Finally, Harvard football players are bowl-bound.
Well, not all of them, but seven of the Crimson's graduating seniors will be flying to Japan for the Epson Ivy Bowl in Tokyo's Yokohama Stadium December 23. Former Cornell Coach Maxie Baughan will lead a team of 40 elite Ivy League seniors into battle against a Japanese all-star squad.
"We don't expect them to be very good, but we don't really know," said wide receiver Mark Bianchi, who will join Captain Greg Gicewicz, defensive linemen Rich Puccio and Mike Vollmer, offensive lineman Gerald Mahon, tight end Kevin Collins and linebacker Rick McIntire on the trip to the Far East. "We're going mainly for the experience, not to knock our brains out playing football."
The Epson Bowl was originated last year by the International Management Group, a large New York City marketing company, and a group of Japanese promoters. According to IGM senior vice president Jim Bukata, the organizers always hoped to invite Ivy players who had exhausted their varsity eligibility.
But after the Ivy League presidents decided not to sanction the overseas excursion in 1988, William & Mary was invited instead. The Americans were impolite guests, blasting their Japanese opponents, 73-3.
Neither Harvard nor the league has changed its position this year, said Harvard Associate Athletic Director Patricia Miller. "Basically, this is entirely outside the league," Miller said. "There's been nothing generated internally. There's no Ivy sanction. It's all been externally driven."
But the promoters decided to go ahead with their original plan anyway, without Ivy sanction. IGM contacted the invitees days after the Crimson's season-ending 37-20 victory over Yale.
"Every athlete that the JAFA invited accepted," Bukata said. "All the good Ivy seniors are going--bar none."
Bukata said the players--whose expenses will be paid by Epson Computer Company, the game's sponsor--will be treated royally on their "academic/athletic/cultural" vacation abroad. First-class hotels and sightseeing tours will be the order of the day.
Oh--there will be a little football, too. Baughan, assisted by Hall of Fame quarterback Johnny Unitas and former Philadelphia Eagle standout Pete Retzlaff, will conduct daily practices to organize his diverse squad, including Ivy League Player of the Year and Hula Bowl-invitee Judd Garrett of Princeton.
"They'll make us practice, but I'm expecting the emphasis to be on pure fun," Vollmer said. "They're making sure we'll be doing much more than football."
Bukata said he thought the contest--which NESN will televise on tape delay in January--would be proposed again to the Ivy presidents next year.
"After all, they let rowing teams go to Henley," Bukata said. "I think the hope is that next year, they'll reconsider."
However, members of the Harvard contingent said they sensed a lack of enthusiasm on the part of the University after receiving a lecture detailing Harvard's position on their journey.
"They didn't seem too psyched about it," Bianchi said.
"The funniest request was for us not to wear tons of Harvard stuff when we're in Japan," said Vollmer, who sensed "vehement opposition" on the part of the University. "I figure it's an easy enough request to follow, and we don't want to ruin this for next year's guys, so we said, 'Okay.'"