On paper, this is Harvard’s year.
Already Ivy League champions, nationally ranked (No. 14) and undefeated in league play, it would be foolish to argue that the stats point any other way. Tops in the league in scoring offense, total offense and total defense, the Cantabs are having an Ivy League season for the ages.
On paper, it would seem Harvard has the Bulldogs’ number. Nine of the last 10 and four straight wins means no one on the Yale roster has ever beaten Harvard. Period. On paper, recent trends suggest the 128th playing of the Game will go the Crimson’s way.
And while relative literacy rates of the two teams would suggest that Yale players would be (much...) more aware of the odds stacked against them as written by stats and the media, they are also well aware that no game in a rivalry like this is played on that particular page.
Instead, it’s played with the weight of 127 pages of history looming over it—127 seasons of players who defined their careers by the success of this game. For Yale football players, careers are defined not by stats, not by expectations and not by what’s on paper, but simply by whether they upheld a tradition of class, hard work, and commitment to beating Harvard.
In a game that defines everything, emotions run high, injuries are irrelevant, and season records hardly matter. The way in which players have handled the first nine games matters little compared to how they handle the 10th. Grit, mental toughness, and individual responsibility become paramount: the game falls into the hands of its individual players. And the individual members of a senior class that has never beaten Harvard will make difference Saturday.
On paper, Harvard comes in with the Ivy League’s top offense, but it will face a Yale defense that features some stellar individual achievers. Captain Jordan Haynes is the Ivy League’s leading tackler with 9.3 per game. Senior defensive end Jake Stoller is eighth in the league in sacks. Senior corner Drew Baldwin is second in passes defended. Senior safety Geoff Dunham is Yale’s active interceptions leader.
The talent is there, on paper. But off the page is where the real difference lies. Haynes said he considers the tight-knit senior defensive corps “his brothers.” That group gets one last chance, not only to beat Harvard, but to play with each other as family in a Yale tradition to which they feel they still have a duty.
On paper, Yale’s doing pretty well at quarterback, too. Senior Patrick Witt has thrown for 238 yards per game and 16 touchdowns this year, good for second in the league after Cornell’s Jeff Mathews. Witt is the most prolific passer in the 139-year history of Yale football, but the stats don’t tell the story there. The real story is Witt’s decision to give up the Rhodes scholarship to play in The Game. Whatever you think about the choice, Witt’s sense of duty to his teammates, to the Yale football tradition, and to finally beating Harvard outweighed the chance to possibly secure his next three years. One game, one chance, one tradition. On paper, the Rhodes was the logical choice for a Yale political science major seeking an eventual career in politics. But the importance of Yale tradition goes far beyond logic.
Senior running back Alex Thomas is Yale’s active career rushing leader with 1,684 yards, but he understands the part he still must play in the Yale tradition. Thomas broke Connecticut’s all-time records for high school rushing yardage, touchdowns, and overall points, and grew up just minutes from the Yale Bowl, so he’s aware of the Yale football lineage. For all his accomplishments, Thomas knows there is one thing Yale fans must see their hometown hero do: beat Harvard.
Senior punt returner Gio Christodoulou is second in the league in punt return average and is Yale’s all-time leader in punt return yardage (831 yards over four seasons), the second-highest total among active players in Football Championship Subdivision.
Back for a fifth season after missing most of one with medical hardship, Christodoulou said the “main reason” he came back was “to beat Harvard.”
On paper, I know I’m making an argument in a way only a Harvard student would: providing a plethora of counterexamples I can’t disprove, citing only intangible evidence and not proving anything substantiated by stats or facts. But any Yale student understands that it is something more than stats, history, and paper that separates us from Harvard. It’s camaraderie, tradition, and attitude. It’s an understanding of responsibility—it’s pride and it’s heart. On paper, Harvard is better this year. But we don’t measure things here on paper: we measure them in duty, belief, and tradition. And that will make all the difference Saturday.
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Sound Off: Murphy Explains Penn LossHarvard coach Tim Murphy was in an unenviable position on Saturday afternoon.
Crusaders Unveil Harvard WeaknessesFor the first five minutes of the game, it felt like it was all Holy Cross. For the rest of the first quarter, Harvard held all the momentum and looked to be running away with the game. But with 17 points in the second quarter, the Crusaders controlled the afternoon from then on.
NOTEBOOK: Pruneau, Punts, Penalties All Crucial