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Vic Gatto: Doing the Impossible

Heaven and Nell

By Nell Scovell

As the Harvard football team's record slowly sinks into the sunset, Cambridge residents look longingly at the football powerhouses of the West. They dream of having a team like the University of Southern California (8-0-1), Brigham Young (8-0-0) or Tufts (7-0-0).

What was that? Tufts ranked alongside these two undefeated western squads? Impossible.

Granted, while Medford is west of Cambridge, it's hardly what Horace Greeley had in mind; and while the Jumbos have yet to lose a game, New England Division three competition is far from the Pac 10 or the Western Athletic Conference.

But "impossible"--nothing in football is impossible. Just ask Tufts head coach Vic Gatto.

In 1968, Gatto captained the Crimson team that did the inconceivable when it scored 16 points in 42 seconds to beat Yale, 29-29, and tie the Elis for the Ivy League title.

"The 1968 experience was very important to me." Gatto said recently. "There was something about the way it galvanized everyone's memory. It was the kind of thing that everyone has to tell you where they were when it happened."

Since The Game to end all Games, Gatto has gone far. After graduation he received a masters degree in education and then went on to become head coach at Bates College in Maine.

Before Gatto arrived, Bates had lost 26 consecutive games, but he managed to accumulate a .500 record over five years--before leaving for Tufts in 1977 and starting all over again.

Gatto was last on the Tufts football field in 1966 when the Crimson eleven destroyed the Jumbos, 45-0. "We stomped Tufts badly. I was out of the game by early in the third quarter," he recalls.

And Gatto has been as successful working with the Tufts squad as he was working against them. In his first year he turned a 3-5 team into a 5-3 team even though the Jumbos lost the first two matches of the season.


This year Tufts has extended its winning streak to 11 games--the longest in New England--with the help of senior quarterback Chris Connors, who received the New England football writers Golden Helmet award for having twice scored four touchdowns in a game.

Borrowing a Wing-T formation from the 50's and grafting it onto motion-shifting plays, the Jumbos have accumulated 1452 yards rushing this season while their opponents have managed only 738.

"We are extremely multiple on offense." Gatto said. "We feel we have to fool people because we're not good enough to roll over them. We do a lot of the same things as (Crimson Coach) Joe (Restic), but not quite as well--we're not quite as imaginative."

Assistant Tufts coach Larry Story, who was a freshman on the Yale football team in 1968, remembers when he saw Gatto on the field. "He had an intensity as a player which he carries with him as a coach," Story says.

Gatto's philosophy that football is a way of teaching people to make decisions and integrate individual values into group values stems from his experience as a senior at Harvard.

"When I was there the coaches were just technicians and the players controlled the emotional side of the game." Gatto said.

Practicing what he preaches, Gatto lets Connors call about 80-90 per cent of the plays and lets the team decide when it will practice.

Although Gatto is quite content with his position at Tufts he said, "Everyone expects me to go back to Harvard to coach." And while he admits that "everyone thinks about working at his Alma Mater," he considers Restic "one of the best coaches in the country who won't leave Harvard unless he gets a Pro offer that he wants."

Concerned more with Tufts' Saturday game against Bates than with this year's Yale-Harvard game. Gatto says that "although Yale is superior. Joe can pull things out of a hat and I'm looking for a surprise."

As one who has proved it time and time again. Gatto knows that nothing in football is impossible.

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