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The History of Harvard's Commencement, Explained

Jack Riordan

One-time Defensive Back Takes Reserve QB Option

By Gwen Knapp

Harvard had just beaten UMass, 31-14, on the strength of Donnie Allard's 358 passing yards, and Crimson Coach Joe Restic was discussing his quarterback's performance.

Alluding to Allard's record-breaking day as a fill-in for the injured Ron Cuccia, Restic concluded, "That just goes to show you that you need two quarterbacks...in fact, you need three, four quarterbacks."

The coach's comment seemed an irrelevant truism at the time. Allard had proved himself a winner, and Cuccia was reportedly on the mend from his rib injury.

But at least one member of the Harvard football team has based his career on the notion that you can never have too many quarterbacks.

* * *

Senior Jack Riordan was one of several players who arrived at Harvard three years ago with thoughts of becoming the Crimson's future signal-caller. He alternated with classmate Allard at QB during a creditable, if not spectacular, freshman season, and the coaches invited him to return to camp the following fall.

But there was a catch: The coaches wanted Riordap allright, but they wanted him at defensive back.

The 1980 Harvard football team already had enough quarterbacks: senior Brian Buckley, later drafted by the New England Patriots; sophomore Cuccia, back from a year off and stationed temporarily at split end; junior Mike Buchanan; and Allard among them.

The defensive backfield, on the other hand, needed more bodies, and defensive coordinator Leo Fanning was convinced that Riordan's athletic ability would make him one of the top six candidates for the available positions. Because playing defense seemed the surest route to the varsity roster and, according to the coaches, the best way for him to contribute to the program, Riordan agreed to the switch.

New Position

Although he had some reservations about his new job, Riordan devoted his sophomore year to knocking down passes instead of throwing them. Like most second-year players, he put in little varsity time, but his performance on the JV established him as one of the leading contenders for a future starting position in the backfield.

And that's probably where Riordan would be now, were it not for a major decision he made at the end of his sophomore year.

During the season, Riordan had watched a succession of injuries claim quarterback after quarterback, sometimes forcing Restic to go to the end of his depth chart for a signal-caller.

And so when the year ended, Riordan went to Restic and asked to be switched back to quarterback.

"I wasn't having that much fun playing defense, and I felt that I could help the team more at quarterback," Riordan remembers. "The coaches thought I could help the team more on defense. But as it turned out, four guys got hurt at quarterback."

The coaching staff still felt that Riordan had the makings of an Ivy League cornerback and little or no shot at the quarterbacking job, but Restic agreed to let him return to Crop at the position of his choice.

Image Change

At first, the decision seemed baffling Why would anyone in his right mind surrender a virtually guaranteed starting slot to play be hind other people.

According to roommate and defensive back John Rice: however, Riordan "is not scared to do anything for someone or something that's important to him." And apparently, playing quarterback was very important to him.

So important that he didn't mind playing (or not playing, to be accurate) behind a cast of thousands during his junior year. So important that he came back this season even though he knew the formidable Allard-Cuccia duo stood in front of him.

Certainly, the decision resulted in some frustration, but Riordan insists he never considered leaving the team because he wasn't playing.

"This will sound kind of corny, but I really love the game, and I just couldn't see myself sitting in the stands watching a Harvard football game when I know I could be in there or on the sidelines as a part of the team," he says.

At the beginning of the season, it seemed as though Riordan would indeed spend most of the year spectating from the sidelines. But then Harvard's unfortunate tradition of losing quarterbacks made him the starter for the Dartmouth game.

Columbia linebacker Dan Smith had put Cuccia out of commission with a rib injury in the season opener and three weeks later, Allard sustained a bruised collarbone midway in the Cornell game.

Riordan filled in for Allard during the second half of the Cornell contest, and the following Saturday Restic tapped him to call the signals in Hanover.

It was Riordan's misfortune to make his first collegiate start against an 0-4 Big Green squad that decided to alone for all of its previous failures in a 14-12 win over the Crimson.

But the brief experience should justify Riordan's decision to return to QB.

To his credit are a 15-yard TD run that put the Crimson within striking distance near the end of the Dartmouth game and a 41-yard run from the line of scrimmage against Cornell, a fast that tops all other Harvard running efforts this season.

And for the moment, Riordan is content with that.

He seems to have forgotten that he could be starting on defense. And right now he is interested in seeing Harvard best Princeton tomorrow afternoon and eventually win the Ivy title--regardless of who is at quarterback.

"I'm on the team; and I want to win as much as anybody else," he says, if I were there just for the sake of my playing, I would have been gone a long time ago."

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