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It's Just a Game


By Michael R. Grunwald

Jim Hofher--the rookie coach with a Cornell Football jacket, Cornell Football shirt, Cornell Football hat, Cornell Football folder and no doubt a Cornell Football tattoo on his Cornell Football posterior--was talking about Cornell Football.

"It was certainly a very exciting football game, a very challenging football game against a very good football team," a beaming Hofher chortled. "But it all came down to one play, and thank goodness we had a football player named Gerry Willinger who made a great football play."

"Willinger's Great Football Play Helps Cornell Snuff Harvard. Big Red Football Hero Fends Off Valiant Crimson Effort."

That's one way to look at it. A rather Ithacacentric way to look at it, but still, a way to look at it:

CAMBRIDGE--Cornell strong safety Gerry Willinger registered his third quarterback sack of the day with 30 seconds to play, knocking Harvard out of field goal range to preserve the Big Red's 20-17 win.

It's a nice way to look at it. But let's faceit. With the exception of one positive thinkerwith a Cornell Football dufflebag, nobody waslooking at it that way. Not irate Harvard CoachJoe Restic, not distraught Harvard quarterbackAdam Lazarre-White, not the Harvard geezergrumbling on his way to the Alumni Associationanniversary celebration:

CAMBRIDGE--It was a do-or-tiesituation--3rd-and-goal, nine yards to go, threepoints behind, 40 seconds to play. Harvard had onelast chance for a winning TD. If it failed, itcould nail a chippie field goal for thetie--assuming, of course, that Lazarre-White didnot take a huge loss...

Nineteen yards, to be exact. The Crimson set upits no-back, naked-QB offense. The blitzingWillinger charged into the backfield untouched.Lazarre-White could have dropped to a knee. Hecould have chucked the pigskin out of bounds.Instead, he sprinted back. Way back. Out of fieldgoal range. Game over. Harvard loses. Class of '26apoplectic.

"What was he thinking? What the hell was hethinking?" the ancient alum muttered.

He was not alone. The mild-mannered Restic cameas close as you'll ever see him come tospontaneous combustion.

"Coach was upset with me," Lazarre-White said,"and he let me know it."

In no uncertain terms. Immediately before thefateful flub, Restic had called his last timeoutto talk to his starting signal-caller.

"I told him to throw to the receiver or throwout of bounds but don't take a loss,"Restic recalled. "I couldn't have been morespecific. We've got to get a field goal to tie,and it didn't happen."

Before preseason practice, Restic hadquestioned Lazarre-White's touch, timing, accuracyand experience. But in his varsity QB debut,Lazarre-White responded by earning Ivy Player ofthe Week honors in the Crimson's thrashing ofNortheastern.

Two weeks later, Lazarre-White is no longerbasking in glory. He's baking under fire,replaying the horrifying moment in his mind.Coming to the line. Reading the blitz. Not beingable to change the play. Deciding to try to sprintaround Willinger. Seeing Willinger take a deeperangle than he had expected. Running back, back,back...

"You can't try to elude him,"Lazarre-White said. "You have to elude him orthrow it out of bounds. It's not an option tofail... that was the game, right there. It was mymistake. If you're going to take praise when youdo well, you've got to take responsibility whenyou mess up."

Yeah, he's right, I guess. Bill Buckner tookresponsibility for getting nutmegged in the WorldSeries. Jimmy Swaggart took responsibility for hissins before the Lord. Ronald Reagan tookresponsibility for Iran-gate. Well, at least heshould have. And I even recall a scrawny kid namedGrunwald blaming himself for blowing his highschool soccer team's 26-game winning streak bymissing an unmissable breakaway, but that'sanother column altogether.

It makes sense, if you think about it. But whythink about it? It's depressing. It's futile.That's why we have perspective-giving butnausea-inducing cliches, like "It's just a game,""You win some, you lose some," and "Tomorrow isanother day."

Story time: in 1985, a Fieldston Academy juniorquarterback came off the bench late in the fourthquarter against Rye Country Day School. Withseconds left, he heroically whipped a 65-yardscoring bomb to give Fieldston a 7-0 win.

That was one of Lazarre-White's better days,although he's probably the only one who remembersit. Eventually, a lot of people are going toforget Saturday, too. Including me. And you. Andthat 93,000-year-old armchair quarterback.Someday, even Mr. Cornell Football will forget thegrisly details.

Tomorrow is another day

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