Strategy Mars Classic Game

B.S. on Sports

It's been almost 40 hours now since darkness became both backdrop and mood for the Harvard football team.

It was a period which should have been filled with celebration, pride, and satisfaction over the finest display of football at the Stadium since Milt Holt and his White Shoes Bootleg in 1974.

It was not.


Instead, the hours have been spent in pensive thought; not, however, of Ralph Polillio's unbridled dominance, of Al MacMurray's punts that torpedoed field position, or of the fact that Marko Coric has made us all forget about Bob Baggott. Indeed, the curtain calls for all the gallant warriors have tragically not materialized. Why?

Because you look at the final two minutes, and then the final score, and you find yourself looking at the essence of Harvard's snake-bitten gridiron destiny this autumn.


It was even more bitter this time. It was Harvard's game to win all right, but this time there were no fourth-quarter turnovers, no referees to blame, no "big play" to point to.

The Crimson's 31-30 loss to Brown on Saturday was largely the result of haphazard and questionable strategy in the final two minutes, the kind of strategy that could make you forget about the brilliant play which had transpired in the first 58.

Harvard had first-and-ten at the Brown 11-yd. line when the circus began. The Crimson had reached the 11 when John MacLeod slipped there under the cover of darkness with a Larry Brown scramble-and-fire job from the 47.

Field goal range. Victory. The catbird seat. Thoughts now turned to (a) hanging on to the ball and (b) giving the kicker the best possible situation and field placement to do his thing. The offense had three plays to get the ball in the middle of the field for kicker Gary Bosnic.

Or did they? On second down Brown pitched to Polillio on the right for no gain. Not only was it a risky play to run in the darkness, but Harvard was still not in the middle of the field.

Coach Joe Restic, emotionally overcome after the game, said that his thinking about running the pitch to Polillio in that situation was "the same as our thinking when we ran him wide and he scored." Trouble was, the wide side in this instance was the left, not the right.

Now it was third down, and the fake field goal attempt. Nobody was surprised, except those of us who like to play percentages.

"I couldn't believe they were going to kick it," said Brown coach John Anderson afterwards. "They were on the wrong side of the field, and there was a lot of time left (1:29). I just knew a fake was coming."

Brown's pass fell short, and, as replays showed, was almost intercepted. Bosnic's kick from the right hash mark on fourth down sailed wide left.

"We gambled on the fake," Restic commented. "If Larry gets it up, we have two people wide open. These are the kind of things you have to get done if you're a good football team."

Wrong. The fact that Harvard did not convert on the fake field goal did not diminish its ability as a football team. The reality is that such a statement shows what prevents Harvard from being a better football team, and why darkness still reigns.

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