When informed recently that his alma mater had just concluded its most successful athletic year in its history, the Harvard alumnus was a bit taken aback. "My goodness," he said "We must be doing something wrong."
Only a Harvard grad could find "something wrong" with his school setting a league record for most championships won in one year. Only a Crimson alum could greet with dismay the news that during the 1982-83 school year, his team reached the final game of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) ice hockey championship.
And there was more. Three national men's squash titles, fourth place at the NCAA women's cross country meet, the most points ever scored by Harvard in the Yale football game (The Game, that is), the preservation of the NCAA's longest current Division I swimming dual meet winning streak. Twelve Ivy League championships in all (nine men's and three women's), four more than Princeton copped in its 1976-77 season (the best year an Ivy school had enjoyed before). And with these titles, a list of individual accomplishments you could stretch from Cambridge to New Haven.
But many consider these accomplishments a mixed blessing. Nobody accuses the University of any athletic impropriety, but many fear that immoderate success on the playing fields might tarnish the Harvard image. Sports, after all, play a major role in establishing a school's public image. Mention the University of North Carolina and Dean Smith is bound to enter the conversation. Notre Dame is a football team and Digger Phelps.
Think of Harvard and you think of... academics. Many people would like to see things remain that way.
Because of the emphasis on academics, Harvard athletes are often deprived of the hero status accorded their colleagues at other schools. In fact, many Crimson athletes feel that the student body looks down on them as stereotypical "dumb jocks." A Crimson telephone poll conducted in June revealed that 35 percent of Harvard undergraduates considered athletes less intelligent than other students.
The student body is not totally unsupportive of its athletic minority. The amazing hockey team captured many imaginations and considerable attention as it made evenings at Bright Hockey Center among the more notable social events on campus. The Harvard partisans showed their support through inventive cheers and enthusiastic glassclimbing. Hapless opposing goalies faced humiliating roars of "Sieve! Sieve! Sieve!" Students slept outside the ticket office to get seats for the playoffs.
Such enthusiasm surrounds the Harvard football program for only one weekend a year. That one event more than any other highlights the year in Harvard sports. They call it a one-game season, the one time every 12 months that a single athletic contest dominates University life. In late November, Harvard and Yale battle on the gridiron. The Harvard Stadium goalposts did not survive the last edition of this great encounter.
This year the duel returns to Connecticut. On November 19 mid-Cambridge will become a ghost town for a day. It will be like a neutron bomb blast: the Yard and the Houses will remain standing, but temporarily devoid of human life. Friday lectures will be poorly attended, as everyone sweeps down to New Haven and a Saturday morning appointment with the Yale Bowl.
As with all great rivalries, more legends surround The Game than Evelyn Wood could read in a lifetime. Last year's contest will enter the history book for two reasons. Harvard's 45-7 romp set a school record for points scored against Yale. And a Massachusetts Institute of Technology fraternity prank--in which a hydraulically-powered-balloon bearing the Tech's initials popped out of turf in the middle of the game--set an MIT record for most points scored against Harvard. This year's classic will be special as the 100th playing of The Game.