WHOA, KENNELLY: 2005 Opener Helps Ease Last Season Out of the Picture

WORCESTER, Mass.—Fitton Field wasn’t close to full on Saturday, with only 8,238 on hand to watch the host Holy Cross Crusaders take on the defending Ivy champion Harvard Crimson. So the graduated members of last year’s team had no trouble finding seats right on the 50-yard line, about eight rows up behind the Harvard bench.

Close enough to holler a crack or two at their former teammates, close enough to hear the plays called that had once been for them, it was almost like Max McKibben, Adam Jenkins, Bobby Everett and Sean Tracy were still in the lineup.

“We still know a lot of the guys on the team,” said biotech consultant McKibben, who in his previous life played offensive tackle. “This still kind of feels like our team out there. Two-thirds of those guys were here.”

For these graduates, watching the game evokes a mixture of yearning and detachment.

“I’m starting to get used to [not playing], but this is the first season since I was six years old that I haven’t played football,” said Tracy, once a safety and now crunching numbers at Wells Fargo in downtown Boston.

But the team player in Tracy trains a knowing eye on his old unit.

“Everything’s a little sloppier the first game,” he said, stopping to cheer as freshman cornerback Andrew Berry broke up a pass attempt from Holy Cross quarterback John O’Neil.

“I really like what I’ve seen,” Tracy continued, “especially on defense, the way they’ve been able to respond to game changing situations in the first half.”

“I have some advice,” Jenkins joked, gesturing towards the pair of young quarterbacks Liam O’Hagan and Richard Irvin. “‘Don’t turn the ball over!’.”

Still, the eight rows back from the sideline where last year’s seniors sit is more than enough to keep them out of the new guard’s hair. Even if the team mentality is tough to shake, this is not their team anymore—or at least not in the way it was last year.

“They’re pretty capable of doing their own thing, as evidenced by the young guys and freshmen who’re playing,” Tracy said.

“I’m not like a wizened sage or anything,” McKibben laughed when asked if he offered advice to the next generation. “I haven’t really talked to any of the guys. It’s a different team, different season.”

Yes, this team is different. And the sooner people stop putting it in the context of last year, the better.

Like those graduated players sitting in the stands, the 2004 season was also present Saturday. Its significance still lingers over the entire Harvard football program. You can’t pick up a game story or press release without reading about Ryan Fitzpatrick, or the Crimson’s 12-game winning streak—the longest in Division I-AA—or about how Ivy rivals Brown and Penn are itching to strip Harvard of its crown.

This is entirely understandable: last season was remarkable, and who can begrudge savoring it? It’s still early, and with so much to yet to be proven it’s easier to look back than project forward.

Certainly the success of last season sets a high standard. For the Crimson and Quakers, one of which has finished atop the league for the past five years, an Ivy title merely reaffirms a precedent. Even with the loss of key players to graduation—and not just the position players but also the hard-working veterans like McKibben, Jenkins, and Tracy—the 2005 Harvard squad retains enough talent that expectations remain high.