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The Game, II

November 22, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

[Bob Child, Associated Press, from NYT website]

In late September and early October, I had posts (here and here) with the theme that I wasn’t ready for football. Baseball was still being played; couldn’t we wait a little longer before the onslaught of football coverage on TV and across print and web media? And why must coverage of baseball games be pushed around in favor of football? By the time we headed off in late October on our 23-day trip, my commitment to baseball was already wavering, and the idea of World Series games in November was more than I could bear. Now that we’re back, baseball is forgotten, I’ve accepted (even as the college regular season winds down) that it’s football season, and now I’m wondering why college basketball is already upon us.

Even as I was rueing the saturation coverage of football, and largely not watching it, I was paying attention to who was winning and losing. And then I remembered in mid October to follow the Ivy League race. From Europe, I would look up the weekly results, and it soon became clear that the league championship was likely to come down to last week’s Harvard-Penn meeting in Cambridge. Both were undefeated in league play (each of the eight teams plays the other seven over the course of the season), while everyone else had two or more losses. By the time they met, this remained the case: both were 5-0 in Ivy play, Brown was 3-2, and everyone else had a worse league record. With two games left, their head-to-head meeting and yesterday’s season-enders, the winner of their game last week would at least tie for Ivy champion.

Neither team had distinguished itself in non-league play. Both had lost two of three. My guess was that Harvard wasn’t as strong as its league record suggested, and even though they were playing at home, they would probably lose. Which they did. That took some of the shine off yesterdays’ re-enactment of The Game, the 126th meeting of Harvard and Yale on the gridiron.

I wrote about The Game a year ago, noting just before its start that I had discovered cable network Versus’s weekly broadcast of an Ivy League football game and anticipated watching it. I also mentioned the newly released movie — which I have yet to see — on the greatest of all Games, Harvard’s 29-29 “victory” over Yale in 1968. (You’ll recall that both were undefeated going in, at a time when Ivy football mattered. The Yale team was nationally ranked, with stars Brian Dowling — the inspiration for BD in Doonesbury — at quarterback and Calvin Hill — future Dallas Cowboy star and father of Grant Hill — at running back. They were expected to win, even at Cambridge, and win they were doing, 29-13 with 42 seconds left. For the rest of the story, see the movie.)

I arrived in Cambridge the following fall. There were great hopes for the team that year, but things fell apart quickly, starting with the hero of The Game, quarterback Frank Champi, quitting early on. Nonetheless, with the memory of 1968’s Game still fresh, I was determined to get to New Haven for the 1969 game. When Hillel, a friend in our freshman dorm, mentioned that he had a sophomore friend from his high school who had a car and was going, I accepted the invitation to ride with him, as did my roommate and Hillel’s roommate. I see now that I already wrote about this in my post on The Game a year ago, so I won’t go over old ground. I’ll just say that getting to New Haven wasn’t worth the trouble. It was cold, the game was boring, we lost, and I soon lost interest in Harvard football altogether. I only remember one game in my years there that I enjoyed, a thrilling victory over Cornell in my junior year with, as best I recall, a late winning field goal. What made the game special is that Cornell was led by the top runner in the country, Ed Marinaro. Yes, really, Ivy League football still mattered on the national scene in those days. Marinaro finished 2nd in the Heisman Tropy balloting after leading the country in rushing. In fact, he set the NCAA record for most career rushing yards, a record that looks like nothing today, since players have four years of eligibility rather than just three. He had some success with the Vikings, but perhaps became better known through his role on the TV show Hill Street Blues as Officer Joe Coffey.

So anyway, The Game was played yesterday. Just before noon I remembered that it was underway and might be on Versus. Good timing. I turned it on with about 4 1/2 minutes left and saw quite an ending. Yale, as I eventually learned, had taken a 10-0 lead at halftime, but missed a field goal in the second half. I’m not sure when, but I think in the third quarter. This opened the door for Harvard, which scored at last with 6:46 left in the game to cut the lead to 10-7. When I started watching, Yale had the ball, in position to wind down the clock. Then came the crucial play, with less than 3 minutes left. Yale was on its 25 with 4th and 22. The punter was back, but the play was a fake. The ball was hiked to someone standing just behind center, who handed off on a reverse to a player coming from right to left. He proceeded up the left side as I screamed for someone to tackle him. And someone did, 5 yards shy of a first down. Harvard recovered the ball on its 40. After a 4-yard pass and a 2-yard run, they went long for a touchdown, taking a stunning 14-10 lead with a minute and a half left. Yale had a pass intercepted, called three timeouts on Harvard’s next three plays, forcing Harvard to punt with just seconds on the clock. Yale had no time to do anything and Harvard escaped with the win.

Even though no one but alums can possibly care, the NYT is always there with coverage of The Game, presumably because it employs so many alums itself. You can read more in today’s paper.

I leave you with the lyrics to my favorite of all college fight songs, Harvardiana, written by R.G. Williams and S.B. Steel of the class of 1911:

With Crimson in triumph flashing
Mid the strains of victory,
Poor Eli’s hopes we are dashing
Into blue obscurity.
Resistless our team sweeps goal ward
With the fury of the blast;
We’ll fight for the name of Harvard
‘Till the last white line is passed
Harvard! Harvard! Harvard! (2x)

We sure dashed Eli’s hopes yesterday!

Categories: Football, Sports
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