All autumn long, Harvard's football team has had its chroniclers thumbing through the archives and blowing the dust off records that go back to the 19th century. Yesterday afternoon, the unbeaten Crimson wrote their own chapter in bold face, throttling archrival Yale, 35-3, before 30,308 at the Stadium to post their best record (10-0) in 103 years and wrap up their 11th Ivy League title.
"Once again, this was the perfect end to a perfect season -- the most perfect season," said coach Tim Murphy, whose varsity has done it twice in four years.
This is the first time the Crimson have beaten the Bulldogs (5-5) four straight times since 1919-22. For a group of seniors who were freshmen when the 2001 team went undefeated, that is a special distinction.
"It's very satisfying to leave our own legacy," said captain Ryan Fitzpatrick, who has quarterbacked the last three Yale game victories. "It was great to have rings before and go 9-0. But what we did senior year was how we were going to be remembered."
Few Harvard teams have ever been as talented on both sides of the ball as this one, and none has had a better instinct for the jugular. Once Brian Edwards brought back a punt 53 yards for a touchdown and Ricky Williamson followed with a 100-yard interception return in the second quarter to put Harvard ahead, 21-0, Yale was finished.
"Obviously, two big plays just put us in a big-time hole," said coach Jack Siedlecki, whose squad took its worst flogging from Harvard since a 45-7 defeat here in 1982.
Against a Harvard team that had averaged nearly five touchdowns a game, allowed only two, and rarely made mistakes, it was suicidal.
"We figured if we had zero turnovers, there was zero chance we would lose the game," said Murphy, who is now 7-4 against Yale.
Even so, the Elis, who'd won two of the last three meetings here, thought they had a fighting chance at intermission after controlling the ball for nearly 19 minutes and holding Harvard to 116 yards.
"We were excited at halftime," said Siedlecki. "We felt, hey, we can get this thing going."
So had most people who played the Crimson this year. What Yale found out, as had its nine predecessors, was that Harvard's defense was the secret to the season.
Nobody who saw that unit give up three touchdowns in the first quarter at Brown would have predicted that the Crimson would concede only one touchdown -- a meaningless tally at the end of the 31-10 rout at Pennsylvania -- in its final three games.
But the defense, which got huge efforts from Williamson (11 tackles, a sack, and the interception), nose tackle Michael Berg, and a boisterous linebacking corps led by Bobby Everett, shut down Yale when it had to.
The Crimson did their best work in the second quarter, when Yale had first and goal on the 5 and first and goal on the 6 and came out with a negative 4 points.
The first time, it was Williamson, picking off Alvin Cowan's pass a couple of yards in the end zone and taking it all the way back. It was a fade play, meant for Chandler Henley, that had worked all season. Except that Williamson was in the way.
"He must not have seen me there," said Williamson, whose runback was the longest with an interception since Neil Hurley did it at Cornell in 1969. "He threw it right to me."
Next time down, Cowan threw three straight passes, but two were caught out of bounds, so the Bulldogs settled for a 28-yard field goal from Andrew Sullivan. They never got a better chance.
Once Harvard's offense got rolling, Yale was finished. Fitzpatrick drove the Crimson 72 yards in nine plays midway through the third quarter, throwing a killer 27-yard touchdown pass to Edwards that put the hosts ahead, 28-3.
Then, after the Crimson stopped the Bulldogs on fourth and 1 on the Harvard 36, Fitzpatrick and tailback Clifton Dawson (26 carries, 120 yards, one touchdown) ran the ball down their throats, with Fitzpatrick pushing over from the 1 for the final score with 2:01 left in the period. By then, the Old Crimsons already were swigging their celebratory Courvoisier.
"They're a great team," saluted Siedlecki. "They made play after play after play when they needed it. They did a great job."
No Harvard team since the 1901 squad, which went 12-0, has done better. An hour after they'd walked out of the Stadium, the Crimson still had their jerseys on, savoring their wondrous season.
"It's going to be tough waking up tomorrow," mused Fitzpatrick, "and realize that we're never going to play with each other again."