Throwback Thursday: The Most Famous Student Press Headline Ever?

Throwback Thursday is an occasional CMM feature focused on fascinating, impacting, controversial and quirky moments in contemporary college media history.

In 1968, the undefeated Harvard University football team stormed back from a seemingly insurmountable 16-point deficit in the final 42 seconds to tie the similarly undefeated Yale University football team. The late-season rivalry game’s outcome was soon after immortalized in The Harvard Crimson with the headline, “Harvard Beats Yale, 29-29.” It ran on the front page, above the fold, even above the paper’s nameplate.

1To confirm, the header is serious and purposeful. It’s not a typo. It’s not satirical. It’s not a rivalry-related inside joke or Harvard-connected hubris. It was simply an editor’s attempt at capturing the mood of the Harvard football faithful at that moment — specifically their exuberance at pulling out a tie amid certain defeat and thus (technically) saving a perfect season. Simply put, to the fans, it felt like a win instead of a draw.

The header remains, from my vantage point, the most iconic student press story topper of all time — especially impressive given its lack of affiliation with an actual history-altering event (say, the moon landing, the JFK assassination, civil rights, 9/11 or, umm, the OJ trial). It is the title of an acclaimed documentary about the game — famous in its own right among gridiron lovers. It als0 continues to circulate in pop culture references — most recently a Buzzfeed World Cup story headline.

A while back it was even the subject of its own story in Harvard Magazine. The story’s title: “The Saga of a Great Headline.

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The piece tells the tale of one man’s journey to track down the actual creator of the “Harvard Beats Yale” hed. It’s a surprisingly drawn-out pursuit, finally centering on a Crimson photography editor at the time named Tim Carlson.

Carlson says he actually gleaned inspiration for the headline from a random Harvard student right after the game ended. In his words:

“I was taking photographs for the Crimson in the end zone. When the game ends, I’m running across the field, people are dancing, and this very drunk undergraduate sees my camera and press pass and says, ‘You know, “Harvard Beats Yale,”’ as if he’d gotten a vision of it. Like he had just seen God. I was like, ‘Oh my God, that’s right.’ I was smart enough to know it was good, but I didn’t think of it. The person who had the vision of it was an anonymous undergraduate. It would be nice to say I was smart and take all the credit. I guess you could say I wasn’t dumb enough to drop it. I was present at the conception.”

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