It had been a long, hard first season for the new football coach and his team, and they came to their last game with nary a victory to show for all their struggles. But this wasn’t just any game: It was The Game – the ultimate gridiron rivalry, a winner-take-all combat between two longstanding antagonists. It was a contest the coach and his team really wanted – really needed – to win.
That was the situation facing Harvard’s head football coach, Tim Murphy, just a few short years ago during his first season at the helm of the Crimson team. It’s also a situation that Mr. Murphy’s one-time roommate and current rival, Jack Siedlecki, can appreciate. As the Joel E. Smilow Head Football Coach at Yale, Mr. Siedlecki is nearing the end of a first season that has been long on injuries and short on victories. And the biggest hurdle – the annual Yale-Harvard game – is still ahead.
Coach Siedlecki and Coach Murphy, who shared lodgings during their early coaching years at Lafayette, will meet on opposite sides of the Bulldog-Crimson divide when the 114th Yale-Harvard football game kicks off at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 22, in the Yale Bowl on Derby Ave.
Yale’s newest football coach knows just how critical The Game is. He’s faced manifestations of the annual end-of-season encounter featuring other rivals at other schools. There’s always one contest of the year that matters most to coaches, players and fans, he notes.
Coach Siedlecki points to the experience of his Harvard counterpart as evidence of The Game’s importance. After a win-less first season, Coach Murphy led Harvard to an upset victory in the annual contest against Yale. “Harvard hung their whole season on that one game,” recalls Coach Siedlecki. “Regardless of how that first season went, he won the one game that was most important.”
A victory in The Game can taste even sweeter after the season ends, notes Mr. Siedlecki, when the coaching staff trades its whistles and clipboards for the more subtle tools of the recruitment game. “The Game ends, and we’re recruiting. The job completely changes in one day,” says the Coach. Instead of spending “seven days a week” working with the team, “you become a travelling salesman. And winning The Game can make a big difference in your attitude when you go out on the road to recruit.”
Coach Siedlecki is enthusiastically looking forward to The Game, Yale-Harvard-style, particularly because this year’s contest offers the Bulldogs a possibility for “a kind of redemption.” He points out that Harvard is in first place and on its way to a possible Ivy League Championship and says, with a grin, “This is an opportunity for us to beat a first-place team.
“All the pressure’s on them,” he adds. “If they lose, they face the possibility of a three-way tie. Even if Harvard were to lose to us and go on to win the title, there is no way they’d be happy about that. It’s one of the dilemmas of the job. You could win the title and lose The Game and not be happy. That’s the reality of The Game. That’s the element that it adds to the end of the season.”
Gatherings of Old Blues
Old Blues and their Crimson counterparts will gather together at Yale or Harvard alumni clubs in aproximately 55 U.S. cities to watch The Game via satellite broadcast. This “tailgate party across the nation” is sponsored by the Association of Yale Alumni AYA , which will ship duplicate videotapes of The Game to several alumni clubs overseas immediately following the competition, so the members there can hold their own “tailgates” as they watch the recorded action unfold. Commentary for the broadcast is provided by former Bulldog football star Brian Dowling ‘69, who also coordinates arrangements for the satellite uplink.
The AYA will also host several on-campus celebrations for the graduates who are returning to their alma mater to watch the game in person. These events include an “indoor tailgate” at Coxe Cage before The Game $12 for admission, $12 for lunch; pre-registration required and coffee there afterwards free to all alumni . There also will be a post-game party for members of the Yale College Classes of 1978 to 1997 until 7 p.m. in University Commons.
Former Bulldog players reunite
Among the alumni watching the gridiron action inside the Yale Bowl will be members of the Yale football teams of 1942 and 1947, who are gathering for the 11th time in 55 years.
The two teams are the first and the last coached at Yale by Howard Odell, who was “what you might call Yale’s first modern football coach. He turned us around and gave us a completely different attitude,” says Gordon Miller ‘43 of Hamden, who is coordinating the 1942 team’s reunion. His counterpart for the 1947 team is Robert O’Connor ‘48 of Bronxville, New York.
“We’ve done this about every five years since 1948, usually for the Princeton game,” explains Mr. Miller. During their stay on campus, the former teammates – including one alumnus who’s coming from Paris for the event – will reminisce, show old football films and enjoy dinner at the New Haven Lawn Club.
As a true Old Blue, Mr. Miller has closely followed the Bulldogs’ first year under Coach Siedlecki. The less-than-sterling 1997 season reminds him of the years 1939, 1940 and 1941 “when there were rumors that Yale might give up football,” as had numerous other institutions at that time, he says.
The alumnus expresses both sympathy about the tough year that Coach Siedlecki and the Bulldogs have had and optimism about the team’s future. “I cry for him,” he says of the new coach. “But it will turn around for Yale. I know it will.”
Tickets for the Yale-Harvard football game are $25 for premium reserve seats, $12 for reserve seats on the sideline and $7 for general admission. Children under age 14 who are accompanied by an adult will be admitted free of charge to the general admission section. Free parking is available in Lot D off Central Avenue. To purchase tickets to The Game, call 432-1400. For information about campus programs for alumni, call 432-2586.