Earthquakes rarely strike Cambridge, Mass. But on Nov. 19, 2016, the ground shifted at Harvard Stadium.
You may remember the feeling. Crimson football players certainly do.
Eight days earlier, Harvard boasted a 7-1 record. The Crimson needed one win—at Penn or versus Yale—to secure the first four-peat in school history.
But the tectonic plates were already moving. On Nov. 11, the first event took place in Philadelphia when Harvard fell to the Quakers, 27-14. Then came the big one.
During the Game, over 30,000 fans watched as the Crimson’s title hopes crumbled to the ground. Among the wreckage were several precious streaks—nine triumphs over the Bulldogs, six years with eight or more wins, and three championships. Everything shattered.
It would take a school of seismologists and psychologists to unpack the impact of that game. Needless to say, aftershocks continued for months. And needless to say, Harvard has not forgotten.
“We use it as motivation,” junior wide receiver Justice Shelton-Mosley said. “In every workout during the winter, that’s something we’d bring up—just not to get complacent in everything we do. Last year was a different year for the team.”
Tomorrow at 1 p.m., the Crimson will kick off against Rhode Island. But Harvard isn’t really playing the Rams in Kingstown, R.I. The Crimson is engaged in a trickier business, stiff-arming the demons of the past in hopes of one day outrunning them.
If Harvard were playing Rhode Island, the game would have little intrigue. The Rams sport one winning season in this millennium (2001). The last time that Rhode Island beat the Crimson, none of the current players was alive. No one on earth was alive. That’s because the Rams have never beat Harvard.
Indeed, the best parts of the Rhode Island program are the grass field (beautiful) and the proximity to Cambridge (83 miles). Crimson coach Tim Murphy may highlight the athleticism of the Rams and their improved defense. Even so, Mayweather-McGregor looks like an even match compared to this one.
For the second season, fifth-year senior Joe Viviano will quarterback the Crimson. In the first half of 2016, he threw eight touchdowns without an interception. In the second half, he threw eight interceptions.
That inconsistency led to a quarterback competition this offseason, with Viviano battling junior Tommy Stewart. The veteran retained his starting role, but Murphy didn’t make the decision until last week.
Viviano has many weapons at his disposal. Shelton-Mosley returns as a unanimous selection to the All-Ivy first team. A stud since freshman year, Shelton-Mosley led the Crimson with 568 receiving yards in 2016.
Also back is senior running back Semar Smith, which means that Harvard has kept its leading passer, receiver, and rusher. Don’t let this tagline fool you, though—the offense must overcome a revamped offensive line and the loss of tight end Anthony Firkser.
The strength of the team likely lies in the defense, where captain Luke Hutton leads the linebackers and senior cornerbacks secure the secondary. Upfront, junior defensive lineman D.J. Bailey returns after landing on the All-Ivy second team.