Four years ago, quarterback Chris Pizzotti looked on as the pupil during the Harvard-Yale game, the last of the many remarkable performances orchestrated by all-time great Ryan Fitzpatrick ’05 in a Harvard uniform. After the Crimson’s 35-3 victory over the Bulldogs that capped an undefeated Ivy title campaign and perhaps the best season in Harvard football’s modern history, Pizzotti, a wide-eyed freshman who saw barely a lick of time that year, looked around Harvard Stadium for someone to hug.
That wasn’t the case after Saturday’s 10-0 home win over the Bulldogs, when the fifth-year senior led the victory celebration and capped what has to be considered one of the greatest stretches of Harvard football in the modern era.
That era encompassed three league championships in five years, the school’s first back-to-back titles since 1983, and two players who’ve made NFL rosters—not to mention seven wins out of the last eight against the Bulldogs.
The last time either team won seven out of eight meetings in the storied rivalry before Saturday? It was 1909.
That was also during a time when Harvard still attracted the best athletes in the country, long before its demotion to Division I-AA and its subsequent ban from the subdivision’s playoffs.
And perhaps it is that fact that makes the scope of Pizzotti’s career all the more notable. Never the most athletic guy on the field, Pizzotti waited in the wings for Harvard record-holders like Fitzpatrick to graduate, played alongside the Ivy League’s all-time leading rusher in Clifton Dawson ’07, and emerged from the shadows of two superstars to lead the Crimson to consecutive championships in his final two seasons. Though he played with—and learned from—the best, it was when Pizzotti took the reigns himself that Harvard truly shined.
“Especially for this last group of seniors, they’re remarkable,” Harvard coach Tim Murphy said. “You have a few kids who are fifth-year guys who won three Ivy League championships. We’ve had our share of talent, but we’ve had incredible character, and that’s, in the end, that’s what it takes.”
And besides 2004, it has never been a dominating character. This year alone, half of Harvard’s games have been decided by four points or less. On Saturday, it took the hardest running of Gino Gordon’s short career and a few lucky bounces—literally—just to get the Crimson in the end zone once. And it took six consecutive stops on a goal-line stand late in the fourth quarter to prevent the surprisingly resilient Bulldogs from ruining the storybook ending to Pizzotti and the rest of the seniors’ careers.
When senior linebacker Eric Schultz forced Yale quarterback Brook Hart to fumble, senior defensive tackle Carl Ehrlich recovered the ball with two minutes left to seal another Ivy title. After the play, the stadium’s jumbotron showed captain Matt Curtis hugging and talking with Ehrlich, before looking into the camera and holding up his index finger to signify his team’s place in the final standings.
“We were telling each other how much we loved each other,” Curtis said. “It was just an amazing play to have my last play in a Harvard uniform, on that field, be of that caliber, with my two best friends.”
For a Crimson team that will graduate half of its starters this June, there was a sense that an era had ended after Saturday’s win. Especially for Pizzotti, one of the only starters to play a role in each of the last three titles, walking off the field he calls home for the final time carried with it a special significance, especially considering all that was accomplished there in the preceding five seasons. It also helped put to rest any lingering doubts as to whether he made the right decision to come back for a fifth and final season in 2008.
“It’s been an unbelievable experience,” Pizzotti said after Saturday’s win. “I just wanted to come back, be with the guys for one more year, and ultimately win another Ivy League title. That was definitely my number one goal. To be a part of back-to-back Ivy League titles is a pretty special experience, and not too many people get to be a part of.”
In contemporary times, it’s truly a once-in-a-generation accomplishment for Harvard football. The generation began with a program’s changing face, the emergence of Murphy as one of the Crimson’s all-time great coaches, and a new standard of dominance in the Ivy League.
And though there are a few more wins, a few more accolades, and a few more trophies, that generation will end in familiar place: right back where it began.
—Staff writer Malcom A. Glenn can be reached at email@example.com.