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King James Bible: Random Musings From Ivy Media Day

By Michael R. James, Crimson Staff Writer

NEW HAVEN, Conn.—On the surface it seemed like an interesting premise.

Gather all eight Ivy coaches in the Yale Golf Course clubhouse and watch them discuss football for the first time since last November.

So, I decided to drag my lazy self out of bed at just shy of 6 a.m., drive to Yalie country and attend what turned out to be a royal snoozefest. (But come to think of it, anytime you’re dragging yourself out of bed at the crack of dawn and driving to New Haven, I think you have to be primed for an inherent disappointment.)

“Snoozefest” might be a bit too harsh a term. Rather, I choose to liken it to the lame introduction or the interminable meeting with the proctors before every summer camp you’ve ever attended.

The “opening ceremonies” got underway with a video tribute honoring the 2003 season, produced by the wonderful people at the YES network. And the montage would have been wonderful as well, except that last year’s two most exciting Ivy games—Harvard vs. Princeton and Penn vs. Yale—were both televised on CN8. This didn’t seem to stop them from coming up with a solid highlight for each team, which is all the more impressive considering that the only Cornell game that YES carried was the Big Red’s 59-7 loss to Penn at Franklin Field. (For those of you who are wondering, yes, YES showed the touchdown.)

The show then shifted to the proctors—the eight Ivy football coaches. As the Q-and-A session got underway, a staffer from the Ivy League offices proclaimed himself “moderator.” I thought this would mean that he would be the one to choose who to call on to pose questions to each coach. The moderator apparently did not agree with my assessment as he proceeded to ask all the questions, which ranged in difficulty and complexity from “Tell us about your offense,” to “Tell us about your defense.”

Brown coach Phil Estes was the first to address the throng of media in attendance. His first task was, unsurprisingly, to tell us about his defense. After discussing his star defensive back Angel Gutierrez, he ran off a slough of names—each of which has the phrase “very physical” next to it in my notes. I can’t be certain if he actually used that description in association with each of the players he mentioned or if I just got bored and went into “very physical” auto-pilot.

During the “tell us about your offense” portion of his presentation, Estes went into great detail about his stellar running back Nick Hartigan, last year’s league-leading rusher. “He’s very superstitious,” Estes said. “He hugs every offensive lineman before the game, he has to sit next to the same guy on the bus and he wears the same T-shirt he’s worn since high school. It stinks. I don’t think he ever washes it.”

I really don’t have any joke or comment with which to follow this statement; I just felt compelled to include it because it was pretty much the only interesting thing said all day.

Columbia’s second-year head coach Bob Shoop took the floor next to discuss his optimistic, enthusiastic and energetic football team. I quickly glanced at the table where he was sitting to see if he wasn’t stealing adjectives off the back of a Richard Simmons workout video.

Shoop went on to praise the “tremendous balance throughout the league,” one in which “any team can beat any team on any Saturday.” He proclaimed this while standing next to Cornell’s Jim Knowles, who inherited a Big Red team that finished winless in the Ivy League and last in 12 different statistical categories.

Speaking of the Cornell rookie head coach, he had by far the best response to the “tell us about your offense question.”

“We have an offense,” Knowles responded candidly. This, of course, reminded me of the famous quip by former Tampa Bay Buccaneer head coach John McKay. When asked about the execution of his offense, McKay responded, “I think it’s a good idea.”

Dartmouth coach John Lyons stepped up next and bemoaned the departure of his top pass catchers—wide receiver Jay Barnard and tight end Casey Cramer—which, in basketball terms, ranks somewhere between the loss of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen from the 1998 Bulls and that of Mehmet Okur and Corliss Williamson from the 2004 Pistons.

I hope that in-depth analysis provides some clarity to the situation.

Lyons took us into the intermission, during which we all got an exciting “rules presentation” from Ivy League football head of officiating Jim Maconaghy. Among the major rule changes, officials will now call out the player’s number along with the infraction when announcing penalties, allowing NCAA referees to confirm what instant replay, telestrators and overzealous play-by-play announcers have been pointing out for years.

Harvard coach Tim Murphy led off the second half of the team presentations with a discussion of the key players on his offensive unit.

“[Ryan Fitzpatrick] is a special kid,” Murphy said. “He has toughness, skill [and] leadership. He’s a little bit like Michael Vick.”

On the surface this appeared to be a great compliment. Then I thought, if Ryan is like Michael Vick, does that mean that his brother Shaun—a senior tight end at Highland High School in Arizona—is destined to be like Marcus Vick? But this probably wasn’t what he meant.

Meanwhile, Penn coach Al Bagnoli was expressing his consternation at being picked number one in the preseason Ivy media poll. While Bagnoli has every right to be pleased, he really shouldn’t be shocked. Although the Quakers lost each of their five all-Ivy offensive linemen, their quarterback and Ivy Player of the Year Mike Mitchell and their top defensive player Steve Lhotak, the scary thing is that they still might be the best team in the league.

Princeton’s Roger Hughes and Yale’s Jack Siedlecki rounded out the powwow. Hughes addressed the loss of his top receiver B.J. Szymanski, who accepted a $700,000 signing bonus to join the Cincinnati Reds organization. He then threw in some classically Princetonian quip about that amount of money not fitting in a financial aid package that garnered a few laughs but didn’t move me enough to write down.

And with that the press conference portion of the Ivy media day was complete.

As I left the clubhouse and walked to the car, I thumbed through my notebook. I realized that I had spent two hours listening to the Ivy coaches discuss each of their teams, and I had learned almost nothing.

Just like every summer camp I ever attended.

—Staff writer Michael R. James can be reached at mrjames@fas.harvard.edu.

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