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THE MALCOM X-FACTOR: True Game Requires Victory

I felt lost on Saturday.

Not because I saw Harvard Stadium full for the first time, and not because all my friends actually joined me in the ritualistic trek over the bridge to Allston. And not because being stuck in such close vicinity with so many kids from Yale made it abundantly clear why I came to Harvard.

No, I felt lost on Saturday because, well, the Crimson lost on Saturday.

You’ll have to understand that my experience with Harvard-Yale football before this year consisted entirely of the 2005 contest. I’m sure you remember—the unimaginable, eye-popping, this-is-the-greatest-rivalry-in-sports edition of The Game, when the Crimson beat the Bulldogs 30-24 at the Yale Bowl. It actually, for a few hours, made New Haven a decent place to be.

That was all I really knew about Harvard-Yale outside of the stories of perfect endings to undefeated seasons, 29-29 ‘wins,’ and strangled bulldogs by Harvard coaches.

But now I realize that as fun as the experience is if your school wins, as euphoric the feeling is when you stick it to Yale, it’s the antithesis than runs through your veins when the Crimson loses.

Now I know that might seem like a pretty superficial conclusion. And maybe this is just my naivety, my underclassman ignorance talking here, but I really, really thought that The Game was about more than the actual game.

But after the weekend, I’ve come to a realization: It’s not.

I may talk of an amazing atmosphere, a 123-year history that you can feel as you sit amongst the oldest of alumni and undergraduates past and present. But there’s a contingency behind all those claims that I didn’t realize existed until I saw Yale completely pummel Harvard by 21 points right in our backyard.

Your team has got to win for The Game to matter.

Nobody will remember the cracked-down tailgate rules in ten years. They probably won’t even remember them in ten years, or five, or even the next time the Bulldogs come the Cambridge in 2008. What will be marked down and recorded, every single time, is the outcome.

I don’t even care that they won an Ivy League title in the process. It was a long-shot entering Saturday that Dartmouth would win, the only scenario in which Harvard would have a chance at a league crown. I didn’t expect a championship celebration on the field after the game—especially not from Yale. It wasn’t even about records or rings—it was about the rivalry. And in that respect, I suffered the let-down of the year.

We all did.

You see, that was the difference between The Game here and that other version of The Game in Columbus, Oh. For Ohio State-Michigan, where over 100,000 people came out for their end-of-the-year rivalry, there’s a good chance that, even though the Wolverines lost, they’ll still meet the Buckeyes again for a rematch in the national championship game on January 8.

Even though Michigan fell in the first battle, the war has yet to be decided. Their hatred for—and the fact that they can still hope to get a rematch with—Ohio State sustains them, therefore maintaining the sanctity of the 103-year rivalry they refer to as The Game.

Because Harvard-Yale is the proverbial bowl game for both teams every season—the Ivy League is the only I-AA conference not allowed entrance into the division’s playoffs—The Game is only really The Game when you win. And by that logic, for the first time in a half-decade, New Haven is relevant again.

I suppose that it should have been obvious after last year that things would make themselves balanced again. They have a way of evening themselves out; the universe has a certain equilibrium to it, where it never lets us get too down, and never too up.

But that doesn’t make it any better.

I almost feel like we’ve been lying all this time, calling it the 123rd playing of The Game. We’ve won only 51 times (I’ll even throw the ’68 draw in there), so for us, there have been just 51 ‘Games.’ The other 65 wins make it The Game for Yale and Yale only. And the other seven ties? There was no Game those years. Because as Yogi Berra said, “a tie is like kissing your sister.”

Interestingly enough, it was also Berra who told us that “losing is like kissing your grandmother with her teeth out.”

I love you Gramps, but let’s do our best to try and win next year.

—Staff writer Malcom A. Glenn can be reached at mglenn@fas.harvard.edu.
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