minutes left to play Booth stood calmly on the Harvard 22-yard line and drop-kicked a field goal for the 3 to 0 victory. It was the only Harvard loss of the season, and the Crimson's bid for the Eastern championship, its first since 1913, was blocked by the Yale star.
1937 provided the next great upset in Harvard-Yale history. Yale was undefeated until it reached the Stadium that year, and Richard Cresson Harlow's third Harvard team was definitely the underdog. Harlow had lost his first two Yale games and, when Yale tied the score at six all in the third period, it seemed obvious that Harlow would drop his third straight.
Just what happened to the Crimson team in that fourth quarter has never been completely described. An 80-yard drive was pieced together out of short thrusts, then an end run by Frank Foley was good for nine yards and the score. The 13 to 6 victory gave Harvard its first big three championship since Haughton's victory in 1915.
Since that time Harvard has been on the better side of an eight to six split. There are very few people who would wager on a Crimson victory this year, but a glance at the record indicates that the Harvard-Yale games, it appears, are a possibility of an upset is not too remote history apart from the regular season.