The Season Begins and Ends On Saturday
At 1 p.m. in New Haven on Saturday. Harvard and Yale will renew their un-paralleled rivalry for the 98th time. And for the 98th time, nothing else will matter for two-and-a-half late-autumn hours in the rarifield world inhabited by Crimson and Eli supporters--not other football games, not the Dow Jones Industrials, not any clear and present dangers.
It will be as if Washington and Wall Street were suspended in mid-air, their uncertainties less consequential than the outcome of the next forward pass or the next end run. The ideological differences between George Bush and Ted Kennedy will melt into a secondary realm, only to be replaced with an equally ferocious and nearly as time-honored competition. Harvard will be jeered as the Kremlin on the Charles: Yale will be lambasted as Tory Blue. A sense of unabashed partisanship will grip two academic centers of power that usually strive for balance and objectivity.
One team will probably win (Yale has won 53 times, Harvard 36), though there have been eight ties. For both teams and both institutions, it will be business as usual by Monday, morning-afters having faded away but exams and papers still very much with them.
But for those two-and-a-half hours Saturday, the inertia of a century will mingle with the skills of the current squads to produce a few moments of magic. Evidence? Consider 1968, when Harvard came back from a 29-13 deficit to score 16 points in the last minute-and-a-half to "beat" Yale 29-29 in Cambridge. Or 1970, when a slightly-dazed Crimson quarterback named Eric Crone was so happy about his team's 14-10 lead that he ran out of the end zone for a safety--almost costing Harvard the victory ("What in the world was Crone doing in the end zone?" asked Monday's papers indignantly).
Or, more recently, 1975, when a last-minute field goal by Mike Lynch gave Harvard a 10-7 victory and its first undisputed Ivy crown. Since that Game, Yale has won four of five contests. Three years ago, the Bulldogs held a comfortable 35-14 lead heading into the last quarter. But Crimson signalcaller Larry Brown engineered two toughdown drives, and the defense pinned Yale at its own six-yard line with five minutes to play.
Yale, however, managed to hand on the possession for the Game's duration, and a frustrated Larry Brown watched from the sidelines, unable to get his hands on the ball, as Harvard fell 35-28.
Two years ago, the last time New Haven played host, the Elis figured to cap an undefeated season with an easy triumph. The Crimson had compiled a miserable 2-6 record, having beaten only hapless. Columbia and Penn.
But as it often does in this Rivalry, a little bit of magic propelled Harvard to a 22-7 Upset. Sophomore Jim Callinan (who this year bettered the single-season Harvard rushing record) sacked up 73 yeards on the ground, and classmate Pete Coppinger (this season's captain) snared two interceptions to buoy the Crimson past the stunned Bulldogs and 70,000 incredulous observers.
Last season, the Game's prelude had all the ingredients necessary for a classic match-up. Harvard Stadium was dotted with ABC cameras as the two squads squared off with the Ivy League title on the line. Crimson quarterback Brain Buckley, who had led Harvard past Army at West Point, had not lost a game he started all season. Yale had plowed through its Ivy opponents with its characteristic ease until Cornell had abruptly stopped the steamroller. This, it appeared, would rank among the best of Games.
But the unkown again entered the picture, and Yale won a rather boring battle, 14-0. The Harvard offense played as if it had forgotten the meaning of the concept "first down," as the Elis shut down both the Crimson's varied running attack and its flexible passing game. Quarterback John Rogan (who will start on Saturday) clicked with elusive split end Curtis Grieve (also still with Yale) on the last play of the first quarter for the Game's first major, a fourth-and-19 desperation call.
From then on, Kevin Czinger, Fred Leone and the rest of Yale's defense held the Harvard offense amid the swirling winds of Soldiers Field. The Crimson defense also fought fiercely, but couldn't come up with the one big play that might have jolted the Multiflex out of its slumber.
And now, on Saturday, the two teams meet again. Harvard has a 4-1-1 Ivy mark and an outside chance at the title (if it wins and Dartmouth loses to Penn) while Yale is 5-1, assured of at least a share of the crown with a victory. Regardless of the respective records, the old adage holds true--the season begins and ends with The Game.
The Elis this year are a simple team to analyze--they are one of the top squads in the East. When Rogan is not clicking with Grieve on offense, he is handing off to Rick Diana, the classiest runner in the Ivies since Ed Marinaro. Despite defense designed to stop him, the fleet-footed Diana has managed to twist and turn for more than five yards a crack, often breaking long runs. If he gets past the initial line of opposition and squirts through to the secondary, watch out. He is devastating in the open field, and his clutch runs last year gave the Elis good position and allowed them to control the ball.
On defense, Fred Leone paces a particularly stubborn line, which is at its best against the run. Yale's only loss of the campaign thus far came last week at the hands of Princeton, 35-31, when Tiger quarterback Bob Holly completed 33 of 55 passes for 501 yards, an Ivy record. While Holly has shown himself to be superb, the Bulldogs obviously have some problems on pass defense.
But the Crimson has a few problems passing. Diminutive but slick quarterback Ron Cuccia is too short to be a dropback passer, and has had most of his success of short screens to 1979 Game star Jim Callinan. Though Harvard boasts a pair of strong tight ends--Linus O'Donnell and Bill McGlone--they have accounted for only five receptions all year. Perhaps Harvard coach Joe Restic is saving them as a special surprise for his Yalie counterpart Carm Cozza. Speedy Paul Scheper, the senior wide receiver, has caught only nine passes thus far.
Yale fans who have witnessed conventional offense for most of the season will be taken aback by Harvard's quarterback-in-motion play the formation the Crimson uses most frequently to pass. Backup quarterback Donny Allard--agile and strong-armed--takes the snap, former split end Cuccia flares wide. Callinan looks for a screen pass, and referees try to discern if the play is legal. Quite often, the zebras have decided otherwise. Harvard must avoid its perennial propensity for penalties if it is to stay in The Game against the powerful Elis.
Callinan has 994 yards on the ground, a record-setting performance and a tribute to an underrated offensive line. Not as flashy as Diana, he nevertheless gives defenses headaches with his versatility. He had two touchdown runs of more than 65 yards last week against an admittedly weak Penn team, but he will not let Yale's vaunted run defense off easily. Steady Jim Acheson lends depth at the setback position, and any of the Crimson wide receivers are threats in the Multiflex rushing arsenal.
Harvard has a defense with a knack for the big play which established a new team interception mark last week. It will have to come up with a few to keep Yale from gaining its offensive rhythm. Captain Coppinger and the Spectacular Rocky Delgadillo are the anchors in the secondary, but sophomore Joe Azelby has emerged as the Crimson's linchpin on defense. Against William and Mary, he had an afternoon worthy of Sports Illustrated's defensive player of the week, figuring in 15 tackles, causing a fumble and making an interception. Last week, he caused two fumbles, and Yale will by wary when be blitzes.
Middle guard Scott Murrer is the key to the defensive line, which must pressure Rogan and get to Diana quickly. Steady sophomore linebacker Andy Nolan must come through as well. If Rogan has time to unload--as Princeton's Holly and Dartmouth's Frank Polsinello did--he will shred the Crimson's secondary, however formidable it may be.
The Crimson must also avoid the lackadaisical play on specialty teams, especially kick returns, that has plagued the team all fall. Place kicker Jim Villanueva gives Harvard a slight edge in the field goal department.
But the talent, match-ups and home field advantage notwithstanding. The Game is almost always decided by intangibles, often ironically. If the wind hadn't been blowing last year, Cozza would have gone for a field goal instead of the fourth-down eventual touchdown. You can probably find one crucial play in each of 97 previous encounters that defied the logic of football and the odds, besides.
Then again, this is the one afternoon when Harvard and Yale cast off any and all pretensions to common sense and rationality they harbor the rest of the year.
Michael Bass assisted with the reporting of the article.