The knockout punch.
In boxing, it's something every champion has. You have to have the ability to finish off your opponent.
Rocky had it. Apollo Creed and Clubber Lang didn't.
And now, the unfortunate conclusion has to be that Harvard doesn't have it after blowing a 13-point cushion against Bucknell last Saturday.
After the first two games, the Crimson looked unstoppable. The offense was rolling over opponents at a 490 yard per game clip. The Crimson averaged 40 points in the first two games. With 282 yards rushing per contest, forget the loss of Eion Hu to graduation--this was a veritable juggernaut!
The first quarter in the Bucknell game didn't change any minds, either. Rich Linden looked like the second coming of Joe Montana with his 10 for 11 passing and two touchdowns in the first quarter.
At that point, with Harvard up 20-7, it seemed that destiny would stay the course. Mike Giampaolo had missed an extra point, but it didn't look like it would matter. But instead of putting Bucknell away, Harvard fell apart.
Instead, there was a repeat of last week against Lehigh, when Harvard allowed four fourth quarter touchdowns and almost lost a 35-6 cushion. This time, though, there was a twist. Harvard lost. The Bison scored 10 more points in the third quarter without a peep out of Harvard, and it was over, 24-20.
"That's a big emphasis with us as a team, and we talk about putting people away," Murphy said. "The first game of the year we did that, we came out the first drive of the second half and buried Columbia. We did that against Lehigh, but they got back in it. It's a concern, but we're a pretty good football team."
Without doubt, Harvard is a good football team. But it has to win close games, which has been a problem over the past four seasons. In last year's season opener at Columbia, Harvard blew an identical 13-point lead and lost in overtime.
It would be harsh to say Harvard has a history of choking, but the Crimson also failed to put away Cornell last year after getting a fumble recovery on the Big Red 12-yard-line with the game tied at 13. Three field goal misses by Ryan Korinke ended any hope of upsetting Dartmouth in last year's 6-3 loss.
It's hard to pin down a reason why Harvard has not shown a killer instinct. Maybe Murphy and company need to learn how to be a front-runner after a few years of futility.
While the offense was sputtering, the defense was unable to make the big play to stop Bucknell drives or force turnovers.
"Even when they didn't get points, they were able to punt us deep and get field position," Murphy said.
Harvard wants to be a championship team this year. To live up to its potential, the Crimson needs to adopt the warrior's mentality. When the opponent is vulnerable, finish him.