Dreary, rainy and grey, Yale was hardly distinguishable from Harvard this past Saturday. The two car rides, one in the morning, the other late at night, framed my third Harvard-Yale football experience; beer, barbecue and the Ivy League comprised it. But it is this last game that made the deepest impression on me. The Ivy league is a consortium of mediocre football teams and despite Harvard's success, it is difficult to say that history was made in any substantive way on Saturday afternoon. Harvard won, Yale lost, Harvard ended its season 7-0 in the Ivies for the first time since that was made possible in 1956. But who was listening outside of the Ivy walls?
Two years ago, Yale weekend was an adventure. With no bus ticket, I jumped on the Undergradute Council bus and sat on a fold-out seat next to the bus driver, strapped in by a two-piece harness, with my face about two inches from the enormous windshield. The next day, our team was heroic in the true sense of the word. Our men of Harvard came back from behind to win 22-21, and living vicariously through them, I rushed the field, driven in part by my blood-alcohol-level, but driven nonetheless. I was back on the same bus less than 24 hours after I had arrived; and college would never be the same again.
Well, all of that is true except for the last part. But the oxymoron of Ivy League football has not escaped my thoughts since then. This year we made history by defeating all seven of our Ivy league opponents for the first time, and congratulations are in order for Coach Tim Murphy and all of the players on the team who devoted their time to the effort. Harvard defied all expectations this year and beside probably having wiped the dust off the donation coffers of several alumni, this year's success has lent new credibility to the heavy athletic recruitmemt Harvard practices.
But for all of my enthusiasm two years ago, The Game this year was somewhat of a fait accompli before it began, or at least after the first two minutes, and Harvard's dominance put victory into perspective. What was at stake on Saturday afternoon beside an insular history? Winning the Yale game two years ago, and last year for that matter, was exciting because of the elitist pride over who was less mediocre in the World of Two that was at stake. This year, the excitement was absent because we knew the victor before the coin toss. Paradoxically, when something greater than The Game seemed to be at stake, little substantive excitement could take the place of mediocrity.
History? Yes--within the Ivy League. But within a slightly larger framework, (gasp! you mean there is one?) what does Harvard's 17-7 victory over Yale mean? What is impressive about the football team is not that it made statistic history within a rigorous academic circle that does not play football very well; rather, this season's and every season's impressiveness lies in the fact that students who tackle the scholastic challenges of both Harvard and Yale can also play football as well as they do.
Was The Game exciting this weekend in an Ivy League sort of way? Well, yeah. Senator Edward M. Kennedy '54-'56 was there and alumni came in droves in their jaguars and mink coats to cheer on their boys. Was it Harvard's best season ever? That question is almost nonsensical, for Harvard's history and consequently its football history has not been linear. Instead, Harvard football exists in incomparable moments. When Harvard beat Oregon 7-6 to win the Rose Bowl in 1919, it made history, but history in a different way--when white, male and Protestant were prerequisites to carrying a pigskin--that makes comparison between national champions of today and yestreday impossible.
The Harvard football team is an impressive bunch, and its coach and members deserve a lot of credit for their hard work and success. And history may have been made by this season's statistics, but the efforts of previous teams whose players were just as impressive in spirit if not in results as this year's team is should not be overlooked.
Harvard-Yale weekend is traditionally "an event" because it allows students to revel in collegiate life for a weekend and to see why the Ivy League universities are known as the best academic institutions in the nation. This year the sense of adventure was lacking--in part because the Ivy League was caught up in making history.
Daniel M. Suleiman's column appears on alternate Mondays.