It's not hard to imagine Harvard coach John Yovicsin turning to his defense coordinator, Ralph Jelic, midway through the third quarter in Ithaca last year and muttering, "Holy cow, Ralph, why isn't Marinaro on our side?"
He could have been.
Marinaro is Cornell's All-Ivy tailback. Ed Marinaro, and at the time he was on his way to his greatest day ever, carrying the ball 40 times for 281 yards and five touchdowns. Marinaro, or rather Cornell, upset Harvard, 41-24. Cornell was 0-3, Harvard 3-0.
A little more interest in Marinaro on Harvard's part two years ago might have averted that disaster. Marinaro's older brother was attending B. U. then, and Ed visited Boston on several occasions. He liked what he saw-and he wanted to come to Harvard.
But of the Ivies, Yale and Harvard were the only schools that did not actively recruit the New Milford, N. J. star fullback. Marinaro eventually chose Cornell, mainly because of its hotel management school.
"I'm really looking forward to playing in Boston." Marinaro said Thursday. "But I'm really glad to be at Cornell now."
"The approach toward football is totally different at Cornell," he explained. "It's rough to play ball at Harvard because being in the city, values change very quickly. One day you'll be loving football, then everything around you will make it seem less important the next."
There is no doubting that Marinaro has been able to keep his mind on football in Ithaca. As a sophomore last year, he was barely edged by Heisman Trophy winner Steve Owen for the national rushing title when Owen went berserk in Oklahoma's final game.
"Owen had one hell of a day to beat me out," Marinaro mused. "But he came through under pressure, so he deserved it. And I had poor games against Yale and Brown that brought down my average."
Marinaro has picked up where he left off in 1969. In three games this year, the 6'2, 210-pounder has gained 601 yards on 97 carries and leads the nation with a 200.3 yard per game average.
Last week, he pulled Cornell from defeat against underdog Penn, scoring twice, running for a decisive two-point conversion and setting up a third touchdown in the Big Red's 32-31 victory.
"We had a little trouble on defense last week." he said Thursday. "We're going to have to improve our mental attitude this week if we want to win."
Cornell's victory over Harvard last year lifted the Red out of a slump and the team finished out 4-2. "That was a real thrill for us." Marinaro recalled. "The Harvard defense was third in the country and Harvard hadn't lost an Ivy game in two years."
After an above-average-but not spectacular-high school career in New Milford, Marinaro headed for Ithaca and recognition. Before his sophomore year, coach Jack Musick installed a pro offense and turned Marinaro loose.
The wide-open attack took pressure off Marinaro, and with the offensive line executing the Arkansas scramble block well, he began hitting quick openers for big gains.
He credits his backfield cohorts with much of his success, though. Quarterback Rick Furbush is a running threat himself, and the Red fullbacks lead Marinaro into the line.
"They really work," Marinaro said of the fullbacks, who alternate because of the demands placed on them.
Of course, most of Marinaro's yardage is his alone. He has an excellent chance of making All-American this year, and two consecutive rushing titles could bring him the Heisman Trophy.
"If Calvin Hill wasn't doing so well in the pros, I wouldn't have a shot at it," he said, looking ahead Thursday. "The rushing title is really more important, though, because it leads to other things. I just can't afford to worry about it now."
Marinaro may not be worrying. The Harvard defense is.