Life of Brian: Confessions of a Would-Be Harvard Man

“If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write things worth reading, or do things worth the writing.”

—Benjamin Franklin

Four years ago, this was my high school yearbook quote and basically my strategy for conquering Harvard.

One Crimson career later, I may or may not have written anything worth reading, but I definitely never got around to the second part. My name has never appeared in any newspaper except as a byline.

This is a big disappointment. I came to Harvard wanting to make news, not report it. The last month of my senior year of high school, one of the assistant librarians there, after hearing where I was going to college, offered his congratulations and a photocopy of the cover to Richard Bissell’s book, You Can Always Tell a Harvard Man. I tacked it on my wall. I never read it, but I was in love with the idea behind the title: by the time I was done at Harvard, people would be able to tell who I was. I would be known.

And now? Maybe my columnist mug shot introduced me to some of the campus, but for the most part, the only immortality I’ve won has been on behalf of the people I wrote about, not me. I recorded a bit of history, but didn’t make any.

Four years ago, this would not have been enough for me. That was then.

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The good guys had won. Did anyone care?

In 1989, Harvard men’s hockey coach Billy Cleary hoisted the NCAA championship trophy over his head, his team having earned arguably the greatest victory in Harvard athletic history. Did anyone care?

Cleary thought so. “This isn’t just for the hockey team,” he said at the time, “this is for every Harvard alumnus in the country … in the world.”

Maybe Cleary was right. Maybe, in one fleeting moment of validation, Harvard sports did matter to people. But what about the other 364 days of that year? And every day since? Did anyone care then?

The answer is, yes, people care. The good guys care. Even if no one else does, they do.

And that’s enough. Success in the world of Harvard athletics can’t be measured in conventional terms like NCAA tournament appearances lest too many athletes who come through here be considered failures. There is pride enough in a job well done and in having no regrets and in sometimes valuing the game well played over the game favorably decided.

Yes, different things matter here. More important things.

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