If you glance up at the pressbox perched on top of Harvard Stadium during today's game, you will notice a splay-footed septegenarian promenading up and down the glass booth with a Cheshire Cat grin affixed to his face. This doughty figure is Robert P. Cavileer, who as Harvard's chief football statistician, has been a witness to every Harvard-Yale game since 1929.
Bob Cavileer's 48-year career at Harvard began rather haphazardly. He came to Harvard from Springfield, Ohio, and graduated with an engineering degree in 1930. With the onslaught of the Depression, however, Cavileer had to settle for a job with the YMCA. At the same time, however, a classmate of his by the name of Bud Galston, who had played J.V. football as an undergraduate, came to him with a scheme to keep statistics for the Crimson coaches.
Cavileer recalls, "Galston couldn't draw worth a hoot but he knew I had taken engineering and could draw a bit. He said to me: 'I want to stay involved in football and if you work with me I can do it.'" Cavileer adds, "We got a couple of complimentary tickets and I think he was interested in that."
So Cavileer began to spend his Saturday afternoons in the press box, and he's been spending them that way for 48 years. In 1934 the original press box actually burned down but the athletic director instructed the builder to reconstruct it just as it had been. "That's too bad," says Cavileer, "because it's a lousy press box."
"The only reason I've stuck with it all these years is that I like football," Cavileer says. "They couldn't afford to pay me what I give them."
He worked on a volunteer basis until 1946 when he began to keep official NCAA statistics of Crimson football. By that time,' though, he had become a researcher in ultra-low temperature physics at MIT. Cavileer worked on a team that developed a machine which produces liquid helium, an important breakthrough in the field.
Cavileer saw his first Harvard-Yale game in 1925 when the Crimson battled the Elis to a scoreless tie under captain Marion A. "Dolph" Cheek.
The two Games Cavileer recalls most luminously are the 1930 and 1931 renditions, when Barry Wood was the Crimson quarterback. He recounts the 1931 encounter at the Stadium: "Jack Crickard and Barry Wood had been practicing lateral passes on kickoff returns. So on the opening kickoff Wood lateraled to Crickard, who broke the run 77 yards and didn't score. Crickard was exhausted from running this distance but Wood used him on the next four successive plays. Everyone wondered why he did that. Anyway, Albie Booth kicked a field goal for Yale and we lost. 3-0."
The meteoric stars of Cavileer's undergraduate days were Dave Guarnaccia and Art French, the legendary "lateral twins." The tandem ran out of a razzmatazz offense that was a type of antique multi-flex.
Interestingly enough, the offense was introduced by a pair of Canadian coaches while current Crimson coach Joe Restic perfected his system while also coaching in Canada. Cavileer calls Restic the "most imaginative" coach he's seen at Harvard. "You could say his attack has a lot of grammar in it," he notes impishly.
One trend in Harvard football that Cavileer rues, however, is the decline in student support.
"My observation is that there generally isn't as much interest among the students as there used to be, which I regret very much," he says. "They used to have band rallies on the steps of Widener on Fridays. Some people say this is overemphasis but it's mainly enthusiasm and emotion means a lot to a football team."
Cavileer adds: "I don't think the participants get as much out of it as they used to either. Sometimes I wonder whether it's worth all the effort to go out recruiting. Coach Harlow once said to me that it would bemore fun if we just took the boys who came to the college who really wanted to play ball."
In some ways, Cavileer's ideas may seem a trifle old-fashioned. He still extolls those days when players played both offense and defense and a quarterback called all his own plays. Yet he convinced Joe Restic to keep scouting reports of the opposition on a computer. Indeed, in his entire life he has never owned a car. But then, few 72-year-olds ride around Cambridge on an Aitalia bicycle.
Cavileer believes that despite the superior size and strength of today's players, the great equalizer over the years has been the innate desire to win. "Some people say the game is far more glamorous these days," he says, "but I question it. We had just as great players in those days."
The glamor boy of the Crimson eleven in the mid-1930s was fullback Vernon Struck, who back then took the snap from center. Struck's sleight-of-hand with the pigskin earned him the sonorous sobriquet of "The Magnificent Faker." "Struck would fake you right out of the stadium," Cavileer recalls. "One day I ran into Dick Bennick, who was a manager back in 1930 and he said: 'I sit with my friends back in the end zone and I don't have any problems seeing the ball but I never could follow the plays when old Struck was around.'"
Over the years, Cavileer has been assisted in the press box by a band of alumni devoted to the cause of Harvard football. His right-hand man for many years was Hamilton Holton "Holty" Wood, who was captain of the J.V. football team in 1939. Wood's maternal grandfather was one of the thirteen men who got together and donated the Yale Bowl. Wood's brother operated the Stadium's scoreboard and his daughter Ceelie Wood now types out the play-by-play charts for members of the press.
Other long-time statisticians are Bob Paine, a fixture since 1946, former baseball captain Bob Fulton, and Rufus Walker, who retired three years ago. Albie Pratt kept track of participation charts for Cavileer until he was appointed assistant Secretary of the Navy during President Eisenhower's administration.
One technical innovation in the Harvard pressbox which makes Cavileer beam with pride is the two-colored play-by-play sheets produce right after each quarter. Cavileer and Wood had to go down to the A.B. Dick Company headquarters to consult on a way of producing two colors on one carbon. "It was a great undertaking," Cavileer recalls solemnly, "No other school does it. Princeton tried to do it a couple of years ago and failed. The difference is in having people who are really interested in their work."
So Cavileer will watch yet another Harvard-Yale game today. He will watch The Game as he always has--at the center of the clattering cockpit of typewriters and carbon machines.
The whole time he will still be grinning his Cheshire Cat grin