When Gary Farneti tells you that Saturday's Harvard-Yale game, The Game, is "just another game to me," you have to think, "Oh no, now he's going to say, 'On any given day, any given team can beat any other given team.'"
But Farneti is serious and his explanation is plausible. "I'm a sophomore and every one of these last eight games has been a miracle. This is the same situation we've been in all year," he explains. "We're the underdog and have everything to gain and nothing to lose."
Farneti is a starting linebacker for Harvard's top-ranked defense. He stepped into the starting role in the Penn game and has been one of the most pleasant surprises of Coach John Yovicsin's Harvard team.
With cornerback Rick Frisbee, Farneti is one of only two sophomores starting for the defensive unit, but he has a contagious enthusiasm and a cool admiration for the role the defense has played in Harvard's undefeated record.
"We have a free-wheeling spirit," he said, "which has created an atmosphere in which everyone feels lose. We haven't tightened up. We've forced them to make the mistakes by keeping our poise when the other team starts rolling.
Farneti shows none of the self-doubts or indecision that might be expected of a sophomore. At six feet, 210 pounds, he is built like a refrigerator.
He is just about as hard to block as a refrigerator. He moves laterally with his hands out in front of him, preventing linemen from getting to his body. He hits with strength far beyond his size, and even the biggest backs are driven back. He has been a standout from his first starting assignment against Penn when he tied defensive stalwarts John Emery and John Cramer for the highest number of tackles. Farneti's agility and strength won him the freshman heavyweight boxing title last year.
His football career started in high school when he played offensive guard and linebacker on the varsity for three years. In his senior year, Farneti's school, Binghamton (N.Y.) North, won the league championship with an undefeated record as he garnered all-state and All-American honors.
After he had decided not to go to a football school, Farneti started looking for the Ivy League school with the "best academic opportunities, the best athletic program, and the best social life." He chose Harvard over Penn and Princeton primarily because be preferred Boston's resources.
As an offensive guard and a linebacker last year, Farneti played more than any other freshman. He was worried about playing guard when he came to spring practice, but the coaches assigned him to defense behind John Emery, Dale Neal, and Gerry Marino.
Farneti jumped into the starting position before the Penn game when Marino and Neal were injured and has been there since. He pulled a muscle in his shoulder in the Brown game last Saturday, but he is looking forward to an encounter with Yale's high-scoring duo of Brian Dowling and Calvin Hill.
"Some of those teams have laid down and died for Yale as soon as they read their press clippings. I don't think Yale has the depth we do, but they can score anytime and they're always looking for the bomb. They're always looking for the bomb. They're going to have to prove themselves to me personally," he said.