As a member of the Ivy League, Cornell football has natural rivalries with its fellow conference foes, but Dartmouth has proven itself as one of the Red’s toughest competitors, especially in recent years.
The all-time series, which kicked off in 1900, has Dartmouth leading, 61-41-1. In addition, the rivalry currently stands as the second-longest uninterrupted series, as the teams have met every year since 1919.
The Green holds the overall edge in the series, and this has been evident in the past decade when Dartmouth rattled off 10 straight victories over the Red from 2009 to 2018. This dominance has come under longtime head coach Buddy Teevens, who also guided the team to two Ivy League titles, including a shared championship with Yale in 2019.
Last year, though, the Red snapped the Green’s winning streak in a shocking fashion. Dartmouth, which entered the contest with a perfect 8-0 record and a No. 11 national ranking, fell to Cornell at home, 20-17.
Prior to that matchup, Cornell stumbled in with a 2-6 record and had experienced heartbreaking one-point losses to both Penn and Colgate. A 30.5-point underdog, the Red contained an explosive Dartmouth offense that was averaging over 35 points per game.
“I’m really proud of our team and our staff — we’ve had an adversity-filled year,” said head coach David Archer ’05 after the game. “We played in some really close games where we felt we should have won. I told them, ‘It takes a really special group of people to not let that affect you going forward.’”
While the Green was aiming to clinch an Ivy League title that day, Cornell’s dream of a conference title had already ended weeks ago. At that point, the Red was looking to play spoiler and perhaps move up the conference standings, which it accomplished with a fourth-place tie at the end of the season.
“We talked about how they had literally everything to lose — they had just played two enormous, emotional games,” Archer said. “I don’t think Dartmouth circled the Cornell game on their calendar … We could be the most dangerous team because we didn’t have anything to lose.”
From 1980 to 2008, the Red and the Green largely alternated in the series. Before then, Dartmouth enjoyed a dominant stretch winning 22 of 24 matchups between 1955 and 1978. During the first 38 matchups, Cornell claimed victory in 21 games.
The most notable iteration of the rivalry came in 1940, a contest that went down in infamy as the “Fifth Down Game.” Cornell, which clinched its fifth national championship the year before, came into the game having won 18 straight tilts.
That streak came to an end in a wild manner. In a low-scoring contest, the Green held a 3-0 lead in the fourth quarter, and a last-minute drive by Cornell wound up deciding the game.
After navigating the ball to the Green’s six-yard line, the Red moved further toward the end zone by reaching the one-yard line on three downs. On fourth down, Cornell was penalized for delay of game, moving the ball back to the six-yard line. Afterward, reserve halfback Walt “Pop” Scholl attempted a pass that fell incomplete in the end zone.
At that point, Cornell should have turned the ball over on downs, but referee Red Friesell spotted the ball back on the six-yard line, mistakenly believing that it was now fourth down. With this “fifth down,” Scholl found wide receiver William Murphy to score the game-winning touchdown.
The error was uncovered after officials reviewed the game film. Guided by players, coaches, the athletic director, and even the University president, the Red sent a telegram in which it voluntarily forfeited the game. Dartmouth accepted the forfeit, and the contest was credited as a 3-0 victory for the Green.
While no subsequent games between Cornell and Dartmouth have achieved that level of notoriety, the rivalry remains fierce, and the Red may have new life in the series after its massive upset last year.