Murphy Helps Crimson Get Back To The Basics

The only thing being tossed around more than Penn quarterback Gavin Hoffman late last Saturday were comparisons between this year’s Harvard football team and the 1997 edition. The parallels are obvious—1997 was the year Harvard last won an Ivy title, the year it last went undefeated in league play and the last time it beat Penn.

Should Harvard win at Yale Saturday, the debate will likely rage over whether this year’s club is the best in school history.

Harvard Coach Tim Murphy has his own opinions on that subject, but the fact that the conversation is taking place at all is proof of how far Harvard has come in just one calendar year. Last season, 1997 might have well been 1897. Just three years removed from its glorious Ivy title season, Harvard was finding new, inventive ways to lose, and Murphy was forced to defend himself and his team almost every other week. The magical ’97 season seemed a relic of the distant past.

The damage report from last year: Harvard lost three league games by a combined 12 points, including two by a single point. In all of them, Harvard surrendered a fourth-quarter lead.

If the Crimson wins even two of those games, it is celebrating back-to-back titles this week. As it turned out, questions abounded as to whether Harvard was able to win the big ones anymore.

But after its epic 28-21 win over the Quakers Saturday, those questions are answered. Harvard—and Murphy—are officially back on top.

Leading up to the showdown with the Quakers last week, Murphy was sitting in his office, fielding media requests left and right. All of it could easily have been distracting.

But Murphy didn’t mind at all. This is the type of attention he wouldn’t mind getting used to all over again.

“It’s great for the program,” Murphy says. “This is why we play, to get yourself in a big game. We don’t set goals to be average. We set goals to be the best we can be.”

Turnover a New Leaf

Four weeks after it happened, Murphy describes the Crimson’s near-loss to Dartmouth on Oct. 27 in two words: “Gut check.”

In that game, with senior quarterback Neil Rose out due to a neck injury and Staph sidelined with a hurt ankle, the Harvard offense couldn’t score. A goal-line stand by the Big Green at its own one-yard line capped a first-half shutout of Harvard. With the Crimson defense also coming out flat, Harvard trailed 21-0 at halftime.

As the Crimson’s shot at an undefeated season hung in the balance, Murphy was not about to preside over another letdown.

“We had a little chat with the team,” Murphy says. “Let’s just leave it at that.”

Whatever he said behind closed doors, it worked wonders. In the third quarter, Harvard scored 21 points in the span of less than four minutes, as the Crimson reeled off its greatest comeback ever. All of a sudden, Harvard had become a second-half team.

So what exactly spurred this dramatic turaround?