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The Game Won Without Winning

Film, reunions mark 40th anniversary of legendary 29-29 tie

By Liyun Jin and Dennis J. Zheng, Contributing Writerss

Theodore E. Skowronski ’69 can still recall the sea of white handkerchiefs triumphantly waving over the Yale side of Harvard Stadium 40 years ago.

On the overcast afternoon of Nov. 24, 1968, with three minutes to go in the fourth quarter and the Bulldogs ahead 29-13, the Game­—the final appearance for Skowronski and his senior teammates—seemed to be headed towards an inevitable Crimson defeat.

“I felt totally crushed,” Harvard’s former center says. “This was the most important game of my life, and I was realizing that my career was over.”

But with 42 seconds left, destiny intervened, the momentum shifted, and the Crimson staged a comeback for the ages, establishing the 1968 Game as the series’ most-remembered episode.

As the 40th anniversary of the legendary 29-29 tie, tomorrow’s 125th playing of the Game inspires as much recollection as it does anticipation.

The historic showdown is the topic of a new documentary by Kevin G. Rafferty II ’70, entitled “Harvard Beats Yale 29-29,” which premiered Wednesday night.

The film portrays an underdog tale straight out of Hollywood. Playing the role of favorite to perfection, the Bulldogs seemed to have it all—an untarnished 8-0 record and 16-game winning streak, a national top 20 ranking, and star quarterback Brian Dowling, who hadn’t lost a game since the seventh grade and had been affectionately nicknamed by the Yale faithful as “God.”

Falling behind by 22 points in the second quarter, Harvard was overwhelmed for much of the contest. Bringing in backup quarterback Frank K. Champi ’70 near the end of the first half provided an offensive spark, but the Crimson was still far behind late in the fourth quarter, setting up the film’s climactic ending.

Delving deeper than just a play-by-play, Rafferty alternates between interviews with the players from both sides and original footage of the Game while making note of the tumultuous historical events of the 1960s.

In the film, former defensive back Patrick A. Conway ’69 describes his experiences on campus and in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War. Conway played alongside a member of the radical anti-war group Students for a Democratic Society—underscoring the role of football in uniting Harvard during an era of war and protest.

Even though the ’68 Game took place four decades ago, its outcome still inspires disbelief.

Skowronski, who saw the film on Wednesday night, says, “As I was watching the movie, I kept wondering, ‘How did Harvard ever win this game?’”

Stunning the Yale defense with two touchdowns, two two-point conversions, and an onside kick, the Crimson played its way back into the game and into the annals of history. The final score may have been a tie, but the celebratory home crowd rushing the field indicated that it was anything but, leading The Crimson to print its famed headline “Harvard beats Yale 29-29.”

Gary L. Singleterry ’70, Harvard’s punter, says that there was no element of disappointment in the Game’s final outcome, since no one had given the Crimson much of a chance. “For us to tie was a great moral victory. It was phenomenal,” he recalls.

Peter D. Lennon ’70, the writer of the 1968 Game story in The Crimson, remembers frantically taking notes from the press box. Despite the feeling of detachment that usually comes with sports reporting, he says that all objectivity melted away as the final seconds of the comeback unfolded. He remembers jumping up and cheering along with the stands below him.

“What was happening was so exciting that I dropped my guise as a reporter and became a fan,” he says.

Tomorrow, former players will recapture that feeling of excitement as they take on the view from the stands.

According to a Wednesday e-mail from the Harvard Varsity Club, 35 members of the 1968 team are returning to Cambridge this weekend. Planned events include a viewing of Rafferty’s documentary at the Brattle Theatre, pre- and post-Game tailgates, and a dinner for both the reuniting 1968 and 1983 football teams.

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