Harvard won its first national championship in overwhelming fashion as the Crimson went 11-0 and outscored its opponents by a combined margin of 555-12. The Crimson’s success can, in part, be attributed to the appointment of George Stewart 1884 and George Adams 1886 as Harvard’s first full-time football coaches. The only close game among the 11 wins was a 12-6 win against Yale, which ended a 15-year winless streak against the Bulldogs. Five players were named to the Walter Camp All-America first team, including tackle Marshall Newell 1894, who earned the first of four straight first team All-America selections.
Coached by W. Cameron Forbes 1892, who would later go on to serve as governor general of the Philippines and United States ambassador to Japan, Harvard finished 11-0 for the second time in the program’s history. A determined Crimson eleven, motivated by a tie with Yale and a loss to Penn to close the 1897 season, registered shutouts of those two squads, including a 17-0 win against Yale in the finale. The 1898 season also saw the annual Harvard-Yale game take its place as the final game of the year for both schools. Halfback Ben Dibblee 1899, quarterback Charley Daly 1901 and end Jack Hallowell 1901 were named to the Walter Camp All-America team.
Harvard won its second straight national title despite a coaching change that saw Cam Forbes step down after he was thrown from a horse and badly injured. Ben Dibblee 1899, who had captained the Crimson’s 1898 championship team, stepped in as head coach, with Forbes acting as a consultant. Things did not look promising early as the Crimson returned just five players from the previous season. Still, Harvard finished the season with a 10-0-1 record, which included an incredible 10 shutouts, and was led by All-America quarterback Charley Daly (who, incidentally, would later play against Harvard as a member of Army’s 1901 squad). The Crimson’s bid for a third 11-0 season was denied in the season finale when Harvard and Yale played to a scoreless tie.
Harvard football entered a new era in 1908 with the hiring of head coach Percy Haughton 1899. Under Haughton, the Crimson enjoyed what is considered the Golden Age of Harvard football, with three national titles in Haughton’s nine-year coaching career. A noted perfectionist, Haughton’s 1910 squad nearly achieved complete perfection -- only a scoreless tie against Yale kept Harvard from an unbeaten, untied season, and a touchdown by Cornell marked the only points that Harvard allowed all year. Harvard placed three players on the All-America team in tackle Bob McKay ’11, guard Bob Fisher ’12 and halfback Percy Wendell ’13.
Harvard won the first of back-to-back championships in 1912 as part of a 33-game unbeaten streak, which stands as a school record to this day. Harvard survived close calls against Maine (7-0), Vanderbilt (9-3) and Dartmouth (3-0) before rolling to a 20-0 win against Yale in New Haven to complete a 9-0 season. Prior to the Yale game, the Harvard Crimson editorialized that, “Never has there been a more critical moment in Harvard’s athletic career than will be marked by the game of tomorrow afternoon. A victory tomorrow will prove to all that the rejuvenation of football at Harvard is a permanent matter and not a mere flash in the pan.” All-America selections included end Sam Felton ’13, halfback Charlie Brickley ’15 and guard Stan Pennock ’15.
Harvard steamrolled through the 1913 schedule, allowing only two touchdowns on the season, to finish 9-0 for the second straight year and capture its sixth national championship. The highlight of the season was a 3-0 win against Princeton (which was led by legendary two-sport standout Hobey Baker), marking the Crimson’s first win against the Tigers in the Garden State. Charlie Brickley ’15 was once again named to the All-America team along with guard Stan Pennock and halfback Eddie Mahan ’16.
Harvard competed informally in football in 1917 and 1918 as the first World War consumed the nation for those two years. When varsity play resumed in 1919, Percy Haughton had decided not to return as head coach, and Bob Fisher ’12 took over. Harvard ran roughshod through its first six opponents, winning all six games by an aggregate score of 179-0, before settling for a 10-10 tie against Princeton. The Crimson regrouped to defeat Tufts and Yale, resulting in an invitation to play in the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day. Harvard entered that game as a slight favorite, a prognostication that proved correct as the Crimson defeated Oregon, 7-6.