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Murphy's Last Stand

Words of Wissman

By Sean D. Wissman

A throng of frustrated Harvard students fought tooth and nail for a Yale College flag. A Yale junior leaned over the side of a Soldier field wall, unzipped his fly and sent a streaming, triumphant message to the cement 20 feet below. A tailgating Harvard graduate poured himself a half-full glass of champagne, sarcastically toasted seven more losing seasons and then downed the load in one gulp.

The Game is always a series of disjointed images. No exception, Saturday's 32-13 Yale evoked a panoply of feelings: exhilaration and surprise from Yalies, sadness and cynicism from Harvardians. Harvard coach Tim Murphy, however, was not among those laughing or crying, pissing or toasting. He was too tired. He had traveled miles and miles, and now it was time to rest.

"The one thing that I will remember feeling after the game is total exhaustion," he said. "You put so much effort into preparing your team that after a big game like that ends, you just crash. After it was over, I just went home with my family and had a quiet pizza."

For three months Murphy and his staff had put in the sort of hours that bring Wall Street executives millions. Ninety days of 7 a.m. starts, 90 days of 7 p.m. finishes, 90 days of sack lunches. Ninety days of total commitment, and all there was to show for it was a 32-13 loss to the second-worst team in the Ivy League.

It was the sort of disappointment that is beyond emotion, the kind cheapened by tears and unscathed by anger. Murphy had given his all to deliver an impressive season and had failed. He had given everything to turn a season-long magical act and had come up short. By a mile.

Coming into the season, Murphy's goals were to develop a balanced offensive attack and a solid defensive front. Through 10 roller-coaster games the Crimson had struggled to develop both areas. It was like a baby taking his first steps. Some days the footing would be there (e.g. a 35-win over Dartmouth). Other days the team would stumble (e.g. a 42-23 loss to Bucknell).

But of all the stumbles this season, none were harder than Saturday's. The squad failed miserably in both of its focal areas. With regular quarterback Vin Ferrara sidelined with an injury, it generated only 22 yards through the air. With a defense plagued by injury and fatigue, it gave up 32 points and 342 total yards.

That was the story of The Game. It was a physical, mental, emotional loss. Total defeat. And after it was over, Murphy had only one consolation: he had made no promises.

Murphy had said from the outset that this would not be the year. Students, alumni, journalists and even players had predicted a winning season at the least, a league championship at the most. But Murphy had held firm. He had adhered to a simple, businessmanlike code of etiquette: avoid predictions, qualify optimism, look at the larger picture.

After Saturday's loss, he was sticking to it.

After Saturday's loss, it was all he had.

"It was a disappointing loss, for sure, but you've just got to keep going," he said. "I feel bad for the seniors more than for anyone else. The rest of the team and the coaches will continue to make strides next season."

"The sort of improvement this program needs is not the sort that you can get from one season," he added. "We need long-term improvement--thousands of hours on the recruiting trail, thousands of hours in the weightroom. Turning a program around is a long, long process."

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