It's practice time for the worst football team in the Ivy League and the music in the trainer's room switches from "Rock the Casbah" to Yale fight songs. Somehow, Lapham Field House in front of the Yale Bowl hasn't yet been converted into a morgue, or some other purpose appropriate for the worst Eli squad in the school's history.
And this Yale team which doggedly takes the bus to the practice field every weekday and lost every Saturday until last weekend will certainly be enshrined right up there with the 1-7 1940 and 1941 squads (which both lost to Harvard), make no mistake about it. No Yale team before this fall ever lost eight games in a row nine. If you include last year's loss at Harvard). No previous Eli squad has ever lost eight times in one season.
That's an enormous burden for this team to bear at a school which prides itself on its football tradition. But the team carries on quite well, relentlessly optimistic that after eight straight losses it will redeem itself with a Big Three championship against all odds.
"This is a whole new season." Captain Tom Giella says. "Even our 9-1  team didn't win [the Big Three title]"
The 1983 team can win it with a 2-8 record if it upsets Harvard Saturday
"They're an enthusiastic group of kids," says Coach Carm Cozza of his beleaguered Bulldogs. "They're the kind of people we're fortunate to have in a year like his"
Rumors that President A. Bartlett Giamatti has been systematically decreasing support for the football program and varsity sports generally and reports of a feud between Athletic Director Frank Ryan and Cozza made the season all the more difficult for the Elis (see story page 12). But most of the team concurs with the attitude of star tailback Paul Andrie, a senior: "I don't like to pay attention to that stuff--not until I'm an alum, at least."
"I don't think it's affected the morale of the team," says Cozza. "Certainly it would be better if we didn't have those things in print. But I've told 'em, 'I don't want you looking for other places to put the blame when you're losing.'"
At the same time, if the Elis had criticized themselves as much as most observers have this season, they'd have long ago given up hopes of ever winning. "No one's getting down on themselves," Giella says. And die-hard Yalies haven't turned away from the team, the defensive tackle adds. "No one's really getting down on us. I get a lot of letters from alumni, and the master of my college says don't give up. Things like that help you keep going," Giella adds.
One observer who's very happy that the Elis kept going is Harvard Coach Joe Restic. The prospect of an 0-9 Yale team fighting to avoid humiliation in front of more than 70,000 fans in the Bowl made Restic more than a little nervous. "I'm very happy, very, very happy that Yale won a ballgame," he said after hearing of Yale's 28-21 defeat of Princeton last Saturday.
But when you get down to it, this Yale football team is just plain bad. It's true that things wouldn't be so tough without the spate of injuries the Bulldogs have suffered, but the way Yale has lost certain games says a lot about the quality of the team.
There have been the close ones the Elis had no business losing and the total disasters that left them dazed. It's an open question which were worse: the squcakers, like the 21-18 loss to Columbia in the Blood, when Yale furnished the hall away on both its fourth-quarter drives, and the Dartmouth game, when a 21-3 lead turned into a 24-21 loss or the Cornell game two weeks ago which promised to be the first win and turned into a 41-7 catastrophe.
"The Cornell game was disappointing." Cozza says, "but the Dartmouth game hurt. And against Columbia we scored a touchdown that was called back and that was the game. Those two were the worst."
The Dartmouth loss reflected badly on the Eli character. In the first half, the defense held against the second-string Big Green quarterback, and short firstdown passes by Bulldog QB Mike Curtain kept Yale moving.
But after halftime something went wrong. "We got a little conservative, we tried to hang on," says Andrie. Curtain abandoned the aggressive passing and stuck to the ground, hoping to use up more time. Instead, Yale stopped making first downs and didn't score in the second half.
Meanwhile, Dartmouth quarterback Frank Polsinello returned, despite a lingering injury, and picked apart the Eli defense. On the drive that created the decisive TD with 47 left, he toyed with the Bulldog secondary, diverting if to the sidelines to cover dangerous split end Jack Duly. While Duly attracted crowds of defenders. Palsinello destroyed Yale with passes to lessfenowned receivers in the middle.
In that game the Eli defensive line, led by Giella and junior middle guard John Zanieski (who leads the team in sack's), stopped the run, at least. But the linemen have been embarrassed too at Cornell, tailback Derrick Harmon averaged more than eight yards a carry and nearly outgained the entire Yale offense.
Only once this season has Yale allowed fewer than 20 points in a game. On the average, its opponents have viewed 28.4 points per outing. That throws the burden on the offense, where injuries have played keep away with Eli stars. Of the five players with the potential to create a powerful offense--Curtin. Andrie fullback and leading scorer Jeff Bassette, receivers Roger Javens and Kevin Moriarty--only three have consistently been healthy enough to play. Andrie, last year's Ivy rushing champ, broke an arm in pre-season missed a few games and has never quite gotten on track. Curtin got hurt the week before the Boston College fiasco.
Harvard fans who thought their team had trouble settling on a signal caller can take heart from the Elis plight Junior Mike Luzzi was the original starter: he lasted two quarters. Curtin entered at halftime of the season-opener and couldn't quite manage a game winning rally against Brown.
Curtin lasted until his injury Junior Mike Cyr and senior Israel Rosales saw action in following weeks. The low point came at Cornell, where three different quarterbacks saw interceptions.
Yale boosters insist that when Curtin and Andrie are both healthy the Elis are another team at least another offense. That's only happened three times before this Saturday in a 26-14 loss at William and Mary the Dartmouth game, and the win at Princeton.
The final game should also see those key Elis in action. On paper, at least, Yale has little to challenge Harvard with, but it will all be on display Saturday.
Twice this fall before now the Yale team has collectively stepped back, put its miserable record aside and envisioned a new start. The first time came after the loss to B.C., not a great disappointment any way Yale was 0-4, but 0-1 in the Ivies, with plenty of hope for a successful league season.
Four weeks later, 0-8 overall and 0-5 in the league the Elis took the same attitude putting the Cornell game behind them and preparing lot the Big Three season. And now, having beaten Princeton, they have only. The Game left to play--a season in itself.
It's question of whether pride alone can help upset the clearly more talented team. "We've had more than our share of problems," said Cozza On the other hand, he said before beating Princeton. "The seniors know these games will live with them all their lives."