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."