It won’t be The Game in New Haven this Friday, but it will be something close.
On the last weekend of Ivy League play, Harvard heads to Yale with the opportunity to celebrate a third straight championship. The Bulldogs need to win twice and hope Harvard drops Saturday’s game in Providence to force a playoff. The first step will come at the Payne Whitney Gymnasium, where the Bulldogs will have a chance to sweep the season series against Harvard. Unlike the football version, I expect better fans than Captain Morgan and Jack Daniels to attend Friday’s all-important game.
For Tommy Amaker and the Harvard men’s basketball team, a win would avenge its only league loss and cap off one of the most dominant runs in recent conference history. Already having secured a share of its fourth consecutive league title last weekend, Amaker’s Crimson has outscored Ivy League opponents by over 16 points a game thus far this season. That’s not a typo.
A year ago, dear reader, you might remember Princeton being in nearly the same situation. Two wins on the Yale-Brown road trip would have sent Princeton to the tournament. The Tigers lost both, and two Harvard home wins sent the Crimson to the Dance—a turn of events Amaker has surely not let his team forget.
Before we dive into the weekend’s action, I’d like to honor one of the best byproducts of the Harvard-Yale rivalry: the invention of a live mascot. Jealous of the Crimson bandanas the Harvard crew wore in 1889, a Yale student decided his team needed a snappier emblem of team pride. The undergrad bought an English bulldog, named him Handsome Dan, and paraded him across the field before Eli sporting events.
Thus far, not counting my father—who boasts the moniker as a personal nickname—there have been 17 dogs to hold the position of Handsome Dan. Important criteria for bulldog selection: the canine must have negative reactions both to the color crimson and to tigers, it has to keep itself clean, and it must bark in the affirmative when asked about its Rhodes Scholarship.
While The Hartford Courant described the original Dan as “a cross between an alligator and a horned frog,” his followers have had more success. Dan IX appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1956, and Dan X—colloquially known as “Bayside Woodnought”—was sired. Two Dans later, the bulldog was stolen by four Princeton undergrads posing as Yale cheerleaders. The cheerleaders-turned-thieves hid the dog in New York while running away from authorities in what was likely the best Step Up script never written.
The early Dans got to Harvard, however. In 1908, before a 4-0 Harvard win in The Game, football coach Percy Haughton was rumored to have strangled a bulldog doll to death to motivate his team to beat Yale.
The rivalry has simmered since then, but on Friday, everything will once again be on the line. Time to play ball.
On to the games.
PENN V. COLUMBIA
This Penn team has underwhelmed in a season in which many expected it to compete for the league’s top spot. How underwhelming? When your school newspaper runs a column titled “I, for one, welcome our new Crimson overlords,” there are two possibilities.
A. You’ve lost to Harvard one too many times for the faithful.
B. Dragons have invaded Philadelphia, and you’re preemptively surrendering.Either way, no news would be good news.