FOR A DECADE they faltered, disintegrating whenever the men in crimson arrived. They fumbled and bumbled through standard plays. There was embarrassment. There was exasperation. There were calls for renewed effort and attention. For whatever reason, the Yale football team simply couldn't beat Harvard.
Nine consecutive games from 2007 through '15 brought nine consecutive losses, each more frustrating than the last (although the 45--7 shellacking on Nov. 19, 2011, was particularly humiliating). Then, last fall, the solution arrived. It was neither a behemoth defensive lineman nor a reincarnation of Yale's most legendary football figure, Walter Camp.
No, the difference maker when Yale beat Harvard 21--14 last Nov. 19 was an eight-week-old, eight-pound Old English bulldog who'd been named for Camp: Walter. "We like to joke that he had some part in that," says Kevin Discepolo, a former Yale lacrosse player who's now an assistant athletic director at the school.
No one knows Discepolo's dog as Walter, though. To his thousands of fans, and to the Yale history books, he will forever be known as Handsome Dan XVIII, the newest manifestation of the Ivy League's best-known canine. Handsome Dan's ancestry dates back to 1889, when a Yale student purchased a bulldog for five dollars and began parading the pooch across the football field before games, thus introducing America's first live animal mascot.
Dan's duties have grown since then. He now attends every Yale team's games, visits hospitals and appears at fund-raisers. He even led commencement for the class of 2017, strutting through campus alongside the president of the university.
One previous Handsome Dan was featured on the Nov. 5, 1956, cover of SI, and Walter's predecessor, Sherman (named for Founding Father and first New Haven mayor Roger Sherman), was photographed with presidents Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush, as well as with Sir Paul McCartney. Sherman passed away last August, and after a period of mourning, the university identified Walter as his successor and designated Discepolo as his handler. Walter arrived a day before the Harvard game and was so small, "he fit right in my hand," Discepolo says.
Although he's been on the job for almost nine months, Walter's first home football game—considered something of an official debut—won't come until Yale hosts Cornell on Sept. 23. That, coincidentally, is also Walter's first birthday.
Until then he'll accompany Discepolo to campus each morning, taking walks, making appearances and eagerly awaiting his big introduction. How would anyone know he's looking forward to walking on the field? All he does is drool.