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The calendar says it's only been three short years, but in terms of what's happened since, it seems longer. Much longer.
Indeed, Mike Lynch's last-minute field goal at the Yale Bowl in '75, a three-pointer which gave Harvard its first, last and only undisputed Ivy football title, seems the final link to a different age, one that never would have permitted Crimson losses to Columbia and Cornell within a month and would have been aghast at the thought that even a victory this afternoon can produce at best a fourth-place finish in the league.
Ironically enough, THE GAME that historical '75 was really no more than A GAME, and even that's stretching it. THE GAME implies 16-point Harvard comebacks in the final minute, or Pineapple Milt Holt darting left with the winning touchdown as the clock all but expires. THE GAME does not imply the contest we are about to recall, the 100th anniversary of the Harvard-Yale tong war, the meeting which was decided when Lynch made a football look like a wobbly duck yet still got it to travel the required 26 yards up and barely over the goal posts.
I, for one, recall this contest because it was the lone Harvard-Yale encounter I witnessed as an undergraduate. As a freshman the year before, a ground-level seat in the end zone impaired my sight. As a junior the year after, too much alcohol impaired my senses. And last fall? Yale's overpowering performance impaired my desire to look.
In '75, though, the seats were 50-yard line material, the drinks were kept to a minimum and Harvard was in the ball game. Very much so, in fact, despite Yale's early dominance and 7-0 advantage after Eli signalcaller Stone Phillips engineered a 43-yd., 11-play drive at the outset of the second quarter and capped the march himself by running five uninterrupted yards for the score.
That the Crimson should open this contest by exhibiting signs of sluggishness came as a surprise only to those who had been vacationing at Gilligan's Island the week before. Seven days previous in Providence, after all, Harvard had knocked the league's up-and-coming power, Brown, out of championship contention. The 45-26 thrashing was made doubly embarrassing by the fact ABC had beamed the mismatch all across the cast coast.
Quarterback Jim Kubacki and his offensive mates had had their finest hours ever, so while this was still Yale, it was only expected that at the outset, the Crimson would still be a bit hungover from the previous Saturday's partying.
When the hangover continued into the second half, however, and the score continued at 7-0 for Yale, it was time for a quick sobering up. Kubacki, in the final leg of a record-breaking autumn, obviously agreed. He quickly conducted a 66-yd. voyage in the third period that Tommy Winn punctuated by rushing the last two yards. And now it was 7-7.
So it came down to the final period of the final game, with both clubs fully cognizant that the victors would be spoiled with the Ivy League championship.
For the first month of the season, the Crimson had appeared primed to take the title, one it had shared with the Eli the previous fall. After barely surviving a Lion attack in the season's opening week, Harvard rolled to victories over Cornell, Dartmouth and Pennsylvania.
Week five (or seven including two non-league encounters) brought Princeton to Cambridge, but Kubacki, injured the week before in Philadelphia, had to watch from the sidelines. What he saw was as pleasing as a final exam. The Tigers clawed their way to a 24-0 lead, and even an incredible Tim Davenport-inspired comeback which came within a bobbled snap from center of immortality left the final margin at 24-21.
But Brown was easy prey seven days later and suddenly it was the fourth quarter in New Haven and the scoreboard read seven-all.
"I knew it was going to come down to a 7-7 tie," Lynch would say later, "and that I was going to be the one to decide it. I didn't feel as though I was going to miss it."
In order for Lynch's premonition to become reality, Kubacki had first to engineer a 63-yd. drive as time wound down. This he did by masterfully alternating his three running backs for 37 yards and then, on the play of the game and season, hitting Bob McDermott for 21 more yards on a critical fourth-and-twelve situation.
Four plays and five yards later, Lynch connected for the winning field goal, but a paragraph before, our story went sour. Bob McDermott was killed in a tragic fire last summer. Another teammate, Andy Puopolo, died a month after he was fatally injured in a November '76 Combat Zone knifing incident.
Football-wise, the 1975 season marked the end of an age as well. Beginning the following September, the Ivy football schedule was moved back a week on the calendar and changed so as to allow the Ivy schools to open against one another.
For Harvard this meant a first-game encounter with Columbia. Another alteration advanced the Princeton and Brown games ahead seven days with Pennsylvania moving three weeks in the opposite direction.
Since the revision Harvard has opposed Brown and Yale five times entering today's contest. The Crimson's combined record? 0-5. Three short years, hah? Says who?
Michael K. Savit '78 was sports editor of The Crimson in 1977. He now works at a respectable job, writes free-lance sports pieces, and hangs out at Chinese restaurants.
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