Saturday, November 22, 2008

Remembering THE GAME ... Harvard Beats Yale 29-29

By J. Thomas Duffy

While they meet for the 125th time, today's Harvard-Yale match-up plays second fiddle to something bigger.

It is the 40th Anniversary of THE GAME.

Yeah, you're reading that right ...

Harvard Beats Yale, 29-29.

This was back in the waning days of Ivy League football that still mattered in the national scene.

Both teams came into the game undefeated, but the high-powered Bulldogs were the favorites, led by future Dallas Cowboy Calvin Hill and star quarterback Brian Dowling (more on him below).

Yale was kicking the Crimson's butt, and late in the game, with a 29-13 lead, driving down the field for another score, Mr. Destiny sprinkled his dust over Harvard Stadium, and it was just a matter of minutes for history to unfold.

From The Bleacher Report:

Looking across the stadium, I saw hundreds if not thousands of white handkerchiefs waving as the poor-sport Yalies taunted us. Dowling and his minions were unwilling to settle for a thumping. They wanted a humiliation.

Yale started marching down the field. Again. Some fans adjourned at this point for local bars—the Yalies for raucous celebration, the home team supporters to cry in their beer.

Only 14 yards away from a fifth touchdown, the Yale fullback fumbled. So down by 16 with 3:34 remaining, Harvard had the ball.

By this time, Harvard’s backup quarterback, Frank Champi, had taken over. With a third and 18 on the Yale 38, he was sacked, but the ball dribbled out of his arms on the way down and a Harvard lineman—the immortal Fritz Reed—picked up the lonely spheroid and thundered to the Yale 15.

Two more Champi passes and Harvard scored with 42 seconds left in the game. The two point conversion failed. Okay.

So now Harvard would lose, but would not be humiliated. But wait—a flag.

Yale was called for pass interference. On the replay, Harvard fullback Gus Crim rumbled in for a score.

Everyone in the stadium knew that an onside kick was coming, but that did not stop Harvard from recovering it. No one was leaving now. The white hankies had disappeared.

Champi marched the team down to the Yale eight yard line.

Three seconds left.

Hike. Scramble.

As he was hit, Champi threw off the wrong foot. Vic Gatto, the first 2000 yard rusher in Harvard history, gathered it in.

No time left. Yale led 29-27. Champi, the backup, recalled, “I thought, ‘We’ve come this far.’ I was very confident. It was inevitable.”

And so it proved. After the field was cleared of fans, Champi hit burly tight end Pete Varney, later a major league catcher. Game over.

Harvard had scored 16 points in 42 seconds. Brian Dowling failed to come off the field with a victory for the first time since sixth grade.

I don’t remember a whole lot after that. And I don’t remember my date’s name. But I think I learned more in that game than I did in my freshman year classes.

What was the lesson? Keep trying no matter what the odds. Never give up. Never.

Yale Coach Carmen Cozza later said, “That tie was the worst loss of my career.” But it was the banner headline across the front page of the Crimson—the Harvard student newspaper—that best captured what we had witnessed: “Harvard Beats Yale 29-29.”

Yes, it was only a tie game, but it was treated like the Super Bowl (which most of the preppies from Harvard and Yale consider the game anyway).

Brian Dowling?

He later became the inspiration for the "B.D." character in Doonesbury, being a classmate of Garry Trudeau.

Harvard also had a bit of future star power, as well.

Before he became the man wearing black, playing left guard for the Crimson in THE GAME was none other than Tommy Lee Jones.

And that headline?

The Saga of a Great Headline - The genesis of “Harvard Beats Yale, 29-29”

Editor’s note: As the clock ticked down to the 117th Harvard-Yale match-up, Alan Schwarz, senior writer for Baseball America magazine, filed this story.

It was supposed to be easy. Asked by American Heritage magazine to select the most overrated and underrated newspaper headlines in history, I knew the winners immediately. The Chicago Tribune’s “Dewey Defeats Truman” 1948 banner took the overrated category because, after all, it gained its immortality simply by being wrong. Meanwhile, the underrated headline would be one that appeared wrong, but was deliciously right: “Harvard Beats Yale, 29-29.” Somebody at the Crimson, with only one little word, had brilliantly captured the essence of the Harvard football team’s legendary comeback (16 points in the final 42 seconds) to tie Yale in November 1968. I would find that somebody.

Deliciously right ... Indeed.

Bonus Bulldog-Crimson Riffs

YouTube: Harvard beats Yale 29-29 (1968)
(Note: Poor Audio on this clip)

Quad Q&A: ‘Harvard Beats Yale 29-29′

Man of the moment - In 1968, Champi seized opportunity

'68 is still the one most remembered

The Harvard-Yale Game, Through the Ages

Harvard Beats Yale 29-29 ...Forty years ago, it wasn't only a game

(Cross-posted at The Garlic.)

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