Say what you want about The Game. Say it cures all the ills of a season. Say tradition makes it a pageant, an unmatched event in college sports, a football feast, no matter what the record of the teams.
Say it loud because this year's Game means nothing. Say it loud to drown out the distant sound of cheering, rolling over the hills and rivers from Ithaca, N.Y., where the real Game is being played, the one that will have a bearing on the Ivy title.
Harvard and Yale will play today to decide the winner of the Big Two, the elitist of the elite Ivy League schools. Meanwhile, 400 miles away in a small town in upstate New York, Cornell will battle the University of Pennsylvania for the real championship. The Big Red can earn a share of the Ivy championship with a victory today. If Penn wins, it will finish with a perfect record for the second time in three years and capture its sixth championship in seven years.
Say it loud.
Harvard entered the 1988 season with high expectations. The core of the 1987 championship team, including quarterback Tom Yohe and running back Tony Hinz, returned. The Crimson's main opposition, experts thought, would come from Princeton and its brother tandem of Jason and Judd Garrett.
But the Crimson fell out of the race early. Back-to-back losses in October to Cornell (19-17) and Dartmouth (38-7) put Harvard on the brink of elimination. Princeton finished the Crimson, 23-8, in Week 6. The title defense had come to an inglorious conclusion.
What went wrong between this year and last, what subtle chemistry shift, change in offensive and defensive alignments, caused such a dramatic fall? Who is to blame--players, coaches or both?
Or is there no one to blame but the football, which takes strange bounces and this year just slipped through the Crimson's fingers?
Harvard Coach Joe Restic offers a cosmic explanation. It was not the Bounce of the Ball which caused Harvard's fall, but the Big play, or rather lack of it.
"We're first in total offense, second in total defense--pretty good statistics," Restic said. "But big plays are the difference, on both sides of the ball. We're not making them and teams are making them against us."
Restic's players are more realistic. They point to themselves. The fault is not in the stars.
"This year, there's been a different feeling from week to week," quarterback Tim Perry said. "Once we started winning last year, everything clicked, we had momentum on our side, we just rolled--every game was another win. This year, we're flat. There's frustration."
Restic's Big Play theory is applicable to a few games. Cornell beat Harvard because the Crimson could not snap the ball to its punter. Twice, snaps sailed over Harvard punter Alan Hall's head. On both occasions Cornell got safeties.
Two times two equals four. Subtract four from Cornell's score and you get a Harvard victory.
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