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The Only Game That Matters
Cover of The Only Game That Matters
The Only Game That Matters
The Harvard / Yale Rivalry
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As Harvard graduate Roger Angell once said, "The Game picks us up each November and holds us for two hours and...all of us, homeward bound, sense that we are different yet still the same. It is magic."
For hundreds of thousands of alumni and fans, the annual clash between Harvard and Yale inspires a sense of nostalgia and pride unequaled anywhere in sports. For much of the year Ivy League football is overshadowed by powerhouse programs such as Miami and Michigan. But not on the third Saturday of November, when all eyes turn to New England for the legendary battle between the Crimson and the Blue. In The Only Game That Matters, Bernard M. Corbett and Paul Simpson explore what makes this iconic rivalry so revered, so beloved, and so pivotal in college football history.
Known simply as "The Game," this tradition-soaked Ivy League feud began in 1875, and it has been leading the evolution of college football ever since. Although the Ivy League hasn't had a national champion in decades, The Game still stands alone in the college football pantheon. It is a living history, its roots reaching back to a time when young men took to the field for the sake of competition, not for a chance at a million-dollar pro contract. The Game, then and now, features the true student athlete.
Of course, it also features bloody brawls, ingenious pranks, and breathtaking comebacks. The Only Game That Matters recounts the 2002 season through the eyes of players and coaches, interweaving the modern-day experience with great stories of classic games past. By tracing this venerable competition from its inception—looking at such legendary games as 1894's Bloodbath in Hampden Park and Harvard's 29–29 "win" in 1968 and such influential coaches as Yale's Walter Camp, the father of football as we know it—the anatomy of a rivalry emerges. Culminating in the thrilling 2002 contest, The Only Game That Matters illuminates the unique place this storied feud occupies in today's sports world. To the game of football, to the spirit of rivalry, to the Crimson and Blue faithful, The Game is the only game that matters.
"In this book about the remarkable football rivalry between Harvard and Yale, Bernard M. Corbett and Paul Simpson capture the unique intensity of this famous game, as felt by the teams who go all out on each play, and by the families and the alumni in the stands who live and die by each touchdown."
—From the Foreword by Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Harvard '56
"The Only Game That Matters does a great job of explaining why Yale/Harvard is The Game – one that does matter, and should matter more. It is a shining example of what college football and amateur sports should be."
—From the Foreword by Governor George E. Pataki, Yale '67

As Harvard graduate Roger Angell once said, "The Game picks us up each November and holds us for two hours and...all of us, homeward bound, sense that we are different yet still the same. It is magic."
For hundreds of thousands of alumni and fans, the annual clash between Harvard and Yale inspires a sense of nostalgia and pride unequaled anywhere in sports. For much of the year Ivy League football is overshadowed by powerhouse programs such as Miami and Michigan. But not on the third Saturday of November, when all eyes turn to New England for the legendary battle between the Crimson and the Blue. In The Only Game That Matters, Bernard M. Corbett and Paul Simpson explore what makes this iconic rivalry so revered, so beloved, and so pivotal in college football history.
Known simply as "The Game," this tradition-soaked Ivy League feud began in 1875, and it has been leading the evolution of college football ever since. Although the Ivy League hasn't had a national champion in decades, The Game still stands alone in the college football pantheon. It is a living history, its roots reaching back to a time when young men took to the field for the sake of competition, not for a chance at a million-dollar pro contract. The Game, then and now, features the true student athlete.
Of course, it also features bloody brawls, ingenious pranks, and breathtaking comebacks. The Only Game That Matters recounts the 2002 season through the eyes of players and coaches, interweaving the modern-day experience with great stories of classic games past. By tracing this venerable competition from its inception—looking at such legendary games as 1894's Bloodbath in Hampden Park and Harvard's 29–29 "win" in 1968 and such influential coaches as Yale's Walter Camp, the father of football as we know it—the anatomy of a rivalry emerges. Culminating in the thrilling 2002 contest, The Only Game That Matters illuminates the unique place this storied feud occupies in today's sports world. To the game of football, to the spirit of rivalry, to the Crimson and Blue faithful, The Game is the only game that matters.
"In this book about the remarkable football rivalry between Harvard and Yale, Bernard M. Corbett and Paul Simpson capture the unique intensity of this famous game, as felt by the teams who go all out on each play, and by the families and the alumni in the stands who live and die by each touchdown."
—From the Foreword by Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Harvard '56
"The Only Game That Matters does a great job of explaining why Yale/Harvard is The Game – one that does matter, and should matter more. It is a shining example of what college football and amateur sports should be."
—From the Foreword by Governor George E. Pataki, Yale '67

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Excerpts-
  • Chapter 11

    The Tie That Binds

    THE COLD STING OF a brisk New England morning slapped Neil Rose in the face as he exited Dillon Field House. His breath caught a little as the icy air numbed his lungs. He had no doubt that the crisp football field would be near empty save for himself, fellow Harvard quarterback sophomore Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Todd LaFountaine, a freshman quarterback who'd followed Rose from Honolulu to Harvard. Even after four years in Cambridge, Rose still wasn't used to these hellish winters. The native Hawaiian sure wouldn't miss the weather when he returned to Oahu after graduation.

    As cold as it was, Rose had no intention of changing the pregame ritual that had brought him so much success on the gridiron. He wore only mesh crimson shorts and a white T-shirt, and when he reached the field he kicked off his socks and shoes. Growing up in Hawaii, the kids always played football in the schoolyard barefoot. Rose needed to feel the grass and dirt with his bare feet, even if it crackled and crunched underfoot.

    As far as football went, this was it for Rose. The 6'2¾, 220-pound quarterback appeared on the tail end of some draft lists after leading his team to perfection in the 2001 season, but the NFL wasn't really a consideration. Intelligent and creative, Rose had other aspirations and though he loved the game, he wasn't sure that football alone would fulfill him. Nonetheless, he wasn't eager to see the last seconds of the fourth quarter dribble off the clock in the 119th playing of the Harvard-Yale game. He didn't want to hear the referee's whistle signaling the end of his playing days.

    Rose looked high to the stadium roof at the three flags flapping and snapping in the steady November wind. The first, atop one side of the horseshoe, bore a white H outlined with a thin black band against a field of crimson. The second, in the middle of the horseshoe's curve, was the American flag, the flag at which he would be staring during the national anthem as he reflected on his football career and made final mental preparations for the game. The third flag, directly opposite his school's on the other side of the horseshoe, was that of Harvard's archrival, the Yale Bulldogs. A simple white Y on a dark blue background. Both Ivy, both elegant. The wind whipped the flags taut on the flagpoles, causing them to snap straight as if they had been dipped in the icy waters of the Charles River and left to freeze overnight.

    The three flags collectively signified an incredible history. Long before the founding fathers turned back the redcoats so that they could proudly fly the red, white, and blue over a sovereign nation of their own, Harvard and Yale nourished a budding rivalry that had exploded onto the football field in 1875 and became the most important in the sport. Every player, coach, and fan that looked toward the sky today would be reminded of the more than century-old skirmish that they held dear. If the wind continued its violent thrashing, the flags might be reduced to a few frayed threads by game time. It would not be a good day for throwing the pigskin, and that didn't bode well for the Crimson's all-time pass-leader on a day when he needed to be his sharpest. The weather didn't matter to Rose, though. The team had always performed well in bad weather. They were better than the weather.

    Rose threw some passes to LaFountaine, testing the wind. He sent the freshman on an outside hard post-Rose's favorite route-and dropped back in slow motion, counting out his footsteps. One, two, three, four, five. Plant the back foot. Fire. Rose hit LaFountaine twenty yards out amid a visualized Yale defense. The defense always gave up something...

About the Author-
  • Bernard M. Corbett is a sports broadcaster, writer, and researcher and has been the play-by-play announcer for Harvard University football for seven years. He is the author of several books, including The Beanpot: Fifty Years of Thrills, Spills and Chills and Harvard Football. He lives in Stoneham, Massachusetts.
    Paul Simpson is a writer and researcher and has written articles for the Boston Globe and Hockey magazine. He lives in Wakefield, Massachusetts.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    September 6, 2004
    To the outside world, the November matchup between Harvard and Yale may be "just a couple of mediocre teams battling for position in the bottom half of the nation's football landscape," but the schools' alumni famously invest the annual gridiron meeting with near religious significance. Corbett and Simpson, collaborators on several books about Boston sports, trace this fierce competition back to college football's late–19th-century origins. Though the matter is in some dispute, they effectively make Harvard's case for having played the first real college football game in 1874—but not against Yale; that first battle would come a year later. Much of the book is devoted to a historical roundup, combining game highlights with profiles of figures like legendary Yale coach Walter Camp. The remainder focuses on the 2002 season, devoting roughly equal space to both teams as they approach the faceoff. The suspense is ladled on a bit thick in these sections, but there are several side discussions ranging from loyal tailgaters to the difficulties of recruiting high school athletes for Ivy League teams. The presentation lacks any perceptible favoritism: even the introductions offer one Crimson (Sen. Edward Kennedy) and one Eli (Gov. George Pataki) to maintain the book's genteel neutrality. 8 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW
    . Agents, Frank Scatoni and Greg Dinkin.

  • Chicago Tribune

    "The perfect jewel of a book--engaging, informative, and, most important, interesting."

  • Leigh Montville, author of Ted Williams and At the Altar of Speed "Harvard is playing Yale in football again and again in The Game, and you're part of the crowd with Bernard M. Corbett and Paul Simpson's wonderful look at this great rivalry. Stand next to a Kennedy on one side, a Bush on the other, and watch The Only Game That Matters unfold through the years. By the end you'll feel like a successful alum. Great stuff!"
  • Sports Illustrated "Bragging rights to the game are taken every bit as seriously as they are in Columbus or Tuscaloosa."
  • Lee Corso, college football analyst, ESPN "To understand Ohio State/Michigan, Florida/Florida State, and USC/UCLA, you need to understand Harvard/Yale. The Only Game That Matters is a great place to start."
  • Leigh Montville, author of Ted Williams and At the Altar of Speed "Harvard is playing Yale in football again and again in The Game, and you're part of the crowd with Bernard M. Corbett and Paul Simpson's wonderful look at this great rivalry. Stand next to a Kennedy on one side, a Bush on the other, and watch The Only Game That Matters unfold through the years. By the end you'll feel like a successful alum. Great stuff!"
  • Lee Corso, college football analyst, ESPN "To understand Ohio State/Michigan, Florida/Florida State, and USC/UCLA, you need to understand Harvard/Yale. The Only Game That Matters is a great place to start."
  • Jack Ford, Yale '72, news anchor and correspondent "I was delighted at how the pages of The Only Game That Matters evoked the sense of competition and camaraderie that marks these great events, for they are about much more than just a football score. This book is a joy to read for anyone who appreciates the real values of college football."
  • John Feinstein, bestselling author of A Civil War, The Last Amateurs, and Caddy for Life "Regardless of who wins or loses the games, the stories revealed in The Only Game That Matters about the people who play in them are well worth hearing, whether you are a graduate of the schools, a football fan, or merely someone interested in the human condition."
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