This is it--for none of the marbles. The Harvard and Yale football teams meet at The Stadium at 1 p.m. today for the 103rd time in the longest-running rivalry in college football. And for the first Game in a long, long time, only the teams' pride is on the line.
The Crimson (2-7 overall, 2-4 Ivy) come in riding a four-game losing streak and assured of its worst record in several decades. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs (3-6 overall, 2-4 Ivy) are also suffering through an ignominous season.
For the first time in more than a decade, both teams are mathematically eliminated from the Ivy race going into the Game. For the first time since 1958, both teams are coming in with losing records. And for the first time ever, the teams have a combined 13 losses coming in.
After more than a century of play, you'd think that this series had seen everything, but it has never seen a game quite like this. Two programs with century-old winning traditions have, oddly, produced two very losing teams in 1986.
But mediocrity doesn't necessarily breed dull games, and the heavily bundled sell-out crowd at the Stadium should have a good game to look forward to. For the third straight weekend, the weather could play a major role in the Harvard contest.
Two games ago, constant downpour kept fans away from the Stadium in record numbers as the Massachusetts Minutemen bested the Crimson, 17-7. Then last week, the gridders faced an unenviable rain-snow-sleet mixture in Philadelphia where they bowed to the Penn Quakers, 17-10.
The rain and snow of this week, combined with the pre-Game preparations, have doubtless taken their toll on the Stadium grass, and more precipitation today could render the field quite slick.
Wet conditions traditionally favor the running game--which usually requires less precision than passing, although in the UMass game the wet conditions forced more than a dozen fumbles--and there Harvard looks to have the edge.
Senior fullback Brian O'Neil leads a deep but untalented squadron of Crimson ball-carriers. Six Harvard runners, including quarterbacks Tom Yohe and David Landau, have gained a total of more than 100 yards this season.
The Elis, meanwhile, rely heavily on the one-two punch of Kevin Brice and Ted Macauley out of the backfield. Each runner has amassed more than 300 yards on the season, but only two other Yale ball-carriers have gained more than 35. This lack of depth could hurt if the teams are forced by the weather to stay on the ground extensively.
In Kelly Ryan, the Bulldogs have an experienced and competent quarterback. The senior QB has thrown an average of 29 times a game this year, far more frequently than the Crimson QB trio, and completed slightly more than half his passes for 1679 yards and three touchdowns.
Ryan has, however, also been touched for 14 interceptions, and with the Crimson defensive secondary playing better and better as the season has progressed, that number could be considerably higher before the afternoon is over.
Sophomore Yohe will likely get his third straight start at quarterback for the gridders (which would mark the first time this year the same QB has started three consecutive games for Harvard). Yohe has matured with each game this season, despite retaining a sub-par 43 percent completion mark.
Yohe is also adept and scrambling and running the option, two skills which could come in handy if the passing game is limited.
The Harvard defense, which has played well in its last two games, will be without Captain Scott Collins, who suffered a severe knee injury at Philadelphia. Collins was the gridders' leader on the field as well as off, and making up for his absence will be a tough chore for the entire unit. Fellow linebacker Bob Joyce has also had a fine campaign and will be the primary person asked to fill the void.
It has been a disappointing season for the Crimson, and a win in The Game would help to make the off-season less painful. Yale is riding a two-Game win streak, including a 17-6 shocker last year at New Haven that robbed Harvard of the Ivy title.
The revenge factor may be present for the Crimson, especially among the seniors for whom this is the last chance to beat the Elis--but enough mystique surrounds this match-up that few outside motivations should be needed.
The attentions of the rest of the league will be focused on Ithaca, N.Y., where league-undefeateds Penn and Cornell will battle for the Ivy title, but not the PBS cameras, which will carry this Game instead (much to the dismay of Quaker and Big Red boosters in the East). After all, The Game has tradition going for it--and in Ivy League football, that counts for a lot.
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