Four days before The Game, the most prominent thing in Peter Coppinger's room is The List. The 108th Harvard football captain has cleared everything else off his desk, save the sheaf of papers which are the preliminary and final drafts of The List.
Coppinger has nearly listed 48 people on that piece of paper--ranging from Mom and Dad to someone named Andy's friend, grouped in categories like "good seats" and "bad seats"--and all of them will be in New Haven Saturday afternoon. Although it remains a mystery how Coppinger managed to get a hold of four dozen sought-after Yale tickets, ("But I had to pay for 40 of them," he says) all of those people will be there watching Coppinger lead the Crimson against the Elis.
And along with the immediate importance of The Game, those people on that list are the most significant thing in Coppinger's life. "Football has been at Harvard my number one interest or priority," he says. "My other main interest has been family and friends, keeping ties with family and friends at home. I come from a very large family, a very close family."
He and his family--including six brothers and sisters--reside in Billerica, Ma., where Coppinger attended Billerica High School, although he attended Deerfield Academy for a year after graduation. His coaches at Deerfield, Jim Smith and Bob McDermott '75, a former Harvard tight end, urged him to go to Harvard and put him in contact with the Harvard coaching staff.
"There were 26 people at the Penn game, and there will be 48 at the Yale Game, plus some who have their own tickets," Coppinger continues, "so I guess there will be over 50 there."
His concern for family and others comes through when he talks about his preparation for each week's game. "Each person on their own has a different, although similar, way of getting ready for a game," he says. "When we're at home, Friday night I'll do my wash--it's usually time by then--come home, play certain albums (including the Clash's London Calling and Sandinista!, or some Stones), and meditate on what's going to happen the next afternoon."
"I try to think about my family and friends, or people who haven't had a chance to do the things I've been able to do. I think about how thrilled I am to be here because my family is so excited that I'm here. Everyone is so excited for me that I can't help being excited myself."
That excitement has helped motivate Coppinger for almost three years, as a starting safety, and this year it has helped the Harvard captain urge on the team. "He's a quiet type of leader... he leads by example. He's not the rah-rah type," says linebacker Joe Azelby. "When we were having problems after the Army game, he gave us a talk before we left for Cornell."
"As captain," says Coppinger, "I try to set a position as a role model. At times you can sense the attitude of the team, and you try to keep people ready. The coaches talk about 'the razor's edge,' and I try to keep that by calling meetings, or whatever, to sense if the team is really ready for the game."
As captain, Coppinger has the right--and responsibility--to call squad meetings if he determines the situation warrants it. Before his tenure, though, these meetings--which take place without the coaching staff--were comparatively rare; maybe one or two per season.
"Pete has already called like five," senior defensive end Justin Whittington jokes. "He is just very into team meetings, and that's good. We had one after losing to Holy Cross, and that really helps."
The tendency to call meetings has earned Coppinger a reputation. "I always tease him about it," Whittington continues. "One time, there were about 12 of us in an elevator, so I said, "Hey Pete, how about a meeting?" But I think it's really good, they've really helped."
Most players have only good things to say about his style of leadership, which involves both setting an example and talking problems out with both the players and coaches. "Personality, I feel that what he says has a great deal of importance and meaning, and that's a general feeling. He's not a rah-rah kind of guy. He discusses things with you and at the same time gets his point across. He inspires team unity because he discusses things as a unit and not just offensive and defensive squads."
At times, Coppinger has had to alleviate minor tension between the players and the coaching staff. "He's gone to bat a couple of times for players," defensive lineman Dave Sauve says. Azelby noted one of those occasions, recalling a time earlier this season when defensive co-ordinator George Clements got a little angry with some members of the team for leaving some defensive scouting reports--apparently unread--behind after a meeting.
"Coach Clements asked Pete what he would think about guys who would do something like that. Pete said that he would think that the guys had memorized them thoroughly and put them aside. This lightened things up," Azelby added.
Coppinger's leadership by example--"Mostly as captain I just try to be hard-working and dedicated and go out and play as hard as I possibly can"--is based on solid talent at his safety position. "I look at Peter, and I look at [cornerback] Rocky [Delgadillo]; they've played well for us. They've held things together back there." Crimson head coach Joe Restic says.
"He was pressed into service, got the opportunity to play, and has gotten better and better. He's stable, he has poise, he's in position, and he plays his position well."
As captain, and as a player, his biggest concern right now--with The List taken care of--is definitely The Game. Coppinger would like nothing better than to recreate the magic of two years ago in The Yale Bowl tomorrow afternoon. That becomes evident when he talks about his future plans, because, really, there are no plans until after Yale.
"I've been playing this game since I was ten years old, and I'm 22 now. So every fall I've been doing the same thing, but I haven't really been thinking about how I'll react after Saturday. You can't really think about what's going to happen. There is nothing happening until after that ball game. It'll probably take a while to realize that it's over, but I think I'll be ready to move on."
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