Harvard Coach Joe Restic's final season is about to begin, and it will start the way it always has.
The game tomorrow afternoon here at The Stadium marks the long-awaited beginning of the 1993 season for Restic and the Harvard football team.
There's something comforting about the way the Crimson and the Lions play each other every season on opening day. It means a new year has begun, and for Harvard it almost always means a win.
In his 22 seasons, Restic has lost just once to Columbia, and the Crimson carries a 14-game winning streak against the Lions onto the field tomorrow.
In other words, a Harvard record of 1-0 after opening day is not unusual.
But this year some, including Sporting News magazine, have predicted that Coach Ray Tellier and his Lions are ready to emerge from the dark and dank cellar of the Ivy League and trade a horrific season for a merely mediocre one.
Columbia did pull off a surprise upset of Cornell in the final two weeks of last season, and the Lions do have senior quarterback Chad Andrzejewski back to run the offense. Andrzejewski finished last year with the most completions in the league. In addition, the last three games between the two teams has been decided by a measly 15 points. So, in his fifth season, Tellier may be looking at a chance to spoil the beginning of the end for Restic.
All is not so rosy in New York, however. Andrzejewski may have completed a lot of passes, but the signal-caller also had the worst completion percentage, the most interceptions and the worst quarterback rating. (Hey, statistics don't mean that much, though).
And the loss of Des Wrethman to graduation hurts the Lions on offense and defense. The linebacker was Columbia's main stopper, finishing his career with 449 tackles, and he also starred for the Lions on the other side of the ball, leading last year's team with 11 touchdowns (including two in last season's 27-20 nail-biting Crimson victory in New York).
"Des is gone," Columbia Assistant Coach Erv Chambliss said. "And his departure is a big loss for us."
Chambliss said, however, that the Lions' main concern tomorrow would not be the absence of Wrethman but the presence of one particular Harvard quarterback.
"He's the big G," Chambliss said, referring to Crimson signal-caller senior Mike Giardi. "There's a lot of pressure on him, but that kid can handle the pressure."
Behind his more experienced offensive line made up of seniors Jason Slavik, Wayne Ryan, Kevin Fagan and David Rogers and junior Toby Brundage, Giardi should have enough time to take advantage of the inexperience of the Columbia defense.
The injury of junior Mike Wallace during preseason forced Restic and the Crimson coaching staff to find someone to fill Wallace's position in the Harvard backfield.
And they have.
The Crimson will start sophomore Kweli Thompson in replacement at left halfback. Junior Mark Cote will start at right halfback while senior Nick Isaacson takes the fullback position.
The Harvard defense, which has been the most compelling preseason question, can take comfort in one interesting fact. Captain Brian Ramer seems to like playing Columbia. Last season, the senior picked off two Lion passes in the fourth quarter and garnered a place on the ECAC weekly honor roll for his performance. Look for Ramer to have another big day.
With everything set to go then, Harvard also has one more psychological advantage on its side.
Remember, it is Restic and Giardi's last season. It is opening day, and the fear of a loss to Columbia may be a bigger motivational factor than anything else.
"It's the first game of the season," Chambliss said. "It means a lot to everyone no matter what, but this year, it will probably have a little more edge."
And that edge is Harvard's. Expect the Crimson to have a big game in all areas. Expect Giardi to have yards, yards, yards on the ground and in the air. And expect Restic's final record against Columbia to read 22 wins and 1 loss. SPORTS CUBE PREDICTS
Y. Tarek Farouki, Assoc. Sports Editor Harvard 28 Columbia 10
Gady A. Epstein, Managing Editor Harvard 16 Columbia 13
D. Richard DeSilva, Assoc. Man. Editor Harvard 34 Columbia 0
Andrew L. Wright, Staff Writer Harvard 20 Columbia 14