The Names of The Game
Kennedy, Fish, Peabody, McInally, Szaro and Culver Reminisce
The following--an excerpt from the New Haven edition of the November 19, 1955 Harvard Crimson--describes Harvard's lone score in its 21-7 loss to the Bulldogs of Yale:
"Stahura threw still antoher pass. It went into the end zone, intended for Lewis. Lewis bobbled the ball, but before it fell to the soaked turf. Kennedy picked it up for the touch-down."
The split end who salvaged those seven points for the Crimson was Edward M. Kennedy '54, presently the senior Senator from Massachusetts.
As one might expect, Kennedy is not the only well-known personality to have participated in The Game or to have played Harvard football. Many have established themselves in state and national political circles, and some have gone on to careers in the National Football League.
Despite the years which have passed, the recollections and impressions of Harvard football and the team's annual battle with Yale remain with the people who later rose to some or a great degree of national recognition.
The competitiveness of Ivy League football, the importance of receiving a Harvard education instead of attending a school with a more recognized grid program, attitudes toward and treatment of athletes, and the drama and emotions of The Game are all still vivid memories for former Harvard gridders who made it big later on.
Current Cincinatti Bengal split end and punter Pat McInally '75, former New Orleans Saint placekicker Richie Szaro '71, former Massachusetts Governor Endicott Peabody '41, former U.S. Senator John Culver '54, former U.S. Congressman Hamilton Fish '10 and Kennedy all still recall what it meant to be a Crimson football player and a Harvard student. U.S. Senator William Proxmire (D-Wisc.). who played for the Elis--also remembers his experiences in The Game and as an Ivy League athlete.
Szaro--an economics major who later started for the Saints over a span of nearly a decade and is now an international trading consultant--contends that competing in the Ivy League did not and should not hinder an athlete's progress. "You don't need a locomotive to run into you to be good. I wouldn't be a better football player if I went to another school. I feel that individual development from a school like Harvard can be as good as if you came from U.C.L.A., Notre Dame or Michigan."
McInally--who was a receiver on the Harvard team and who currently leads the NFL in punting--also feels that playing at Harvard need not limit one's chances of excelling and turning professional. "Hey, Harvard didn't limit my chances of playing pro. It's totally up to the individual to prove himself."
Fish--a representative from the state of New York who served in the House of Representatives from the end of World War I through World War II--was during his 25 years of congressional tenure a major spokesman for the Democratic party. Recently, President Reagan--in commemoration of Veteran's Day--asked Fish to place a wreath on the tomb of the unknown soldier from World War I.
Known as one of the more skillful players in the early days of college football, Fish was named to several all-time, All-American squads. The former congressman played from 1907-1909, the golden era of Ivy League football, when Harvard played--and defeated--the Michigans of college athletics.
"Harvard and all football is a wonderfully competitive sport. A good football player is one that gets knocked down and gets up and fights harder," Fish says. "Football is a good game because it involves running. You use your legs all your life for walking. I'm alive at 93 and I think it's a result of football."
Fish, however, looks back to the good old days when Harvard--not Alabama--was the Crimson Tide: "Why, when I played, Harvard and other Ivy schools were the top teams in the country. Today, they are second rate. Most of the good players in the country came to Harvard, Yale and Dartmouth. But now we can't compete. Players from other schools outweigh Harvard people by 20 pounds per man."
Peabody--who was the governor of Massachusetts in the early '60s and is now practicing law in Washington, D.C.--agrees with Fish's assessment of the problems facing today's Ivy League gridders.
"We handicap ourselves when we don't give the players a chance to have spring practice. Why should football be enclosed in a period of three months in the fall. In the spring, it is a great opportunity to practice crucial parts of the game without being injury conscience," Peabody says. "If we had the chance to practice in the spring, we would be able to beat competition outside the Ivy League. You should compete because that is one of the great things of sports. You shouldn't do anything half-heartedly."
McInally disagrees with the criticism Fish and Peabody offer. "To me, the Ivy League was the most competitive conference in the country. Any team could knock off another team any week. I think that kind of competition is the best kind and it has the right perspective. Again, it does not preclude someone from playing pro football."
Being men who have played or are playing football for money, and realizing that their careers are not permanent, Szaro and McInally value the opportunities the academic and athletic experiences at Harvard provided.
"Harvard--I would recommend it to anyone," Szaro says. "I would never substitute it for going to other schools around the country. People say that we have touch football in the Ivy League, but we took it for what it was. Just fun."
Szaro adds. "There is no doubt that I did the right thing in going to Harvard. The experience which you have both in and outside the classroom can't be compared to anything else. It wasn't until I was in professional football for three years that I found out that it was unique that the Harvard football program emphasizes and endorses academics. Ninety per cent of professional football players don't graduate from school."
"I just feel fortunate to have had the experience where I could play football and have an education at the same time." McInally says.
Fish is aware of the stereotypes which some people apply to football players. "I think people ought to be fair to football players and not discriminate against them," he says. "Professors seem to sneer at them. Back in my time, three of us took a course in the Divinity School, and we all got A's," Fish recalls. "But none of the 22 regular students did as well as us. Football players can get As too. They are Harvard students."
Fish adds, "If he's a good athlete, he's got the possibility to go far. If you can stand the roughness of a football field, you can stand the game of life."
McInally also believes that some people harbor misconceptions concerning gridiron stars. "I think that has prejudices against football players.
But there are athletes who excel in both [academics and sports]. The Ivy League--Harvard in particular--demands that athletes be scholars."
Peabody also recognizes the opportunities which Harvard football offers. "I made a tremendous amount of long-term friends from playing at Harvard. Those friends you made when you were using all your faculties to the fullest, you keep them for a long time. That's true for politics as well as in a Harvard fund campaign. You learn where you are able to maximize your effort and training it commits you to a level of excellence in your life and in your approach to life."
Besides the overall value of an Ivy League football experience, most of these men remember the Yale Game as the outstanding experience of their college grid careers.
Former one-term lowa Senator John Culver '54 lost his seat last November in the "Tuesday Night Massacre" of several prominent moderate and liberal Democrats. Presently, he, like Governor Peabody, also practices law in Washington. D.C. But at Harvard, he was one of the finest running backs in the school's history, holding the record for most touchdowns scored.
"The opportunity to have played football at Harvard [during] the Harvard-Yale game of 1953 remains a memorable highlight. [It] was an invaluable experience which both enriched and greatly influenced my life at that time, as well as in the years that have followed," Culver says.
"The Yale game," adds Fish, "is the biggest game in the East and always will be. When we played Yale we were both unbeaten and were playing for the national championship. Every seat was taken."
Congressman Fish illustrates the significance of The Game when he played. "[A friend of mine] got three tickets to the Yale game. It was very hard to get tickets. Jerry didn't care about football and he wanted to smoke the ticket. I said that instead of wasting it, you're going to sell that ticket. He got $50."
And those were pre-inflation, 1910 dollars.
Fish said that he can't attend The Game any longer because he has a hard time "getting around," regardless of his football background.
"Yale is Yale. If you beat Yale you have had a successful football team. If you lose, you don't," says Peabody. "Everybody before The Game is tension-filled. It's like an election,"
The governor adds, "You can expect the other team to play inspired football against the team, especially if you're the favorite. The underdog has a great chance of pulling it out. One year when Yale had only won one game, they played tougher than Michigan or Navy. We were lucky to come out of it in one piece."
To be fair, someone from Yale ought to have the chance to say something. Wisconsin Senator William Proxmire--an Eli alumnus and varsity football letterman--recalls his impressions of The Game.
The Game "has such a marvelous, long tradition. They [the Bulldogs] have great respect for Harvard. It's a great superb school, but it's The Game and you want to win."
Senator Proxmire adds, "You don't have any hatred or animosity between the two teams or the two schools. Just a lot of respect. That is what makes The Game so unique."
Senator Kennedy of Massachusetts--easily recognizable to politicos and football fans alike--played split end for the Crimson in the 1955 Game, and his memories of the contest remain particularly vivid.
"To be frank, the thing I remember most about The Game was catching our only touchdown pass. It was a special spirit in that game, even though we lost."
Senator Kennedy adds, "The Game brought out our competitiveness, our feelings for each other, and a real sense of tough but fair play. When I look back on it, it is with nostalgia and affection for The Game and for Harvard."
Kennedy continues, "All things considered, however, I still would rather have won and by a big score. So my message this year is: BEAT YALE!"