It is strange, and tragic sometimes, how the press can deify an athlete because of an isolated moment of excellence and increase the myth until his demise, when it occurs is catastrophic.
But when the athlete happens to have achieved journalistic immortality purely by chance, or by a flash of brilliance that he cannot hope to duplicate again, his deification takes on a tone of poignancy, as if it is almost a matter of time until the athlete falls from glory.
The catastrophe happened to Frank Champi last week-but in reality it was not a catastrophe. It was merely the logical fulfillment of a situation that the press and the public refused to believe.
And what makes it all the more tragic is the fact that Champi's deification, and its gradual deterioration obscured the talent of a football squad that never depended upon Champi as much as sportswriters wished to believe.
Newspapers thrive upon exaggeration, upon the unreal. The unusual sells newspapers, and often, if there is nothing unusual to report a newspaper will either deliberately or unconsciously invent a story. Boston newspapers had invented the circumstances that will affect Champi for the rest of his life and indirectly, they created them before he had even suited up for the Yale game.
Harvard-Yale is THE game especially in Boston, but until Brian Dowling, Cal Hill and their talented classmates moved up to the varsity, it hadn't been much of a game. In almost every recent year, the season had been decided for both squads several weeks before they met and the game was quite often meaningless and unexciting. Dowling changed that.
New Haven had made Dowling an athletic god and Boston went along. By midseason last fall, it became apparent that Yale would roll to an undefeated season. After Harvard beat Dartmouth, it realistically had only to dump Penn and outlast Princeton to set up a battle that sportswriters had waited almost a century to glorify. Harvard and Yale, both undefeated, headed by the gods, Dowling and Gatto, Yale's unstoppable offense against Harvard's unmovable defense, with the Ivy title at stake, and Dowling's deification on the line.
It was a lousy game. Yale pushed Harvard all over the place for thirty minutes. Dowling's untouchable credentials looked pretty impressive. Harvard couldn't move, Yovicsin put in Champi, and a combination of Yale ineptness, Harvard's perfection and an incredible set of circumstances led to the tie. For the Boston papers it was THE GAME of the century, and Champi was immortal.
It was ironic that no one ever thought of it before last week. The very thing that made Champi's performance so unbelievable was the thing that had to debunk his deification. He was a substitute quarterback stepping into a hero's role. The old American success story. But in America heroes don't lose. And Champi knew when he came back to pre-season drills that he couldn't match his clippings. He admitted it. Harvard undergraduates knew it. Yovicsin, his staff, and Champi's teammates knew it. But the Boston papers chose to ignore it.
So, when Yovicsin admitted that Champi was his starting quarterback, but not his only one, a Boston paper ran a lengthy feature in its Sunday section. Naturally, when Harvard looked sluggish against Holy Cross and lost to B.U. people started wondering. What's wrong with Champi? When Champi quit the squad last week, the amount of coverage he received was not only far out of proportion but almost shamefully unnecessary.
And so, on Saturday, when Harvard routed Columbia, people were surprised. How did they ever do it without Champi? On Sunday, when the credit should have been given to a resilient Harvard team, Champi was given a front page story, and a full page spread in the sports section. Pictures of his heroism, play-by-play of the rally, an elegy or two. Champi doesn't want it. His teammates are being overlooked because of it. It won't happen again, but it should never have happened at all.