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The Non-Rivalry Rivalry

By John L. Powers

"Gentlemen, you are about to play football for Yale against Harvard. Never in your lives will you ever do anything else as important."--T.A.D. Jones, Yale football coach, circa 1920

"Harvard is the only place people at Yale--from the administration to the players--are ever concerned with. I can't for the life of me figure out what's so great about it."--Carmen Cozza, Yale football coach, 1970.

It would appear that there has been a reshuffling of priorities around New Haven during the last half century. In the old days, for God's sake, no man ever had to sit down and figure out why there was a rivalry between Harvard and Yale. He felt it, right in his gut, in every fiber of his being. It was an instinctive thing.

So now it has come to this. Carmen Cozza, a man whom Delaney Kiphuth deemed fit to sit on the right hand of Jones, Walter Camp and Jordan Olivar in Yale football heaven, can't for the life of him figure out what's so great about Harvard. Ted Coy, Chub Peabody, I hope you're not listening.

The bloody cheek of it all! Next he'll be asking what's so big about the Big Three!

Actually, Cozza is not the only one who has been trying to figure out the reason for the sanctity of the Harvard-Yale rivalry.

A week from Saturday, nine men from Yale will row quietly to the starting line on the Thames River in New London. If all goes as it has for the past nine years, they will hand over their sweat-soaked shirts to their Harvard counterparts 20 minutes later, and ask themselves the same question. Why?

Why do the Harvard swimmers look forward to the Yale race, a meet they've won once since 1938?

Why does the Yale squash team consider it a moral victory is if takes home even one point in the Harvard match?

Why do the Yale track and cross country runners lace on their Adidas year after year, just to follow Bill McCurdy's men to the finish line?

Actually, the Yale runners don't always. Last week, they decided that it wasn't worth their time to come to Cambridge after exams and race Harvard, even though it was their best chance to win the annual meet since 1968.

And therein lies the key to the whole attitude that was hinted at in Cozza's statement. How can a rivalry continue that in most cases is so one-sided, no matter how much gut feeling there was to begin with?

Of course, when it finally does happen, when the Yale crew, any Yale crew, beats Harvard, when the Crimson finally edges Yale in golf, it is a moment to remember. But is it worth coming to the Yale swimming meet for 34 consecutive years just to see Harvard win once? Probably not.

That's why the observation train was discontinued at New London. That's why they'll be giving away the Regatta program a week from Saturday. The same interest isn't there anymore, even among alumni. How many Yalies want to watch their varsity boat get hit with a wet mop nine straight times? How many Harvard graduates are sadistic enough to pay $9 a shot to watch it, either? Not enough, obviously.

And not only is the equality of competition dying: a lot of the sportsmanship has disappeared, too. After the hockey game at New Heaven last February. Harvard coach Bill Cleary wouldn't allow his players to shake hands with their Yale opponents because he feared another outbreak of the fighting that had marred the entire contest.

A week later, in Boston, both benches emptied during a late-game brawl. More than 100 minutes of penalties were assessed in both matches.

And last fall, two Harvard freshmen left the Yale football game because of facial injuries caused by punches. Not exactly what T.A.D. Jones or Percy Haughton had in mind. The old spirit seems to have vanished. Maybe it's true what they say at New Haven: "The alumni would rather beat Harvard, the coaches would rather beat Dartmouth, and the players would rather beat Princeton."

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