Skip to main content
Original Issue

Explosion at The Game

Between the appearance of the Argentine Firecracker and a last-minute defeat of Yale, who would not excuse Harvard's lapse of Ivy decorum?

It's wild!" exulted Charlie Davidson, proprietor of the Andover Shop in Cambridge. "It's just like old times." Cambridge was alive for The Game, a Harvard-Yale way of referring to the annual football encounter between young gentlemen of those two Ivy League schools. In an act reminiscent of a John O'Hara novel, 450 Yale students, alumni and fans chartered seven railroad cars to haul themselves and cases of booze up from New Haven to root for their undefeated, untied team. And in equally elegant counter, two of the Harvard football managers showed up for The Game attired in black ties and dinner jackets.

Tickets for last Saturday's fashionable fiesta were impossible to find. Sheldon Cohen of the Out of Town Newspapers and Ticket Office at Zero Harvard Square had absolutely none at all, and scalpers were so desperate, the Harvard Crimson reported that they were offering $50 for a seat. Moreover, the Harvard side of Soldiers Field was stacked with Democratic politicians looking forward to another big November win. Congressman Harley Staggers of West Virginia was on hand to watch his son Dan, '75, a middle guard. Senator-elect John Culver of Iowa, '54 and a football letterman, was there, as were Senator William Hathaway of Maine, '49, and Senator Edward Kennedy, '54, who was awarded a "master's in political silence" by the Yale band during halftime frivolities. Even Annabella Battistella, better known as "Fanne Foxe, the Argentine Firecracker," showed up in Cambridge the day before The Game. Between acts of her very popular engagement at Boston's Pilgrim Burlesque Theatre, Ms. Foxe arrived at Lowell House's junior common room to the tune of Down by the Old Mill Stream and accepted the Harvard Republican Club's award as Political Newcomer of the Year.

In a way, the Argentine Firecracker personified Yale fears that Harvard might again detonate in a manner reminiscent of 1968, when Yale had also been going for a perfect season. With less than one minute left in that renewal of The Game, the Elis led 29-13. But Harvard indeed exploded and the final score was 29-29, a tie that Yale deemed a humiliating defeat.

Last week, Yale Coach Carmen Cozza was concerned that his 1974 players would also be remembered for just one thing, The Game, especially if they lost. The players themselves felt slighted that Yale was not rated in the top 20 nationally or even included among the top three in the East and in the running for the Lambert Trophy. After all, Yale's defense was the best in the country, holding opponents, Ivy or otherwise, to a measly 5.8 points a game. A win, a big win, over Harvard like last year's 35-0, would cap a perfect season, win the Ivy championship and possibly force national recognition of some kind. As if to prove his determination to end his running career with a thumping of Harvard, Eli captain Rudy Green persistently butted his head against a telephone pole in Thursday-afternoon practice. And to bolster the will to win, Yale held its first pep rally in years on Thursday night before the team embarked for Cambridge. Guard Ken Burkus summed it up: "I'm tired of being compared to the 1968 team. I want them to compare future teams here to this team."

Meanwhile, up in Cambridge, Harvard was down after having lost its first Ivy contest of the season, to Brown, a week earlier. A win in The Game would make Harvard co-champion of the league, but spirits did not perk up until Wednesday. Then 6'6" Split End Pat McInally, the best receiver in Harvard history, a hopeful Rhodes scholar and a possible NFL first-round draft choice, said, "The coaches gave us a great lift when word came out that we had a new defense." The defense devised by Coach Joe Restic and Assistants Larry Glueck and Carl Schuette was to stop Yale's running attack by using four tackles and two ends for strength and weight in the line. Restic said, "If we were going to give Yale anything, it was the pass. We had to take our chances on that. But we had to stop the run."

By Friday, Harvard was flying in practice. There were shouts and screams and, once, even laughter, followed by a brave voice that piped, "A little levity never hurt anyone."

Before Saturday's standing-room crowd of 40,500 plus, that loose spirit almost unraveled the Crimson as it lost three fumbles to Yale in the first quarter. Still, Yale could get only seven points out of the turnovers. Harvard's unexpected defense was tough; also, the footing was slippery, making it difficult for Yale runners to cut to the outside. Eli Quarterback Tom Doyle turned to the pass, chiefly to Split End Gary Fencik, who played a fine game, catching 11 of Doyle's 16 completions. In two plays, Doyle passes to Fencik moved the ball from the Yale 34 to the Harvard five, and from there telephone-pole abuser Green scored his second touchdown, making the score 13-0.

Then Milt Holt, Harvard's Hawaiian quarterback, began to call the wide-open passing game favored by Restic from his coaching days in Canada's pro league. Yale was forced to split its coverage between McInally and Tight End Peter Curtin. Alternating between the two, Holt worked Harvard downfield to first-and-goal on the Yale three. He passed again to McInally in a crowd of Yalies for Harvard's first touchdown.

With less than two minutes remaining in the half, Holt began throwing from his 24. The big gainer came on Harvard's version of the old flea flicker. With Harvard on the Yale 48, Holt lateraled back to McInally at the Crimson 45, and the big end, a quarterback in high school, threw a bomb to Split End Jim Curry, who was brought down on the Yale two. There were nine seconds left in the half and the crowd was standing when Holt passed to Curtin for another touchdown. The point after was good, and Harvard led 14-13.

"The halftime was unbelievable," McInally said later. "It was even more powerful than after the game."

Thanks to the stacked Harvard line and some fine punting from the versatile McInally, the score held at 14-13 until early in the fourth quarter. Stalled, Yale took a 16-14 lead on a 38-yard field goal by Randy Carter that just made it over the crossbar.

With 5:07 remaining in the game, Harvard took over on its 10. What proved to be the winning drive for the Crimson began inauspiciously, as a penalty sent Harvard back to their five-yard line. But then Holt began completing passes to McInally and Halfback Steve Dart, and with only 19 seconds left the ball was on the Yale one. Holt took the snap from center and ran to his left looking for a receiver. No one was open. But neither were there any Yalies between him and the goal. After Holt crossed into the end zone, Harvard players and fans mobbed him. The kick was good, and the score was 21-16. Though Harvard was penalized back to the 25 because of extra players on the field, McInally was so elated he boomed the kickoff 70 yards. Yale was dead. It was worse than 1968.

Cozza arrived first at the press conference arranged in Dillon Field House. He sat in a chair, looked at the ceiling, blew out his breath and fidgeted in silence awaiting Restic. In the back of the room Mike Buxbaum, a sports editor for the Yale Daily News, stood with moist eyes. "It's like writing about my mother's funeral," he said. "I feel wasted. I'm going to ask my other two editors if they can do the page tomorrow." Then Buxbaum looked up, caught himself and said, "As much as I hate to say it, this is what makes the Ivy League the best to watch."