If you ever wondered what "class" looks like on a football field, all you had to do was take a look at the Harvard football team last week against the Ivy League champions-to-be from Brown. From the middle of the first quarter until the final gun, the game was strictly no contest, a three-hour tribute to a long-standing heritage of winning football at Harvard.
It didn't turn out that way because the Bruins were talentless. They aren't. It didn't happen because the 1975 Crimson football team is one of the finest outfits ever to play the game. It isn't. What happened was that team which doesn't know how to win the big game ran into one that expects to win every important contest it encounters.
More than anything else, last Saturday's victory at Providence was engineered by a confident, well-coached, and classy football team, another in a long line of teams from Harvard that weren't the most talented the world has ever seen, but which had the mind of a winner.
If the odds were against a Crimson victory last week (Las Vegas seldom takes class into account when making the betting line), Harvard's performance should not have shocked those who were fortunate enough to have a seat at last year's titanic Soldier's Field confrontation between the Crimson and an unbeaten, united, and almost unscored-upon team from Yale.
With only a tough loss to Brown the week before to mar its Ivy record, the underdog Harvard squad took on what was then considered to be one of the finest teams in the nation (and that's the truth) in a quest for a share of the Ivy League crown. The last three and a half minutes of The Game, as everybody knows by now, were classics in Ivy history.
To drive 95 yards in such a short time, against a nationally ranked defense, with the Ivy championship hanging in the balance, in front of 40,000 wildly cheering people, is something that doesn't happen too often.
Harvard began the drive trailing, 16-14. With 15 seconds left in the game, Crimson quarterback Milt Holt began to roll out to his left, and for a moment, the scene was frozen, irrevocably imprinted on the minds of those who saw it.
The next frame in the picture sequence shows Holt slicking between two Yale defenders at the goal, a stadium stuffed with people going wild, and the lights of the scoreboard gleaming sharply in the late afternoon: Harvard 20, Yale 16.
Those who witnessed it will never forget it, and those who missed it will have to bear hearing the story told and retold every time Harvard plays Yale. Few finishes, in any brand of football, will ever reach the emotional pitch and tension of the 1974 version of The Game. Unless the 1975 version does.
The team that played Yale last year has one very important factor in common with the group that demolished Brown last week, aside from the name of Harvard and a few ballplayers who have played on both. The man is named Joe Restic, and he is one of the finest coaches in the country right now.
It is in Restic that we find the reason for the class and confidence of every Harvard football team in recent memory. At the start of every game, the Crimson is completely prepared. The ballplayers know it, and so should the fans. The phrase is getting tritie, but Joe Restic is one of the most inventive coaches around these days.
Think back to last year's Yale game. Remember two facets of it. First, Harvard comes out in an incredible defensive formation with six men on the line in an effort to blunt Yale's vaunted running attack. The result: the Eli backfield gains only 101 yards in 57 rushes in the big showdown.
Second, remember a play just before the half of that game. Harvard's great pass receiver, Pat McInally, takes a pass from Holt behind the line of scrimmage (which was around midfield). Instead of running with it, the end electrifies the crown by throwing a tremendous 40-yard bomb to end Bill Curry. Harvard takes it in from there, and leads 14-13 at half time.
Now think for a second about last week's game. There was something peculiar there as well. A double hand-off play that opened gaping holes in the Bruin defense for Crimson back Tcm Winn during the first half. The play was an innovation that was completely unexpected and successful.
The point is that Harvard's football team is confident simply because it ought to be. In almost every game, the team is equipped with something new, something the opposition has yet to deal with. And it is in this part of the game plan that the edge goes to Harvard when it takes the field. Joe Restic is the key.