Without question, for me, the most exciting football game I’ve ever attended or watched on television was the 1981 Princeton-Yale game in Palmer Stadium.
Princeton had gone 14 years without a gridiron victory over its historic rival (though Harvard always mattered more to me). I had seen every loss since the fall of 1970!
Yale had (another) All-American running back in Rich Diana, who was amassing more than 100 yards a game. Yale was undefeated. Yale was coached by the almost mythical Carm Cozza.
Princeton had had only partial success during its season, but had some secret (or, not-so-secret) offensive weapons in quarterback Bob Holly '82 and two (or three) capable receivers. I’m appalled to think that I cannot remember their names.
A week or two before the Yale game, Princeton had lost to the University of Maine, in Orono, 55-44!
Against Yale, Princeton fell behind in the first half by 21 points. A few faint-hearted Princetonians among the 25,000 (NOT a typo) in attendance headed out for the clubs or U-Store. A report after the game said that one member of my class who had seen so many losses in prior years was among them.
As the game wore on, Holly and his receivers became stronger and stronger. Magic seemed in play as they caught pass after pass, concerted on third downs, and gamely took the field when Princeton's defense held down the score, even if failing to contain Diana, God of the Tiger Hunt (and yardage). He ran for about 200 yards that day.
But Holly –– Oh man!! — Holly was unstoppable. I was sitting on about the goal line at the closed end of Palmer. And on the far side of the field, with less than a minute remaining in the fourth quarter, Yale drew a pass-interference call. In those (ancient) days, the ball was spotted at the point of the foul: YALE’S FOUR-YARD LINE!
Four seconds remained on the clock as the Tiger runner “crashed through that line o’ blue” ... to dump the Bulldog!
WHAT an explosion from the Princeton fans!
A sea — an ocean — of white hankies from the Princeton stands to “salute” the “guests” and send them packing.
WHAT a tremendous football game!
I could be wrong, but in my memory, Air Holly’s feat of 499 yards passing in that game is STILL the Ivy League record.
Thanks for those memories! What a GAME!
I’ve carried my 1981 game program (with yellowing newspaper clippings) to every football game I’ve attended since. It doesn’t always work as a talisman for the team, but it always charms me with those memories of a brilliant, chilly November afternoon of astonishing Princeton football!