If that old adage about history repeating itself is true, they might as well call off the presidential recounts in Florida and declare George W. Bush the winner. Yale has won its annual football game against Harvard, 34-24.
There has been a definite trend during the presidential election years since 1940: A Yale victory in the November matchup between the Ivy League rivals has meant a Republican won the presidency that year, while a Harvard win has translated into a Democratic victory at the polls.
The two exceptions to this trend came in 1960 and 1976 — also years with razor-thin presidential election margins.
Another interesting twist this year is that the presidential candidates attended these two universities. Texas Gov. Bush graduated from Yale in 1968, while Vice President Gore earned his degree from Harvard in 1969.
Since the 2000 presidential election is yet to be decided, the superstitious might read into the outcome of today’s game.
“Why not let the 117th playing of The Game,” as the rivalry is called, “determine the next leader of the free world?” Yale asked in a press release distributed before the contest at Harvard Stadium.
Yale Wins In Final Quarter
Yale won today’s game as Ray Littleton returned an interception 45 yards with 2:13 left to set up Rashad Bartholomew’s second touchdown.
Other than a few jokes about the election connection by the bands at halftime, the day was devoted to football, and the full house of 30,898 saw the teams play to four ties before Yale (7-3 record overall, 4-3 in the Ivy League) outscored Harvard (5-5, 4-3) 17-7 in the fourth quarter.
Bartholomew ran 29 times for 119 yards to give him 3,016 career yards and break the Yale record set by Dick Jauron, who’s now the head coach of the Chicago Bears. Yale’s Peter Lee completed 25 of 37 passes for 219 yards and two touchdowns to Eric Johnson, who had 13 catches for 113.
Harvard’s Carl Morris caught 13 passes for 142 yards and two touchdowns. Neil Rose completed 28 of 52 passes for 310 yards, but he also had four interceptions, including one picked off by Littleton with Harvard trailing 27-24. Bartholomew ran it in from 5 yards out to make it 34-24.
Yale and Harvard were playing The Game for the 117th time. Theirs is the third most-played series in college football. Only Lehigh-Lafayette (136 meetings) and Princeton-Yale (123) have met more often.
Yale now leads the all-time series 64-48-8.
The coincidental link between Ivy League football and the presidential election began in 1940, when Harvard blanked Yale 28-0 and Democratic incumbent Franklin Delano Roosevelt defeated GOP candidate Wendell Willkie.
Since then, Republican presidents and Yale, and Democratic presidents and Harvard, have largely gone hand in hand.
In 1956, Yale won the first official Ivy League championship with a 42-14 win over Harvard. Just 18 days prior, Republican Dwight Eisenhower was re-elected president.
In more recent memory, Harvard shut out Yale 14-0 in 1992, when Democrat Bill Clinton was elected to office.
Still, there have been exceptions to this 56-year trend. In 1960, Yale completed its first undefeated season since 1923 by beating Harvard 39-6. However, Democrat John F. Kennedy (a Harvard alum) narrowly defeated Republican opponent Richard Nixon for the presidency.
In 1976, Democrat Jimmy Carter beat Republican incumbent Gerald Ford, but the Crimson nevertheless fell to Yale, 21-7.
Die-hard Harvard fans might point out another exception. In 1968, the year Nixon was elected to his first presidential term, Harvard and Yale tied 29-29. But many Harvard fans still call that game a win because the Crimson scored 16 points in the final 42 seconds to clinch the tie.
Spotlight on This Year’s Game
Traditionally, the presidential election has been held two to three weeks prior to The Game. But this year, the two events overlap as the legal wrangling and ballout recounting continue in Florida.
Yale is the defending league champion, having clinched the title last year when Joe Walland threw for school records of 437 yards on 42 completions and 67 attempts against Harvard.
Harvard, meanwhile, lost a chance to play for the Ivy title last week when the Crimson missed a 33-yard, last-second field goal and lost to the University of Pennsylvania 36-35.
The Ivy League foes were playing for second place in the conference, while Bush and Gore are competing for first place in national politics.
Before the game, the players, at least, were focusing on the rivalry in Cambridge, not the one that’s playing out in Florida.
“The locker room discussions don’t get very political,” said Harvard long-snapper Brian Sponheimer, a government major and Gore supporter who grew up near the Yale campus in New Haven, Conn. “It’s been more talk on the other side of the river,” where the classrooms are.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.