Friday November 21st, 2008

Making the argument that Yale has the upper hand in its football rivalry with Harvard is not exactly a Sisyphean task. All you have to do is give the boulder the lightest of taps, and off it goes, up the hill and down the other side. First proven long ago, and confirmed so frequently over the years that it has entered the realm of fact, here's my list of ways in which Yale is superior to Harvard, as the universities prepare for the 125th playing of The Game.

The practice has essentially become a biennial event -- held only when Yale hosts the contest. Tailgates at Yale remain, with a few leniently enforced restrictions, joyous and free-flowing bacchanals that rival those found in the SEC. Unfortunately, this year The Game will be played at Harvard. After a decade-long crackdown, the Harvard administration has succeeded in limiting their "tailgates" to two hours in length, from 10 AM to noon. At least there will be something to drink, right? Well, Harvard has banned, and I quote, "Beer kegs and items that promote the rapid consumption of alcohol" ("items" that can also include, one would think, cups). They've also forbidden U-Hauls, so couches and grills are out. The bouncy castles, though, are safe, at least until some sailor-suited tot with a string of roman numerals appended to his name twists an ankle.

Advantage: Yale

Yale's is a live bulldog named Handsome Dan, while Harvard's is a fancy guy in a pilgrim hat who is supposed to represent the university's founder, the English clergyman John Harvard. In 2005, Yale held a contest to find Handsome Dan XVI (we're now on XVII), in which the beasts were judged on their ability to howl along with the marching band and to tear a Crimson blanket to pieces. One can only imagine on what skills potential John Harvards might be assessed in a similar contest: "Name That Scripture!," perhaps, or "Who Best Wears the Knickers?"

Advantage: Yale

This photo was taken in 2004 after a number of Yale students disguised themselves as the nonexistent "Harvard Pep Squad" and passed out more than 1,800 placards to Harvard fans, who then willingly raised them when directed to do so. Apparently, U.S. News & World Report does not issue demerits for gullibility).

Advantage: Yale

Win or lose, Yale students taunt their counterparts with a chant of "School on Monday!" at the end of each playing of The Game, a reminder of the fact that while Yale grants its undergrads a vacation for the entire week of Thanksgiving, Harvard students must return for a few more days of class. As if Cantabs -- those who attend Harvard -- need any more reason to feel down: several years ago it took five student writers more than 5,500 words to summarize all the ways in which the lives of Yalies were better than their own in Harvard's most prominent student magazine. The cover read, "Hating Harvard: Should we have all just gone to Yale?" Answer: Sure, if they'd have you.

Advantage: Yale

I'll yield the floor on the one to Eric Johnson, the 2001 Yale graduate who went on to catch 240 passes for 2,178 yards with the San Francisco 49ers and New Orleans Saints. Johnson, who was released from the Saints this summer and has decided not to pursue any other NFL opportunities (he's currently studying to take the GMAT), had a Pro Bowl caliber season in 2004, when he had 82 receptions and 825 yards, but as he recalled in an e-mail last week, nothing compares to his experiences playing in The Game.

"I have never felt the world go so silent," he wrote of the scene in the Yale Bowl immediately after he made a shoestring grab (his 21st of the afternoon -- and that's not a typo) with 29 seconds left in the 1999 Game to put Yale ahead 24-21 and to clinch the Ivy League title. "I just saw teammates swarming me and a sea of Yale fans swaying and vibrating like crazy in the stands. It was truly a magic moment for me. The confidence I took away from that one Game literally propelled me to believe I could play in the NFL."

Advantage: Yale

Oh right, that's also a part of this. Yale leads the series 65-51, with eight ties.

Advantage: Yale

So Yale wins 6-0, according to my extremely unbiased tally, when it comes to all of the things that make a football rivalry great. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a boulder to chase.

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