At the end of his sophomore year, Rich Linden had the Harvard football world in the palm of his hand. He had just led the Crimson to an undefeated season and an Ivy League title, and the young quarterback seemed well on his way to rewriting most of Harvard's record books.
But disaster was looming right around the corner. Linden struggled mightily in 1998 while leading the team to a 4-6 (3-4 Ivy) record, and his classmate Brad Wilford emerged mid-season as a surprisingly viable contender for Linden's starting spot.
And at the end of this fall's practices, Wilford finally scored his coup d'etat, snatching Linden's three-year old starting job out from under his feet. Since then, Rich Linden has seen little meaningful action beyond holding Head Coach Tim Murphy's clipboard on the sidelines.
Ask Linden about his relationship with Wilford, and he won't skip a beat. He'll look you straight in the eye with a glint of genuineness that almost makes you ashamed to have asked the question. Then he cracks a smile and assures you--there is absolutely no animosity between he and Wilford.
Surprised? Since Wilford's christening as starter, Linden has only seen about ten minutes of meaningful action.
True, Linden was brought in to relieve a struggling Wilford in the second quarter of last weekend's 21-17 loss to Penn. But he struggled too, going 4-of-7 for 71 yards and throwing an interception in the end zone. As a result, he found himself holding the clipboard again when the team came out for the second half.
And when Wilford was receiving stitches in his forehead during the Dartmouth game, Linden came in for a series and threw a touchdown pass. But Wilford returned, stitches and all, and Linden was again relegated to a mop-up role in the fourth quarter. Throw in a quick series in the season opener against Columbia, and you find a shockingly paltry season for the senior quarterback that led Harvard to a league title in 1997.
Linden insists, however, that he's not upset or bitter about Murphy's decision.
"If the worst thing that ever happens to me is that I was a backup quarterback my senior year in college, I'll hopefully have a pretty charmed life," he says.
Aren't things between him and Brad even a little bit awkward? He laughs, and says he's even comfortable enough to crack jokes with Wilford about his demotion.
"We've spent so much time together that you really can't help but be professional about it. Just from the sheer nature of the time we've spent together, we kind of joke about it now."
But speak some more with Rich Linden and his optimistic tone will change. You'll start to hear a quarterback that has questioned his abilities. He says he's upset that the coaches haven't lived up to their promise of significant playing time. Ask him what his benching has done to his memories of Harvard football, and you'll hear this:
"I guess I'll remember it as more of a character building thing than I probably would've says after my first two years. I think everyone always talks about the things you learn from team sports--discipline, balancing your time, teamwork, working with groups. But I think one of the lessons I've learned is that you really can't control everything. People say that as a cliche, but in reality it's sometimes hard to understand."
And as you're finishing the conversation, ask Rich if there's anything he feels you haven't covered. He seizes the opportunity.
"In terms of remembering things, I'll remember how much my teammates picked me up this year. In the week or two immediately preceding the decision that I was going to be the back-up this year, there were definitely some trying moments in there. Just the way that guys that I never really considered close friends on the team came up to me and says some very nice things, it really picked me up. From that moment on I never walked around with my head down."
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