The scene occurred in a dim hallway, deep inside Dillon Field House, far away from any madding crowd. The cheers and the boos had given way to just this--a whisper.
Thirty minutes after the end of Harvard's disappointing loss to Columbia in Saturday's football game, there stood Coach Tim Murphy with quarterback Vin Ferrara. Separated by no more than ten inches, the two men--one the teacher, the other the pupil--engaged in a quick, private conversation that helps explain why this 1995 season still holds many thrills for Crimson fans.
Of course, no one denies that Saturday's loss was a disheartening one. A lively student section, a spirited band and the usual flock of tailgating alumni entered the Stadium full of hope for the new year, only to exit crestfallen after Columbia's last minute touchdown. An afternoon that began warm and sunny ended chilly and overcast.
Losses sting especially hard, after all, when they come to an opponent whom one has beaten for 16 consecutive years. They sting when one hears beforehand that there is a new breeze invigorating the Harvard program, when one actually begins to believe that perhaps things are different now.
Still, it would be a mistake to write off Harvard's season prematurely. A 28-24 loss to a decent Columbia squad, particularly in the first game of the year, does not signal a return to the Bad Old Days.
Instead, one might consider it another growing pain for this extremely young Harvard team. Murphy may not like starting 15 under classmen, or having seven sophomores among his top eight defensive linemen, but in his second year at the helm of the Crimson ship, he must.
This is a program that has won just 10 games in the last three years and has not experienced a winning season since 1987. Many of the players were recruited to play in an offensive or defensive scheme that has since changed. People simply need more time to adjust.
Harvard occasionally being the bastion of pessimism that it is, here will surely be those who see the score of Saturday's game, sigh, and crack jokes about another bad year.
Those people might want to reserve judgment, though, until they see the cumulative result of conversations like the one shared by Murphy and Ferrara on Saturday.
What was said? No one except the two participants knows exactly, but the specifics are less important than the basic right now.
The basics are this: Harvard has a hard-working young coach, a hard-working young team, and a genuine eagerness to win. It has a good teacher instructing willing students. As long as that formula remains true, it will only be awhile before Harvard football enjoys happy days again.