In kindgergarten I was awarded the only speaking part in the Thanks-giving pageant. I played Governor Bradford, the tempestuous captain of the Mayflower. The pageant consisted of about four scenes depicting the cooperation between settlers and Native Americans. At the end of the final scene, an acting out of the first Thanksgiving, I stood up, smiled real big and yelled: "And here's to a great future of friendship."
Sixteen years later, I'm still a wishful thinker. I always look on the bright side, probably because I am deeply anxious about the possibility that I'll err on the low side and someone will call me a cynic. Call me a cynic.
Given my tendency for wishful thinking, you can guess how I felt coming into Tim Murphy's first year as Harvard's football coach.
While I didn't go so far as the player who predicted a league championship this season at the press conference announcing Murphy's naming as coach, I was pretty excited. I wrote that I thought the team would finish sixth, but I was hoping for more: fourth or fifth at the very worst, second or third at the best. I understood Murphy when he said that resurrecting Harvard's program would be "a long haul," but I didn't believe him.
Four weeks into the season, I'm beginning to. It's not that Harvard is playing particularly badly. It isn't. Its offense is pretty good. Its defense is a little small. And its special teams are underrated. In short, it is playing just as well as it did last year.
But that's what scares me. There are two reasons why.
First, the Crimson went 2-7-1 last season.
And second, the rest of the league is a helluva lot better. The cumulative record for league teams in nonleague play is 15-3-1, best it's been in years. Those numbers don't even begin to convey the enormous strides that some of the league teams have made. Yale, for example, picked for seventh, is averaging 34 points per game. Given that Harvard has played on two league teams this season and one of them was Columbia, that does not bode well.
So, for once in a long while--maybe even since kindergarten, I'm going to make a dreary prediction, a very dreary prediction: Harvard will lose every football game for the rest of the season by a score of 35-14.
Why 35-14? That's the score I predicted for last weekend's game against Colgate, the Crimson's best performance to date. Going into the game the squad was a seven-point under dog in Las Vegas, a 21-point under dog everywhere else. After the game, the score was 18-13 with the margin being 1:02.
The game was simply the Crimson's best yet this season. Against the toughest defensive line it will face, Harvard's offense fought furiously, allowing for some solid running and a few wise passing decisions. Against one of the largest offensive lines it will face, the Crimson's defense put forth one of its best efforts of the last two seasons. And everywhere is between--namely, the offensive and defensive special teams, the squad was strikingly sharp--breaking some long runs and making abrupt stops.
Harvard needs to go into every game like it did against Cornell. It needs to play every down on defense as if it were a 21-point underdog. It needs to play every down on special teams as if it were a 21-point underdog. It needs to play every down of offense as if it were a 21-point underdog. And, to boot, it needs the luck of a 21-point underdog.
Then maybe, maybe, it will fare better than 2-7-1 this season.
How's that for wishful thinking?