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The Harvard/Yale Rivalry

by Bernard Corbett & Paul Simpson

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 2004
ISBN: 1-4000-5068-5
Publisher: Crown

A cheering celebration of one of football’s great rivalries, by two Boston-area sportswriters.

Corbett and Simpson use the 2002 season as a backdrop against which to project the history of the annual Harvard–Yale contest in late November. Corbett is Harvard’s play-by-play announcer, and it shows in the writing, which can be both stirring and loquacious as the action—and there is a lot of action here—moves back and forth through time. In the early years, when the sport featured bouts of mayhem that contemporary fans wouldn’t even call football, Harvard conducted its brutal Bloody Monday games, while Yale partook in the ritualistic battering of Annual Rush. Both events had been banned by 1860. It wasn’t until 1875 that the two teams first met, but they have been doing so ever since, taking time out for wars but little else. (Nineteenth-century players, a rough bunch whose early stars included one referred to as a “tightly wound ball of hate,” could easily have transferred their skills to the battlefield.) Corbett and Simpson replay a host of the most memorable games, including the surreal 19–19 contest that Harvard “won” in 1968. They profile enough stellar coaches and players to fill a Hall of Fame, and allow each one a few choice words. Occasionally the prose veers into the overwrought: “It is living history—two of the country’s most storied schools defending their honor,” played out by “gridiron combatants [who] were destined to become stockbrokers, investment bankers, corporate lawyers, and doctors.” More fitting is the authors’ characterization of The Game, as it has come to be known, as a friendly rivalry with an admirable tradition of cordiality and respect. Corbett and Simpson also do well to remind readers that The Game is also a game, to be savored and enjoyed by sportsmen rather than thugs.

If only all centuries-old conflicts were this gentlemanly. (8-page b&w photo insert, not seen)