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Harvard University is known for its academics. It is one of the best universities in the world and is a member of the prestigious Ivy League. The school has many famous alumni, including eight U.S. Presidents. What most people don’t know is that Harvard has one of the most historic college football programs in the country. The Crimson have won seven national championships and one Rose Bowl—pretty good for a school that isn’t known for football!

Low-Scoring Origins

On March 14, 1847, Harvard University played McGill University in what would end up being one of the first football games ever played. Hundreds of people showed up to watch Harvard win the game, 3–0. They would play a rematch the next day, ending in a 0–0 tie.

Harvard remains one of the oldest football programs in America, boasting seven national and 17 Ivy League championships. This year Harvard is celebrating its 150th year of football. Over one-and-a-half centuries Harvard has had highs and lows—from beating Yale in triple-overtime in 2005 to losing to the Centre Praying Colonels in 1921 in one of the greatest upsets of all time. Some of the most memorable Harvard football moments have come in recent years, including a win over Yale at Fenway Park in 2018 and an appearance on ESPN’s College Gameday in 2014.

One Famed Rivalry

The Harvard-Yale rivalry is one of the oldest in sports since their first game in 1875. The two teams play each other every year in the last game of the season. Yale is ahead in the series with a record of 69-60-8. The game has featured pranks, overtime games, and even President Gerald Ford as an assistant coach for Yale. In 1932 Babe Ruth attended the game but his Harvard fell, 13–0. In 1967 Yale won a close game in front of more than 67,000 fans, 24–20. In 1968, both teams were undefeated before the game and Yale scored the first 22 points. But Harvard came back and scored 16 points in the last 42 seconds to tie the game at 29. The game inspired the headline “HARVARD BEATS YALE 29-29.”

In 2014 ESPN’s College Gameday visited Boston for this classic rivalry. After weeks of lobbying, Harvard athletics convinced ESPN to come to Harvard. Because the Ivy League doesn't allow its teams to play in bowl games or the FCS playoffs it was the last game of the year for both teams and the last games of some seniors’ careers. 

During the show the students from each school took shots at each other with signs. One Yale sign said “God made the rivers/God made the lakes/God founded Harvard/Hey we all make mistakes!” A Harvard sign said “You can't spell Safety School without Yale!”

The guest picker that week was Harvard alum and Super Bowl–champ Matt Birk, who was a six-time Pro Bowl center in the NFL. Harvard was the favorite that year, so everybody predicted them to win the game. But when it was time for Lee Corso's headgear pick a Yale Bulldog was revealed as Corso picked the upset. Harvard won the game 31–24, proving Corso wrong.

A Legacy of NFL Talent

Birk was one of the best football players Harvard has ever produced, along with quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick started at quarterback for nine different teams, an NFL record, and threw for over 200 touchdowns. The Arizona native retired in 2021 after a 17-year career. At Harvard he won Ivy league player of the year and led Harvard to an undefeated season and an Ivy League title in 2004. Since Fitzpatrick there have only been two other Harvard players drafted in the NFL draft, the last one coming in 2016. This year Thor Griffith hopes to change that.

Griffith is a 6'2", 320-pound defensive tackle from Portsmouth, NH. Griffith won a state championship in the shot put and discus and finished fourth in New England in the wrestling championships. A two-time first-team all-state football star in New Hampshire, he committed to Harvard after the 2020 season was canceled due to Covid-19. 

Even with the delayed start Griffith came out with a bang, getting named a freshman All-American and leading the team in tackles for a loss. He was also a finalist for the Jerry Rice award for the best freshman in the country. Last year he was first-team all–Ivy League and third-team All-American. Going into his senior year at Harvard he was thought to be one of the best defensive players in the FCS, receiving preseason All-American nods. 

The Bright Future

Currently the Harvard football team is ranked 18th in the FCS and have beaten every foe they’ve faced, taking down No. 5 Holy Cross 38-28. The team has rallied behind the legs of quarterback Charles DePrima. He won a state championship in high school and is a junior at Harvard. Through the first four games of this 150th season, DePrima has 452 rushing yards, including a 69-yard rush against St.Thomas.

Both DePrima and Griffith have both played pivotal roles in the start of Harvard's anniversary season. Over the course of the season, Harvard will commemorate 150 years in many ways while DePrima and Griffith focus on leading the Crimson to its 18th Ivy League title.