The numbers have always been kind to Ron Cuccia. From, Wilson High in Los Angeles, where he set eight national schoolboy records and 26 city marks, to the Harvard freshman team (games like an 18-of-24 passing day against Princeton or 77 yards rushing on five carries against Brown) to last year's stint as a wide receiver on the Crimson varsity (his 292 yards in receptions led the squad), Cuccia's contribution was never hard to find on the stat sheets, never hard to put a finger on at season's end.
Believe It Or Not
But this year has been different. Ron Cuccia has seen numbers this year he never thought he'd see--numbers like oh-for-four and one-for-two passing days, numbers like a sub-44 per cent completion rate, or a ranking of eighth out of eight starting Ivy quarterbacks. He has thrown for 200 yards once this year, in the season's second game, and 100 yards only two other times; this from a man who threw for 500 yards in a game four times in high school. He has thrown three touchdown passes all season, for example, three less than he threw in one game at Wilson.
And of course his famous winning streak has ended. Cuccia entered the season with a record of having never lost a game he started and finished at quarterback, dating back to junior high. This year his ledger stands at 5-3-1.
"I Told You So"
It is not surprising, then, that there has been criticism of Ron Cuccia, from the knowing and unknowing, both inside and outside the program. Those who fault his performance can be divided into two types: (a), the people who feel that the statistics are symptomatic of Cuccia's ineffectiveness at quarterback--and there are some of those, and (b), the people who feel that the game plan, the Multiflex offense that is geared to short passes and roll-outs instead of a free-wheeling air attack, is to blame for the inefficiency--and there are many of those.
Others feel there has been no inefficiency. Halfback Jim Acheson, for example, says "his numbers are deceiving; his presence can be seen and felt by the defense in a special way. They know that he can run, and that's a great weapon." Offensive lineman Greg Brown calls Cuccia "the greatest field leader I've ever played with," and tight end Bill McGlone says, "He's the best athlete I've known." But the doubts and the questions remain for all who see the numbers: Has Ron Cuccia been a success this year as Harvard's quarterback?
The man himself answers yes and no. "It's been an interesting year," Cuccia says. "I didn't expect it to be this way, but we've run the ball quite a bit. I guess I'm happy in some ways and disappointed in others; if you lose any games, you're a bit upset. Sometimes I feel I've done fairly well and we'll lose and then I don't feel like I've done well, because the most important thing is to win."
Victory-wise, Cuccia had a bad stretch earlier this year. In five weeks of football--from Holy Cross to Princeton--Harvard only won once, a 27-10 swamping of Cornell. Since tying Princeton a month ago, however, the team has not lost, recording impressive wins over Brown, William and Mary, and Penn. And Ron Cuccia's stock has risen.
"Two weeks ago you just got a sense in the locker room that a change should be made and [reserve quarterback] Donnie Allard should step in," one teammate says. "A lot of people were getting discouraged about the fact that he wasn't spotting his receivers and just wasn't getting the job done. Fortunately for Ron, the change wasn't made."
In the three weeks since the 17-17 deadlock against Princeton, Harvard has scored 109 points. Ron Cuccia has thrown 13 passes and completed six for 128 yards. Obviously, the offense can be effective without utilizing Cuccia's arm.
"The way the offense is structured this year, he has done an outstanding job," says tight end Linus O'Donnell. "I don't know why we haven't opened up passing, but that's up to [Harvard coach Joe Restic]. But Ron can do it all--and if he ever gets the opportunity to open up you'll see things that have never been done before at the Stadium, not by Kubacki, not by Brian Buckley, not by anybody."
It is a given that Cuccia is a tremendous athlete ("One of the best I've ever played any sport with," says Acheson. "He can do things I've never seen any quarterback do.") Holy Cross coach Rick Carter, whose team beat Harvard, 33-19, but allowed Cuccia to throw 27 times for 219 yards in his best passing display of the year, says Cuccia is "impossible to stop because he can pass, run and do so very many things to you." Others call him "the most amazing athlete I've ever seen" and "incredible to watch."
A Long Way Up