For most of the year football generates about as much interest around Harvard as fluctuations in the prime rate. Probably less. But yesterday's Super Bowl worked a magical transformation. Suddenly people who knew nothing about football a week ago became experts for a day, and of course everyone had a favorite in the game.
A noted Republican and pre-wealth major where I was watching favored the Forty-Niners because he could identify with the team color--gold. Most of the Cincinnati partisans liked the Bengals because of the cute design on their helmets.
On the Map
One Bengals' fan had a different reason, though. As Cincinnati's Pat McInally got off a 53-yard punt in the first quarter, he yelled, "Now Detroit knows about Harvard."
Pat McInally, the NFL's leading punter this past season, is Harvard's biggest claim to sports fame. People who couldn't tell you whether or not Harvard has a hockey team have heard of McInally.
Go, Tar Heels
Two weeks ago I was visiting a friend at the University of North Carolina, and he introduced me to the sports editor of the campus newspaper. I told him how lucky I thought he was to get to cover North Carolina football and basketball. "You're not so bad off yourself," he said, "if you have any more like Pat McInally hanging around."
While most people now think of McInally only for his punting, he was a starting wide receiver as well before the Bengals got rookie sensation Cris Collinsworth this year. And it was as a receiver that McInally had his greatest moment.
On December 21, 1980, in the last game of the regular season, Cincinnati faced Cleveland. For McInally and the Bengals the game could bring no tangible benefit. They were out of the playoff picture. For Cleveland a win meant a divisional title. With nothing to gain by winning, everyone expected Cincinnati to roll over and play dead. The Bengals, and especially McInally, had other ideas.
Cincinnati came out hitting, and when the Browns realized that they were not going to get their title without a fight, they did some hitting of their own. Late in the first quarter, McInally caught a pass for a Bengal first down, but on the tackle he was hit hard in the head by an illegal forearm and knocked unconscious.
The trainers came out and tried to revive him, but he lay there for five minutes before he was carried off the field on a stretcher.
The game resumed and the announcers waited anxiously for word on McInally. Finally it was reported that he would not require hospitalization, but no one expected him back in the game.
Drama in Ohio
Then in the third quarter, with the Browns up, 24-17, McInally shocked everyone when he trotted back onto the field to enter a game that meant nothing in the standings. With Cleveland fighting desperately to hold on to its seven-point edge, Cincinnati quarterback Ken Anderson called McInally's number. The combination clicked for a 59-yard touchdown to tie the score at 24-24.
A 22-yard field goal by Cleveland's Don Cockroft with 1:25 left in the fourth quarter gave the Browns a 27-24 win and their first AFC division title, but the real story had been the guts of McInally and the Bengals.
When Howard Cosell recapped the contest the following night on Monday Night Football, the Browns and their title were all but forgotten. All he could talk about was McInally. He talked about the illegal hit, and he talked about the tying touchdown. And then in his best Cosellian tones he waxed philosophical: "Don't tell me they don't make 'em tough up at Harvard."
Yes, O loquacious one, they do make them tough here. But it's too bad so many of us will only acknowledge them if they have cute helmets.