Joe Bertagna remembers the incident well. Maybe a little too well.
The night was March 6, 1973, and Bertagna--currently Harvard's sports information director and at the time the starting goaltender for the Crimson's hockey team--was scarfing a cheeseburg club at Elsie's Deli, his hair still wet from a shower at Dillon Field House.
"How're you doin', Joe?" a friend from his House called across the counter. "You just get out from practice?"
"No," the senior goaltender replied, "We just lost to Clarkson in the first round of the ECAC playoffs."
The season, the four years of hard work, the hopes for an ECAC title and a national championship had died, some 45 minutes earlier, with a shocking 7-4 upset by Clarkson at Watson Rink, and this turkey--well, no, not a turkey, actually, but a friend--was asking if he had just finished practice.
At Oklahoma, or Notre Dame, or Ohio State, the mindless offender might have been set upon by an outraged mob. At Elsie's, in the middle of the Harvard campus, Joe Bertagna shrugged it off, finished his burger, probably stopped off at the Pi Eta club for a beer, and went back to his room to sleep.
You see, sports at Harvard are hard to figure. On the one hand, Harvard maintains a well-funded, high-powered athletic machine that supports a major intercollegiate program, as well as a healthy intramural setup. But on the other hand, well, it is Ha-h-h-h-v-a-a-d, for God's sake. Half the people at this University think the single-wing offense has something to do with table manners at Kentucky Fried Chicken.
So there are star jocks, like Joe Bertagna, who go relatively unnoticed around school (with the exception of Kirkland House, and the possible exceptions of Quincy, Winthrop and Eliot Houses).
And there are those like current junior Mike Stenhouse, a first-term All-American baseball player and a varsity basketball stud, who get shipped off to the Radcliffe Quad via the housing lottery, even though the playing fields are light years away on the other side of the Charles.
There are guys on varsity teams here that go on to the pros--gridders like Pat McInally, Dan Jiggetts and Richie Szaro, baseball player Pete Varney, soccer goalie Shep Messing--while on the other hand you can find an occasional character on the rifle team who looks like an overinflated rugby ball.
There are national championship treams in some sports (squash, crew), and butts of jokes on the Prudential scoreboard in others (football).
There are outrageously beautiful facilities, like the brand new Blodgett Pool and the track hall, and then there's a place called the Indoor Athletic Building (IAB). If you're interested in Medieval Studies as a possible major, the IAB should be your first stop--it's Harvard's only standing example of the architecture of the Middle Ages.
There are pretty good women's sports here, in terms of both quality and administrative support; but for you male chauvinist pigs, there is hardly a cheerleader in the entire school (you thought maybe I was kidding when I said "this is H-a-h-h-h-v-a-a-d, for God's sakes"?)
In short, Harvard has a diverse, solid sports program that you have to get involved with--in some way--to like. And most people like it--I think.
Intercollegiate sports at Harvard are divided into two categories: football, and the rest. If considered separately, tailgating ranks a close second to football in popularity, but most objective observers lump the two together.