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Final Notes

First and foremost, this was a labor of love.

By David S. Griffel

One might consider sportswriting at The Crimson a thankless job, sort of like being a New York Yankees manager under George Steinbrenner.

You almost always hear about your mistakes, assuming that people actually read your recap of the bowling team's awards dinner. And you almost never hear anything positive, outside of "at least his article wasn't any longer."

But most of us aren't in sportswriting for the glory alone. If so, we'd last about as long as the Detroit Red Wings come playoff time.

I just love sports, and that's what got me into 14 Plympton St. in the first place back in February 1993. Then-sports editor John Trainer '95 was tabling in the Freshman Union, and I decided to sign up for the hell of it.

I had played soccer and baseball through high school but knew I wouldn't have the time to continue those activities at Harvard. Then again, not playing for them was probably my version of a good deed.

So assignment number one was to cover the men's squash team's national championship match against Yale. They won (surprise), and writing it up took a couple of hours. And, of course, it's a special feeling seeing your byline the next day for the first time.

As the spring progressed and I finished my comp by covering the baseball team, I started realizing that sportswriting was a fun activity. You get to be involved with sports while at the same time providing a service to the community. Did anyone say grades?

But what really got me sold was my sophomore year when John asked if I'd like to cover the men's hockey team. It was a tough decision to forego being a fan (I was a rather vocal one as a freshman, I must admit), but it was a great opportunity.

It also didn't hurt that the team went to the NCAA Final Four that season, and even though the team struggled the last two years, that didn't detract from the job.

Besides hockey, I also assumed the women's soccer and softball beats the past two years, in addition to picking up numerous other stories as the editor.

Becoming the editor was also one of those things I never thought I would do. It began as a favor to John when someone else who was supposed to be an assistant sports editor dropped out at the last minute in the fall of 1993, so I stepped in.

Little did I know then that I would spend as much time holed up in the sports cube and on the road covering certain events than I could have doing anything else. Twelve-hour days were the norm at least once a week when I became head editor in 1995, but it wasn't as bad as it seems.

First and foremost, this was a labor of love. We aren't getting paid to do any of this, just like our fellow students who participate on the athletic teams.

And I tried to keep that philosophy in mind when I was covering the Harvard sports teams. Yes, I wanted to write the best possible stories I could, but there were going to be certain things I wouldn't do.

If an athlete really screwed up in a game, I couldn't get myself to rip into him or her in the paper, unlike some of my predecessors and colleagues. They are our classmates and they are still amateurs, so there didn't seem to be much to gain by making a person feel bad.

Still, if a team played poorly, it is a sportswriter's duty to tell the truth. And while I tried to spare individuals, I had to let the public know when and why their teams were playing below their capabilities.

Through the four years, so many things--both good and forgettable--have happened. There was one coach who told me where I could shove my tape recorder after his team had played poorly in an important match, and a soccer linesman once physically removed me away from a referee whom I was interviewing after a controversial game. But those are two of the few lowlights of my years here.

Rather, most of my time here has been a pleasure. If nothing else, I'll remember the friends I've made at The Crimson and the time I've spent here more than anything else at Harvard. Sure, Harvard has given me other good times, but those at The Crimson were easily the best.

And with that, I'll leave you with my 11 most memorable moments. There were certainly many more than 11, but the ones included here are only ones I've either covered or observed, so great feats such as the men's lacrosse and both tennis teams' successes in the NCAAs this year aren't on the list.

And remember--I'm no Dave Letterman (feel free to insert a derogatory joke here), but here goes:

11. September 23, 1995--Buffy, the Dieter Ficken Slayer. Stay with me here on this one. The men's soccer team was playing highly-ranked Columbia at Ohiri Field in its Ivy League opener. As Harvard was seizing more and more control of the play in its 3-0 win, Columbia coach Dieter Ficken was just plain losing it.

Ficken yelled at the ball boys (they're only little kids) for not getting the balls returned quickly enough after the Lions seemed to kick them all to Storrow Drive. He then started screaming at the scorer's table for not stopping the game clock on an injury even though the ref hadn't asked for it to be stopped.

Ficken had overstepped his bounds, and there was only one person who could stop him--Buffy Clifford, Harvard's Assistant Director of Sports Information. She blew the foghorn right in his face, got the referee's attention and had Mr. Ficken relocated to another part of the sidelines. The Crimson was a winner, then, both on and off the field that day.

10. March 15, 1996--men's hockey vs. Vermont in the ECAC Tournament semifinals. The sixth-seeded Crimson, which had lost nine straight games entering the playoffs, first knocked off third-ranked St. Lawrence in a best-of-three series the previous weekend.

Cast aside as an also-ran at the ECAC awards banquet the night before, Harvard produced the biggest upset of the tournament, knocking off top-seeded Vermont, 4-3.

The Crimson, which had battled serious injuries to its key players at the end of the regular season, pulled together when it counted most, completely shutting down the Catamounts in the final period. Harvard would fall to Cornell on a couple of fluke goals the next day, 2-1, but it salvaged what had been turning into a disappointing season.

9. May 13-14, 1995--softball in the ECAC Tournament. There's nothing like two days of softball excitement in Piscataway, N.J. The Crimson, seeded last, surprised almost everyone by advancing to the finals.

Then-freshman Tasha Cupp pitched her heart out, allowing only one earned run in a 24-inning stretch. Harvard ultimately lost to Providence in extra innings in the championship, but the event marked the Crimson's first-ever postseason appearance.

8. Cabot House wins the Straus Cup, twice. Something had to be mentioned about this feat, even though this is only intramurals. That "fishy" house up in the Quad shocked the river jocks by winning its first-ever Straus Cup in 1995.

This year, the other houses--especially Leverett--wanted revenge. Instead, Cabot absolutely slaughtered the competition, practically wrapping up the cup before the spring season even started. They approximately doubled the all-time gap between first and second place. Not bad for a house for which people used to give you their condolences when you told them you live there.

7. February 24, 1993--men's squash vs. Yale in the national championship. I've already touched on this above, but even for a non-fan of squash, this was pure excitement.

The Crimson and the Bulldogs were tied at four matches apiece, with then-freshman Michael Oh extended to a fifth and deciding game against his opponent. Hemenway Gymnasium alternated between silence and ear-piercing cheers with each point. Oh prevailed, 15-7, giving the Crimson its second straight national title.

6. March 31, 1994--men's hockey vs. Lake Superior State in the NCAA Final Four. This was a game for the ages, which the Crimson tied at 2-2 midway through the third period on a power-play goal by captain Sean McCann '94.

Into overtime the contest went, and for the third consecutive year, Harvard's season ended in the extra session. Laker Clayton Beddoes caught a perfect pass for a breakaway and five-holed goalie Aaron Israel. Nevertheless, Harvard's 24-5-4 record was its best one since the 1988-89 national championship team, as the team only two of its final 23 games.

5. March 7, 1995--women's basketball vs. Dartmouth. It was the final game of the season, and it was for the Ivy League title. And unfortunately for the overflow crowd at Briggs Cage, it was all Dartmouth in a 72-48 bloodbath. The ironic thing was that I had only covered three Harvard games that year, but they happened to be Harvard's only three Ivy League losses.

Well, this reporter stayed off the beat this year, and (coincidence?) Harvard waltzed through the Ancient Eight. The Crimson pounded the Big Green in the Ivy League opener and cruised to a 13-1 league record in reaching the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever. Last year's loss was a tough learning experience, but it made the team ravenous for success this year.

4. November 18, 1995--football at Yale in The Game. I had to listen to this one on the radio since the men's hockey team was playing at Bright Hockey Center that day. Entering the contest with a 1-8 (0-6 Ivy) record, the Crimson was looking to salvage its season.

Trailing 21-16 in the final minutes, Harvard started The Drive. What had gone against the Crimson all year finally helped Harvard out--luck. Senior quarterback Vin Ferrara's pass tipped off two players and right into the hands of senior Adam Golla to the Yale 15. And with less than a minute left, 1, 101-yard rusher Eion Hu plunged into the endzone for the winning touchdown.

Years from now, people will forget about Harvard's 2-8 record. All they will know is how Harvard won The Game in as dramatic a finish as you draw up on the chalkboard.

3. November 4, 1995--women's soccer at Brown. One year earlier at Ohiri Field, the Bears came back from a 3-1 deficit late in the second half to tie the contest. When overtime ended with the score still knotted at 3-3, Brown became the Ivy League champions, while Harvard could only watch as it needed a win for the title.

The stakes were the same at Providence for Harvard in 1995. A win would clinch the title outright, and the Crimson struck first in the opening half as co-captain Sara Noonan redirected sophomore Emily Stauffer's feed through the mud and the Brown defense.

The lead would hold this time, and Harvard threw two primates off its collective back. The win was its first over Brown since 1981, and the Ivy League title was also the team's first in 14 seasons.

2. February 8, 1993--men's hockey vs. Boston University in the Beanpot championship. The game predated my Crimson days, so I was planted three rows behind the Terrier bench at the old Boston Garden with my roommates. Along with Opening Day at Fenway and the Boston Marathon, the Beanpot makes the city of Boston come to a standstill.

Heavily-favored B.U. jumped out on top with a power-play goal, but Harvard retaliated, and through two periods, the score was knotted at 2-2. Two-time Olympian Ted Drury rebounded home the game-winner at 6:29 of the third, and Steve Martins '95 iced the win with a break-away goal with under four minutes to play.

But it was the play of then-freshman goalie Tripp Tracy which stole the show. Tracy exhibited moves that made doctors cringe, but which made the Harvard fans erupt in joy, and his 30 saves were the biggest reason Harvard brought the 'Pot back to Cambridge.

1. November 5, 1994--men's soccer vs. Brown. Harvard had to win this game at Ohiri Field and hope Columbia would lose its final contest in order to win the Ivy League title and make it to the NCAA Tournament. Regulation came and went without a goal, with the 2,500+ fans who surrounded the field urging on the Crimson.

And then it happened. Then freshman Toure McCluskey hit then sophomore Kevin Silva with a perfect lead pass. Silva booted the ball right into the mesh and mayhem erupted. When then-sophomore T.J. Carella connected on a free kick early into the second overtime session, Brown's fate was sealed.

The fans poured out onto the field when the final whistle blew to carry off the players in celebration. Especially at the collegiate level, winning shouldn't be everything, but that day, the whole campus rallied around the men's soccer team and shared in its joy.

***

There they are. It'll be a big change for me next year when I'm studying away at the law books at NYU instead of the shot charts at Bright Hockey Center, but all good things must come to an end.

I'd like to acknowledge Buffy Mike Jackman, John Veneziano and John Hines of sports information, who make our lives at The Crimson a lot easier and a lot more fun at the games. And there's also Pat, one of few men to stuff the All Star ballot boxes with votes for Paul Sorrento (his nephew). A good friend of the sports department, Pat has supervised this place for decades and I'll sure miss being called a "dumb s%&t" come September.

And it's been swell working with Eric, Matt, Mike, Becky, Brad, Ethan and so many others who have become a kind of extended family for me here at The Crimson.

That's what is so great about sports. They bring numerous people together, and they are fun to be a part of. If you can't get that out of sports, then you're certainly missing out.

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