New Haven, Conn. — Yale and Harvard will compete at football and tailgating here Saturday for the 104th time. The football will decide the Ivy League championship. The tailgating will get at least as much attention.
That may not sound like much to Oklahoma and Nebraska as they prepare to bash it out for the top spot in the national rankings and a choice postseason bowl invitation. But those two youthful institutions barely know what tradition and bragging rights are about, let alone serious socializing.
Oklahoma is inspired by the rousing fight song ``Boomer Sooner.'' A grizzled Southwestern sports writer was astonished to hear it at a Yale game, where it has been known as ``Boola Boola'' since footballs began taking funny bounces.
If the weather is good Saturday, a crowd of more than 70,000 is expected to fill the Yale Bowl - the venerable stadium that has been designated a national historical landmark. The Public Broadcasting Service will televise the game.
Says Yale coach Carm Cozza, ``I will tell our kids it's a privilege to play in front of a crowd like that. It's even more of a privilege because we're playing for the league championship.''
Cozza will be coaching against rival Harvard for the 25th year, counting a few seasons when he was an assistant. He long ago passed Walter Camp, who more or less invented the sport, as the most successful Yale coach of all time, and started the season as the 15th-winningest active coach in the country. He looks like a tenured chemistry professor and stands for everything sane about college sports.
Yale leads the series, 56-39, with eight ties, which means about as much as a fortune cookie when you try to predict the result in any given year. The Game, as it's known, always ends the season and is waged with more spirit than your typical presidential campaign - which usually includes a viable candidate from one school or the other, such as Yalie George Bush. This year there certainly doesn't appear to be much to choose between the two squads: Both are 5-1 in the league and 7-2 overall.
Yale relies mainly on offensive skill players Kelly Ryan, Dean Athanasia, and Mike Stewart.
Ryan, the senior captain, is a mobile quarterback with at least a platinum arm. He owns the Yale records for passing yardage and total offense. He is especially dangerous in low-percentage situations.
Ryan's favorite target is classmate Athanasia, a 6 ft. 3 in., 225 lb. tight end who can catch the ball in the middle of a crowded defensive secondary.
Stewart, a junior tailback/wingback and probably the fastest offensive player on the team, is a versatile runner with a chance at a 1,000-yard year.
Against an anticipated aerial assault, Harvard will array a pulverizing defense that has sacked opposing quarterbacks a school record 38 times this fall. Captain Kevin Dulsky is the individual leader, with 10.
It has not been lost on the Yale contingent that Harvard's defense put Penn's quarterback out of action last weekend with legal but ferocious hitting.
Harvard has a hot quarterback of its own in junior Tom Yohe, who has passed for 16 touchdowns this season. Yohe also is entrusted with running the complicated ``multiflex offense'' orchestrated by Joe Restic, who has the longest tenure (17 years) and most victories (94) of any coach in Harvard football history.
Yale's defense is young and penetrable, but the Bulldogs often make the big play. On paper, Yale has something of an edge on offense, Harvard on defense.
Almost as crucially for a Yale-Harvard weekend, blue vs. crimson, the two marching bands also appear evenly matched. They plan the usual frisky satires of the opposing school, but are keeping their game plans secret. As always, school officials are holding their collective breath in the hope that the routines don't offend delicate sensitivities.
That's in the middle of the game. Before and after, the grand spectacle of Yale-Harvard tailgating will fill the vast green parking fields around the big blue bowl. A tent for the Class of '44 will feature an impromptu pep rally.
In some cases it's haute tailgating. Be assured there will be more than one group of alumni partying out of the trunk of a vintage Rolls-Royce, a uniformed butler overseeing the serving of pheasant under glass, serenaded by an enthusiastic musical combo. You don't see much of that at Oklahoma-Nebraska games.
You don't see much friendly mingling of fans with players on the field after the game, either, which is what the crowd is invited to do after Ivy League showdowns. Maybe it's still a sport after all.