Nero played his violin as Rome burned. Raftless men smoked pipes as the Titanic sunk. And Woody Allen took to wearing hats as his marriage with Mia Farrow deteriorated.
Just two games into his tenure as Harvard's head football coach, Tim Murphy has his own low-key way of dealing with devastation: disarming honesty.
Murphy's gridders were destoyed by Bucknell Saturday, 42-23. The Crimson offense was off, committing four turnovers. Its defense was worse, allowing 504 yards total offense. And just about everyone else on the Harvard side had a bad day, too: even the band's halftime show was show cryptic than usual.
But Murphy seemed to take the pain head on. Sitting upright at the post-game press conference, he stared straight into the eyes of his inquisitors and spoke softly (for him) and directly.
"We were outplayed in all areas," he said. "We were whipped real good. They had much more skill. They had more team speed than we had. They made a lot of big plays, as opposed to just chipping away at us. We contributed to the ugly score, but they were just a better team."
There it was. Six sentences. Nice. Neat. Complete.
The Crimson came into the game expecting to win. It had beaten a decent Columbia last weekend, 39-32. Its offense was nothing less than dominating, and its defense seemed adequate. Bucknell was a lower-division pick in the lowly Patriot League. Going into game, even Las Vegas--never known for its kindness to the Big H--had been congenial; the Crimson was a seven-point favorite.
But once the game got started, things went terribly wrong--over and over and over again. This game wasn't an avalanche for the Crimson, slowly building and then submerging. It was a succession of tidal waves, each one hitting with greater force. Harvard gave up five touchdowns of 20 yards or greater.
"Compounded by Bucknell's offensive power and talent, we spelled out with brutal clarity that you can't let the big play kill you," said captain Ed Kinney, describing with grandiloquence one of the few games that can appropriately be described that way. "Those plays destroyed us and they fed on each other--they opened us up over the middle, making us even more more vulnerable."
The Bison were led in the game by senior quarterback Rob Glus and sophomore tailback Rich Lemon. Glus had a Montana-esque sort-of-day, going 14-for-17 through the air for 257 yards, a school-record five touchdown passes and no interceptions. Lemon was his usual brilliant self, extending his consecutive 100 plus rushing yard games to seven. He carried the ball 28 times for 187 yards.
"We weren't surprised by anything they did," Murphy said. "We knew coming in that Lemon was a heckuva player--a quality, tough-sort-of running back. We also knew they could pass well."
Passing well is one thing. Throwing three incompletions in 17 tries is another. The real story Saturday was Bucknell's sharp-shooting quarterback and a Crimson defensive backfield more vulnerable than a Lennox Lewis left jab. Glus passed at will, connecting on touchdown passes of 22, 21, 24, 54, 46 and four yards. Add to that total a 65-yard run by Lemon and flawless extra-point kicking by sophomore Rich Miller, and you get Bucknell's 42 points.
The Crimson offense, committing five turnovers, didn't do much to help Harvard cause, either.
"You can't let people get vertical on you downfield," Harvard captain and linebacker Ed Kinney said. "You can't let people just throw over your head. That opened it up for them to come underneath and let their tailback get loose. That, along with our turnovers, spelled death."
The game started tepid and quickly burned up for Harvard. The two offenses exchanged two stalled drives in the first quarter before Harvard freshman Colby Skelton fumbled a punt, giving the Bison the ball on the Crimson 34-yard line. Six plays later, Glus lobbed the ball to senior end Mark Gentile on a slow-curl route, giving Bucknell a 7-0 lead.
Three Crimson plays later, quarterback Vin Ferrara looked for junior Flanker Mike Halligan but found Bucknell strong safety John Henry. The interception gave the Bison the ball on the Harvard 32. Four plays later it was, as Yogi Berra would say, deja vu all over again: Glus lobbed the ball to Gentile on the same slow-curl route over the middle, putting the Bison up 14-0.
A beautiful, 24-yard touchdown pass from Ferrara to senior flanker William Newell on the next Harvard drive halved the Bison lead, but Bucknell continued to pull away in the second quarter. Glus hit sophomore wide-receiver John Sakowski on a deep post-pattern for a 54-yard TD on the next drive and then threw a 46-yard Hail Mary to junior wide receiver John Notebloom, who made a spectacular juggling catch for the score.
Ferrara scored on a two-yard left option run with 1:31 left to put the halftime score at 28-14, but the necessary damage had been done. Harvard junior Patrick Hannon hit a 40-yard field goal to open up the third quarter, but Bucknell's one-two combination would end it. Glus worked his magic a fifth time, connecting with sophomore tight end Ted Stover on a four-yard TD pass with 5:21 left, and Lemon scored on a 65-yard breakaway touchdown run with 1:37 left in the quarter.
Ferrara would account for the only fourth-quarter scoring--scrambling from 12 yards out on a play-action pass play, but it was too little too late. Bucknell had a 42-23 win, and Murphy and Co. had the weight of 10,000 men on their shoulders.
"More than anything, I feel bad for the seniors," Murphy said. "I'm in this for the long haul-- I know that this is going to take time--but what do you tell them? This was a horrible blow-our, but what can you do? We just have to face the music."
Somewhere, Nero is smiling.