Soaking Up the Bennies
I guess somebody his to sit in Row A right on the goal line. The obvious question is. "Why me?" After pumping some $16,000 into Harvard as an undergraduate, and laying out another $14 today, in it making too much that I should sit in a sent where I can see The Zone run in that final safety?
The tears are hitting these typewriter keys now, making them a little slippery. I cry not over my seat--that will come as I file into the Stadium--but over the record now on my stereo. It's a recording of Harvard's 29-29 win over the New Haven choke artists way back in '69. Some of you readers may be too young to remember that particular game, but no alumnus could ever forget.
Comparisons with Jesus Christ are tiresome, but consider--Frank Champi. A poor boy from Everett, Frank was maligned by many. "Sure," they'd say, "Frank's good with a javelin, but so was Tarzan; and you wouldn't want Tarzan calling signals for Harvard." But Frank stuck to it, buoyed by a simple faith that there was a power higher than Nathan Pusey and the Crimson sports page combined. And so on that fateful day, Frank suited up as usual in Dillon Field House, dutifully applying Dr. Wood's Miracle Splinter Resister to the rear of his uniform. And Frank watched for 59 minutes as his undefeated teammates headed towards, well, defeat. As Ken Coleman says on the record, "Yale had the championship, but Harvard had Champi." Well, to make a long story short, that game was the best argument ever for the existence of God. The crucifixion came the following year in about six different games.
The question is, where is the spirit of Frank Champi today? You know it's not down in Row A at the goal line; Frank was a class ahead of us so he should be closer to the five. Perhaps that spirit is circulating through uniform number 19. The scenario is unrolling before me now as I listen to the account of Champi's final pass to Pete Varney.
As the game comes down to its final minutes, we have heard that Penn has crushed Dartmouth down in Philadelphia. If Yale can win, the Bulldogs can take a share of the title back to New Haven, and those Harvard rejection letters sitting in their desks will hurt a little less. Yale is up by two touchdowns, but with 19 seconds left, a quadruple reverse prepared especially for the Yale game goes for a 99-yard touchdown to bring Harvard within eight points. The Crimson misses the extra point when a player later identified as Brian Dowling blows in to block the kick.
I will be sitting there in Row A, my vision completely blocked, but aware from the sound of the crowd that our team has done something right. I will cling to my seat, remembering how I'd left the 29-29 game five minutes early to help distribute the gloomy Crimson extra. By this time, my tailgate lunch will be crying out for an escape, but there I shall sit.
A Yale fumble just after the kickoff will be recovered by Harvard at the Elis' five, and Joe Restic, ever faithful to his quarterbacks and mythology, will send in Eric Crone and tell him. "Call it yourself, Zone." Like any true athlete, Crone decides to go with what he does best. Four seconds show on the clock as the ball is snapped, and The Zone fades back to pass. Yale decides against the rush and shows an eleven-man safety, a pure version of Percy Rogers' umbrella defense. Still The Zone fades. Bok shifts nervously in his seat, wondering if he has the Pusey touch. Pusey sitting at the 50 clasps his hands and asks for Frank. The Zone is now back in his own end zone, at ease. He sees Nick Leone, wearing Champi's old number, and he throws into a 20-mph wind. The ball sails all 100 yards and into the arms of Leone for the touchdown. The Zone, always at his cleverest against Yale, calls the same play again, and gets the two points for a tie. Finally as if the trip back to New Haven isn't going to be bad enough, a referee's decision gives Harvard another point and victory since the Harvard Band's halftime show was judged to be fouler than Yale's.
That may sound hard to believe, but think how Dickey Lee felt when he found his sweater lying on top of that gravestone.