PHILADELPHIA--It doesn't get any worse than this.
The Harvard football team suffered its worst defeat in 31 years here Saturday at Franklin Field, falling to the University of Pennsylvania, 52-13.
The last time the Crimson gave up more than 50 points was in 1969, when Harvard lost to Princeton, 52-20. The last time the Crimson gave up more than 52 points was in 1957, when Yale blanked Harvard, 54-0.
For all you do, this dud's for you.
It was useless to point fingers. No single player, no single coach, should bear the responsibility for a loss so devastating. Penn was bigger, faster, stronger--and 39 points better.
Penn's victory gave it a share of the Ivy League championship for the sixth time in seven years. The Quakers can win the crown outright with a victory or tie against Cornell next Saturday.
Harvard, the 1987 Ivy champion, is 2-7 and in danger of finishing with its worst record since 1950, when the Crimson went 1-7.
On the Harvard side of the ball, there were no heroes Saturday. There were no goats. There were just players trying to salvage a little dignity in an inglorious year.
Harvard's third-string quarterback, Tim Perry, started the game Saturday because of injuries to Tom Yohe (fractured leg) and Rod MacLeod (bad ankle). Perry responded with a gutsy effort, completing 11 of 28 passes for 100 yards and rushing for 65 yards and a touchdown.
At the end of the game, he was battered and bruised, hobbling around the locker room. No Harvard player played with more enthusiasm Saturday. No Harvard player felt as much the hurt, the shock.
"Penn's the toughest team I've faced," said Perry, who last year and most of this year returned kicks and punts. "They're very aggressive. They have a swarming type of defense. If they make a good play on one down, they go out even harder the next time."
Running back Tony Hinz, Harvard's leading rusher, returned to action Saturday after breaking his right hand in the Crimson's game against Brown three weeks ago. Hinz rushed for 95 yards on 17 carries. Wingback Jim Reidy, the Crimson's spark plug in last week's game against Boston University, rushed for 61 yards on eight carries.
But neither Hinz nor Reidy could break the bucking, bullish Penn defense.
Harvard tightened the game, 14-7, early in the second quarter when Perry raced into the end zone from the three-yd. line. But the Crimson could not get on the board again until the fourth quarter.
"Penn controlled the ball 80 percent of the time," Perry said. "When a team does that, you can't win. I've got to take a lot of the responsibility for not keeping our offense on the field."
In the first start of his college career, Perry, a junior, faced the best in the Ivy League.
"I was a lot less nervous with Hinz coming back and Reidy playing the way he's been playing," Perry said. "And I think we have the best offensive line in the league. So I didn't feel as nervous as I probably should have."
Harvard Coach Joe Restic's Multiflex offense requires both a master technician, and a master athlete. A master technician, someone who knows the offense inside and out, someone who can change a play at the line of scrimmage after seeing a subtle shift in the defensive secondary, cannot be trained in a week, the amount of time Perry had to work with the Multiflex. Saturday, Perry was most successful on broken plays. He set up Harvard's first touchdown with a 17-yd. scramble.
"I was very pleased with how Tim handled himself," Restic said. "I'm pleased with what he did with the football."
Harvard's loss Saturday was the culmination of a disappointing season. After the game, Penn students stormed the field, tearing down the goalposts, celebrating the Ivy championship many observers thought Harvard would win this year.
Harvard will need to do something dramatic to erase the bitterness of Saturday's blowout. A victory over Yale in next Saturday's season finale would help. But a victory in The Game, even a convincing victory, a 100-0 Harvard triumph, would not dispel the gloom that prevades the Harvard locker room these days.
Only another season, a winning season, will cure that.