A Historic Run for Harvard Sports

The Book of Samuels

I don’t know what happened. I’m befuddled, to be honest. Maybe the Sports Gods decided that this was too good of a prank to pass up. “This’ll be a doozy,” they must’ve thought.

Or maybe, the stars just aligned. After all, the Mayans knew something bizarre was going down in 2012.

Because Harvard, Old Harvard, Fair Harvard, Stodgy Harvard, Hyper-Academic Harvard, is making the headlines in—get this!—sports. It’s crashed the front-page party, usually reserved solely for the Kentuckies and the Alabamas of the world.

But more than that, Harvard is enjoying what might be its best athletic season ever. All of a sudden, the Crimson is the King Midas of the Ivy League.

It all started in the fall on the gridiron. After being pegged to finish second in the Ancient Eight, the Harvard football team cruised to the conference crown, picking apart the Ivy League in record-breaking fashion. The D-Line held opposing quarterbacks hostage all season while the offense put up more points than any team in the modern era.

For Harvard football alums in the NFL, it too was a (Fitz)magical season. Before his team’s 1-8 collapse at the end of the season, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick ’05 led the Buffalo Bills to a 5-2 record, including a 34-31 win over the eventual-AFC Champion New England Patriots. And when the squad was at its peak, the Bills signed the former Harvard standout to a $59 million contract.

And in the middle of what could be a Hall of Fame career, Matt Birk ’98, the center for the Baltimore Ravens, trended worldwide on Twitter—he wouldn’t be the last Crimson athlete to do so—after earning his greatest accolade yet: the Walter Payton Man of the Year award.

As the Northeast cooled down, attention turned from the football field to the basketball court, and in 2011-12, the biggest story of them all came from the NBA.  Largely unheard of until that fateful Feb. 4 night when he dropped 25 points, Jeremy Lin ’10 became a national icon seemingly overnight and thrust himself onto the global stage.

Of course, that wasn’t the only major news coming from the world of Harvard basketball. After 65 rejected applications, the Crimson men’s basketball team was finally accepted into the Harvard of NCAA institutions.

It wasn’t clear the Crimson was going to make it into the tournament, and the culprit looked to be none other than the Ivy League Player of the Year, Penn’s Zack Rosen. In what likely would have been his magnum opus, his Rhapsody in Blue, Rosen took matters into his own hands in a shocking 55-54 upset of the Crimson.

But in a moment of sheer poetic justice, Princeton knocked off the Quakers in the year’s last Ancient Eight contest, preventing a one-game playoff and clinching the outright title and a trip, finally, to the NCAA tournament for Harvard.

This was what the Crimson faithful had been hoping for, the BB gun to their Christmas Story. And though it ended in a quick defeat, Harvard kept up with Vanderbilt. With its near comeback in the waning minutes of the game, the Crimson proved that it belonged in the Big Dance.

But even away from the national headlines, Harvard has had quite a 2011-12. Women’s soccer reclaimed its spot on the Ivy League throne. The perennially underperforming men’s hockey team nearly went all the way to the top of the ECAC. And the women’s basketball team, after grabbing second in the Ivies behind a powerhouse Princeton squad, won the Ancient Eight’s first-ever NIT game.

The Squash Gods also did their part in the gag and dropped two of the collegiate world’s finest ever on Cambridge: freshman Amanda Sobhy and sophomore Ali Farag, both of whom captured the CSA Individual Championships. Farag was dominant and did not lose a match all season, but Sobhy took things to different level. She won every match 3-0; before her opposition’s first move, it was checkmate. But that’s all in the past now. The winter season is gone. So, will these—can these—shenanigans continue into the spring? Has the joke run its course?

Or maybe, it’s not a joke at all. Is Harvard becoming—wait for it—a sports school?

—Staff writer Robert S. Samuels can be reached at robertsamuels@college.harvard.edu.

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