"The Harvard soccer team yesterday exploded for seven goals, crushing Dartmouth..." Phrases like that are uncommon these days, with the booters averaging about a goal per game. But nine years ago, when first-team All-American Chris Papagianis '73 was leading the offense, big Crimson scores were the norm.
In that 7-2 demolition of the Green, striker Papagianis scored three goals and tallied three assists. His 21 points--13 goals and eight assists--in seven Ivy games that year still stands as the league record.
"Papa," as his teammates called him, played for a short time after graduation with the Montreal Olympics, a pro team which soon folded. Since then, he has worked as a Congressional aide in Washington, and is now vice-president of a metals company in St. Louis, his hometown.
Few topics can get him talking the way soccer does, though. It's not surprising, when you consider the achievements of the powerhouse teams on which he played. In two of his three varsity years, '70 and '72, the Crimson went to the NCAA quarterfinals, and in his junior year, the squad reached the semifinals before falling, 1-0, to a Howard team. A month after that semifinal game, NCAA officials learned that 11 of the Howard players had played with professional teams.
Papagianis calls the rosters of those teams "a bunch of talented individuals"--a vast understatement, considering they included several members of foreign national teams.
The international lineup was astounding England, Iran, Libya, Gambia, Nigeria. Yugoslavia, and Norway were represented. (Papagianis, though a native Greek, was an American citizen.) American talent was also present: the '70 backup and '71 starting goalkeeper was Papagianis' Mather House roommate, Shep Messing.
Some players felt coach Bruce Munre had trouble assessing the vast talent available to him, and was using top players as backups. But the booters' finely-honed skills often made lineup confusion unimportant. Papagianis remembers one play in which the Crimson keeper gave the ball to a defender following a save, and 13 passes and a shot later Harvard scored without the opposition once touching the ball.
Fan-reaction to the team's success was unmistakable: crowds around the Business School field were "five, six, seven deep--it was packed every game." And even President Pusey was a regular among the thousands that crossed the river early on Saturdays for soccer-football doubleheaders.
Papagianis almost missed out on all that glory. He came to Harvard planning to become the football team's star placekicker--not an immodest ambition, considering Notre Dame had offered him a football scholarship. He soon decided, though, that he was more interested in soccer and switched teams.
In addition to being an exceptionally talented placekicker and striker, Papagianis terrorized Harvard pool tables with his $125 cue. Perhaps his finest moment was the day he and a friend "won" the cue of the infamous Minnesota Fats. In a fateful showdown in a St. Louis pool hall. Papagianis' companion beat the great Fats. A gracious loser always. Fats threw his stick at them and stormed off.
Papagianis comes to Cambridge less often than when he worked in Washington, but he still makes it to the alumni game most years. Although the more recent versions of the Harvard soccer team usually defeat the returning grads, they really haven't come close to the accomplishment of the teams Papagianis played with. The late '60s and early '70s were. as Papagianis says, "truly a golden age of soccer at Harvard."