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Harvard Football: Which Way Out?

Alumni, Doing Nothing, Scream for Blood After Worst Season Ever

This article has not been written because of outside pressure; it has been written because of the authors' conviction that the current complaints over Harvard football can hurt the wrong people. We are not after anybody's scalp. We intend no slur on the current Harvard team, which played through a gruelling schedule to the top of its abilities, but which was outmatched almost every week. We have no reservations about Arthur Valpey, who probably is not perfect but who is certainly a very fine coach. We advocate neither installing athletic scholarships nor giving up football.

One week ago, 20,000 loyal alumni choked with rage as they saw the Harvard varsity football team decisively beaten by a mediocre Yale eleven. It was merely the last chapter in the history of Harvard's worst season, a season in which the Crimson compiled a record of eight losses and one win. The alumni, drawing upon their years of grandstand quarterbacking and television football, decided something was definitely wrong and further decided it was the coach.

Certain alumni have had the colossal gall to demand the resignation of Arthur Valpey only one year after he had beaten Yale and the Boston sportswriters had labeled him the best coach in New England since Frank Leahy.

The wiseacres cited two grounds for their criticism of Harvard coaching: 1. Valpey should have installed the T-formation instead of the single wing, and 2. He didn't "bring the boys up for the Yale game." We believe this is rubbish.

This worship of the T formation shows a complete abandonment of rational evaluation. Dick Harlow used the single wing for seven years at Harvard before the war, and nobody complained. Fritz Crisler and Benny Oosterbaan use the single wing at Michigan and have collected three straight conference titles. Art Valpey used the single wing last year, won four games, and nobody squawked. Yet now after Harvard has had a dismal season, everybody thinks the single wing is no good.

Don't Blame the Single Wing

The single wing is just as good a football system as the T-formation; otherwise, nobody would use it. Art Valpey was brought up in Fritz Crisler's single wing system, one which has proved itself in the toughest football league in the country. Valpey knows the single wing thoroughly, so why should he switch to the T? When Harvard scored two touchdowns against Army--and gained more points than any other Army opponent this season, incidentally--it was not the excellence of the players that did it. Harvard had but two first-string men on the field during these drives; the rest were substitutes. The Crimson subs scored against Army's second stringers because they had fine plays, well-conceived and well-installed.

There are those who say that Valpey ought to adapt his system to fit his players, the way "good old Dick Harlow used to do." But Harlow never changed his basic patterns in his system; he only adjusted the razzle-dazzle from year to year to fool the opposition and fit his players.

You can change the frosting, but you can't change the cake. For Valpey to shift now from the single wing to the T would be to undo all the work on fundamentals that his staff has developed in two years.

Harvard Still Hits Hard

One thing that this year's opponents are consistently willing to admit is that Harvard players can block and tackle as hard as any team around. The reason they haven't done so more consistently is that they are slow. No coach can do anything about slowness any more than they can teach a poor player football instincts.

The reason why Harvard won only one game this fall was because it lacked material. Most of the veterans from last year's squad were hopelessly handicapped by recurrent injuries which slowed them while they played, and often prevented them from playing at all. Yet Valpey had to use these semi-injured players because there was nobody else. Harvard had less depth, fewer able-bodied and capable men, than any of its 1949 opponents. When the first team got hurt, there just weren't any more players. Mean-while Princeton, Yale, Dartmouth, Brown. Columbia, Army and Cornell had two platoons.

It Takes More Than Guts

Now about "bringing the team up for the games." In these days of two platoon football, they just don't go out and "win one for the Gipper" any more. It is far more important to hire a sound football coach than one who can sound like Pat O'Brien in the locker room between the halves. There is, of course, something to the theory that the team which is up for the game plays better than it ordinarily does. But we feel that this point is over-emphasized, and that 49 times out of 50 the fundamentally sound team will beat the poorer one.

Once again we are back to the problems of weak personnel. Most good football players just don't go to Harvard.

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