(The following article first appeared on the morning of the Harvard-Yale game)
HARVARD, if you will remember, was supposed to have a rotten season this year. There would be losses to Dartmouth and Princeton, and perhaps to Cornell too. The Ivy League title would be fought over by Princeton and Yale, and Harvard would only play the role of the spoiler--the spoiling coming at the Yale game simply because no one can predict who will win the Yale game no matter how good either team is. That was the scenario that everyone believed in--until Harvard beat Princeton and Dartmouth and Cornell and all the rest. And now it is time for the Yale game with both Harvard and Yale undefeated for the first time since 1909 and so on.
This makes me rather disappointed in a way, for it seems that the most fulfilling role a football team can play is that of the spoiler, the destroyer. No matter what anyone tells you, do not let on that the Harvard-Yale game will be close. It must be kept firmly in mind, at least for the glory of it, that Yale is one of the greatest teams in the nation, in history, in the universe, in the mind of God, and that Harvard, albeit nice and good and undefeated, is no match for Brian Dowling, that wonderful hero, and the rest of the Yale football team.
In other words, the way to approach this game is with the same scenario in mind that you thought there would be at the beginning of the season. Harvard goes into the Stadium as the underdog spoiler. Let me tell you, all the great things that Harvard can spoil--
1) A Yale Ivy League championship. It would be the second in a row, don't forget, and that is something. Try to keep out of your mind the fact that Harvard is on the brink of winning its first outright Ivy title. That causes all sorts of anxiety.
2) 17 wins in a row, more than any other college in the country. The great thing about breaking a winning streak is that the team that loses has to start all over again. It is as though those other 16 games did not count, and Yale is beginning again, back to 1701, from scratch.
3) Brian Dowling's undefeated record (in games he has finished) since seventh grade or something. Carmen Cozza, the Yale coach, has said that Dowling is neither a great passer or a great runner, he is just "a born winner." That is a disgusting prospect. We all know there is no such thing as a born winner or a born anything else. Winners are made and not born (like Wheaties) and to suppose the Dowling was born to win is strikeingly un-American.
NOW THAT we have established that Harvard has some great things to ruin, we must answer the question, Why ruin? In the existential phenomenological context of thing (the only way we approach anything in the sporting world), destroying has some magnificent benefits that accomplishing cannot touch. First, destroying is final and absolute. Once all these Yale streaks and things are destroyed, they cannot happen again. Second, and most important, destroying is a wonderfully exhilarating thing to do--it is mischievous and healthy. It moves the spirit and the soul--it is direct, concrete eternal.
Accomplishing, on the other hand, only begs more accomplishing. It is empty and unsatisfying. So what if Yale wins 17 in a row? It will want 18. So what if Yale wins its second title in a row? It will want a third. Accomplishing whets the appetite for consumption, for more and more meaningless consumption.
Yale will be eating every football team in sight with nowhere to go. It will be a man living too long, someone reaching immortality and then begging to die. Yes, for sure, Yale will want to lose some day, sooner or later, just to make its winning more meaningful. That is what happened to the New York Yankees. In politics I think it is called the liberal death wishes.
So, far us in the stands tomorrow, it is better to think of Harvard not as achieving an Ivy League title or nine straight wins, rather as stopping Yale. In an existential sense, it would be better to be stopping Yale after losing eight games. But when we would have been miserable during those eight games, so this is better.
A NOTE about the bullfight (this is an analogy I like to use because I like bullfights and I think they would be wonderful for NCCA competition , untelevized): what is important in the bullfight is the killing of the living, breathing animal. It is final and absolute and there is no doubt that it has happened. In a football game we have a score to give us concreteness, and yet, looked at from a broader range, nothing gives concreteness to the situation of the team itself. I can see Yale with its 17 wins in a row or whatever floating in space with no soul and no meaning. For Harvard--for the matador then--the task is not only to win with great finality on the field but to put some kind of concreteness into the situation of the Yale team. Destruction is the only way--killing is the only thing we can be sure of in this unctuous world.