After 124 editions, the most unsavory thing about The Game's current seat in the shadow of block-letter acronyms -- BCS! FBS! FCS! -- is not even the shadow itself. The self-inflicted lack of playoffs? The ban on scholarships? The harshest academic restrictions in the athletic universe? These realities are simply the known price of scholastic integrity, which has long numbed Harvardians and Yalies to the gradual lowercasing of the nation's oldest rivalry.
Allow me, instead, to identify a more insidious problem: that as The Game grows into a niche sporting event, Harvard keeps being equated with, well, Yale.
Full disclosure: I went to Harvard. I attended most every home game during my stay in Cambridge, Mass., and one time -- during the Harvard-Yale tailgate my junior year -- I threw a hot dog at a student clad in blue while sauced atop a U-Haul.
So I'm certainly not opposed to the rivalry, per se. Harvard versus Yale might be the most storied pairing in sports, and the two colleges are clearly sworn enemies as well as complements. But conjoined, athletically and academically? Siamese twins we are not.
Harvard is like the Lakers to New Haven, Conn.'s Clippers. The Lincoln to Yale's Douglas. The Marty McFly to their Biff. The Sigfried to their Roy (Roy is the one who got mauled by the tiger). If you breezily wave us aside as Div. I-AA's bookish siblings, in other words, you'd be foolish to do it in one breath.
Don't believe me? In honor of The Game's 125th anniversary, consider these three facts:
1. Exactly 40 years ago, perhaps the greatest game in college football history was "won" by Harvard.
It was 1968, a time defined by Vietnam and the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. But on Nov. 23, inside venerable Harvard Stadium, it was mostly 29-13 Yale with 42 seconds left in the fourth quarter. The fans of old Eli cackled as they tossed toilet paper onto the field, their cheerleaders firing celebratory cannons and undergrads chanting "We're number one!" amid an apparent rout. While both teams were unbeaten for the first time since 1909, the No. 19 Bulldogs had two NFL talents, the best in school history: future Rookie of the Year tailback Calvin Hill (also known as Grant's dad) and quarterback Brian Dowling, a player courted by Notre Dame and Ohio State who was literally nicknamed "God" on campus.
How embarrassing it would all be.
In the greatest comeback of all time, Harvard scored 16 points in those 42 seconds. Second-string quarterback Frank Champi hit receiver Bruce Freeman for a touchdown. Then, following a two-point conversion by fullback Gus Crim, Harvard recovered the onside kick. Champi would connect with Vic Gatto from 15 yards out with no time remaining; then, at last, he found Pete Varney for two to tie it. The Crimson, in one of the great headlines in newspaper history, declared, "HARVARD BEATS YALE 29-29." No one disputed its truth. As Harvard defensive back Pat Conway later said, "If you had a uniform on, you could kiss any girl at the stadium."
If you went to Yale, I imagine, you wept and doubted the existence of God.
2. Exactly 100 years ago, Percy Haughton gave the mother of all motivational speeches.
As legend has it, Harvard's Percy Haughton, then a first-year head coach, didn't exactly call on the customary tactics of locker-room motivation. Unlike Yale's eminent T.A.D. Jones, he veered away from the romantic. ("Men," Jones once said before The Game ("you're about to play Harvard; this is the most important thing you'll ever do in your life.") Haughton, on the other hand, was once described by Jesse C. Harper, mentor to Knute Rockne, as "colder than an iceberg, harder than granite." A guy who hated everyone.
But most of all, Haughton loathed Yale. What he supposedly did at the Yale Bowl in 1908 forever revised the myth of delicate little Ivy League football. He presented his Harvard team with a live bulldog -- the personification of Yale's mascot -- and then strangled it to death with his bare hands. (Suddenly, Mike Singletarypantsing himself seems warm and fuzzy.)
Before PETA e-mails in, the story has since been ruled apocryphal, of course. No man, not even the so-called George Patton of college football, would strangle an innocent animal. Besides, as Harvard grad George Plimpton later observed in the pages of SI, "A bulldog hasn't got a neck."
But Yale does, I believe Haughton meant to prove, and they primarily use it to choke.
3. Exactly 18 days ago, Chad Ocho Cinco laid one on Bengals quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick on the sidelines.
As someone who covered Ryan Fitzpatrick in college, I think there's nothing quite so amusing as seeing the guy with a 1580 SAT regularly interacting with the dude who changed his last name to "Ocho Cinco." On Nov. 2, in fact, he kissed Fitzpatrick on the cheek amid a 21-19 Bengals win. The larger point here, in case you missed it: a Harvard quarterback is starting in the NFL.
But Fitzpatrick is, arguably, being outdone by some other notable alums, who tend to flatten Yale in all fields after The Games are over. And I'm not just talking about our six-time Pro-Bowler, Vikings center Matt Birk.
An All-Ivy offensive lineman in that '68 tie? Tommy Lee Jones. (His roommate in Dunster House, as it happens? Al Gore. And on the sidelines for Yale the year before, ironically enough, as a literal cheerleader: George W. Bush.) In '55, Ted Kennedy caught a touchdown in The Game; his brother Robert was also a three-year letter-winner.
And it's definitely not all blue-bloods. Fitzpatrick -- who never lost The Game in his four years -- played with wonderfully named kicker Anders Blewett, who was just elected state representative in Montana. Blewett's special-teams forefather, Pat McInally, an erstwhile Bengals punter? He was the only player in the history of the Wonderlic to get a perfect score.
Over just the past two years, we've had Noah Van Niel, a fullback who's also an elite opera singer; Corey Mazza, an All-Ivy wideout who admirably gave up football to join the U.S. Marines; and, this season, Andrew Berry, an economics major with a 3.8 GPA who will graduate with a masters in computer science -- and also happens to be one of the best cornerbacks in the country.
The rest of the team, if you're wondering, isn't too shabby either. No. 19 Harvard (8-1, 5-1 Ivy) has merely gone 6-2 against its lesser counterparts since 2000. That would be you, Yale (6-3, 4-2 Ivy).
Talk about a shadow.