When Harvard and Yale take to the gridiron on Saturday in New Haven, the Crimson (8-1, 6-0 Ivy) will have the chance to clinch sole possession of the Ivy League crown. That means the Bulldogs (1-8, 0-6 Ivy) will be eager to salvage their otherwise dismal season by raining on Harvard's parade and forcing the Crimson to share the Ivy League title.
This is not unfamiliar territory for the two teams, however. When they faced off in 1985 on the final day of Ivy League play, Harvard had the chance to tie for the Ivy crown and Yale was looking to end an otherwise disappointing season on a good note.
Going into New Haven on November 23, 1985, the Crimson seemed to be putting together a fairy-tale season. The team pulled off dramatic comebacks in games against Columbia, Cornell and, most notably, Holy Cross, against whom the Crimson scored 21 points in 41 seconds to win, 28-20. Harvard had a record of 7-2, while the injury-plagued Yale team was a mere 3-4-1.
However, as Joe Restic, coach of that 1985 Harvard team, says, "The thing you have to remember is that there's always a spoiler in this game."
The Bulldogs were certainly eager to play the role of spoiler in '85, and their rushing game and offensive line, combined with a few key turnovers by the Crimson, allowed them to take a 17-0 lead into the fourth quarter.
But even then, with Harvard's propensity for late-game revival, there was still a chance of victory. A touchdown with three-and-a-half minutes remaining brought the Crimson within 11 points.
However, gutsy calls on two fourth-downs by Yale coach Carm Cozza paid off, Yale walked away with a 17-6 victory, and Harvard emerged with a second-place finish in the Ivy.
Looking back on that game, Restic said, "No one thing went wrong. You try to prepare as well as you can, but there are a number of factors that affect what happens what happens out there, and you take them as they come."
Perhaps this year's Crimson team can learn from the mistakes of the past. According to Restic, the Crimson should "concentrate on this game, and this week," and not let the distractions that surround The Game hurt their preparation.
With respect to distractions, Restic said that there was an advantage to playing away from Cambridge:
"It's easier to prepare when you're playing away from home," he said, because much of the publicity is focused on the host city. "You can concentrate on practice and preparing for the game."
If Harvard can maintain its composure and avoid the early turnovers that spelled doom for the 1985 team, it should be able to put an appropriate ending on what has been a remarkable season