It seemed almost too good to be true. As the seniors of the Harvard football team filed into Saturday’s postgame press conference, beaming from one end of the table to the other, it was easy to forget all the moments that had gotten them there. Chris Pizzotti’s brilliance in 2007, the grit of the defense in the bitter cold a year later, fourth and 22 in New Haven last season, and finally Saturday’s win.
The Crimson class of 2011 went undefeated against Yale in its career and became the first group ever to add sweeps of Princeton and Dartmouth to go 12-0. And in a season when the game meant nothing for league standings (Penn’s easy win over Cornell Saturday sealed a second straight outright title), the culmination of these dominant four years reminded everyone why this weekend has been a campus fixation for 127 years—rivalry.
The meaning of rivalry to fans seems pretty clear, as Saturday’s final whistle sent spectators streaming onto the field and the band mocked the Bulldogs with Cee Lo Green’s hit song (we’ll stick to the radio-edited title, “Forget You”). Indeed, all across Cambridge this weekend fans on both sides engaged in familiar lighthearted (and sometimes not-so-lighthearted) exchanges that had little to do with football. But on Saturday, the rivalry seemed to translate more intensely onto the field than it has in any time in the past four years.
As anyone at Harvard Stadium this weekend can attest, the hits were more ferocious and the celebrations a bit more raucous than in past contests. And while we would never (and should never) condemn football players for competing with passion, the tension in the stands was palpable when a pair of helmet-to-helmet collisions sent three players to the sidelines—including one to the hospital—in the span of 90 minutes.
But for all the hard hits and the scary moments on the field, the fans can learn something very important from the players at Harvard-Yale: in the end, it’s just a game.
To be clear, just as there’s no point in criticizing tough play on the gridiron, there is little reason to stand on a soapbox and tell fans to tone it down for the biggest weekend of the year. One thing we must not forget, though, amid the chants of “safety school” and defending the fact that our mascot is a color, is how to separate the fun and the vitriol. While I saw a number of altercations on Mt. Auburn Street that could have easily been avoided this weekend, for all the intensity of the players, who hit much harder than drunk fans, there was no question after the game how they felt about their opponents. When asked about the terrifying hit that left seniors Gino Gordon and Jesse Reising momentarily unconscious, both sides remembered what was most important.
“This is just a game,” Gordon said when asked about Reising being carted off the field. “When people get hurt, you start to realize that just because we’re pitted against each other as rivals doesn’t mean that we don’t care about each other.”
“I didn’t even realize they were down for five or 10 seconds, because I was looking over to the sideline for the next play,” Yale captain Tom McCarthy added. “Then I realized they were both down on the ground, and it was a sigh of relief to see Gino get up.”
This level of concern can’t be taken for granted. With a rivalry as heated as Harvard-Yale, it’s not surprising that players took a few opportunities to get running starts before laying into opponents. But after the buzz died down in the stadium and the players breathed a collective sigh of relief from the news that Reising was fine, any of this supposed malice was erased for another year.
As the Crimson and the Bulldogs both capped solid seasons—both tying for second with Brown in the Ivy League standings—we can all take a lesson from the athletes. Getting riled up for the biggest game of the year is one thing, but in the end, it’s just a weekend. Here’s to hoping that next year the fans maintain the same level of respect for each other that the players do.
—Staff writer Max N. Brondfield can be reached at email@example.com.