Unappreciated by those they seek to serve and with invective their sole reward, the pollsters arise one morning each week from rumpled beds to vote on the best college football team in the land. Haggard and drawn after sleepless nights spent trying to decide whether Iowa is better than LSU and if Auburn should outrank Army, they forge valiantly ahead to meet the deadline imposed by a vast and breathless audience. Sometimes the hand shakes but the ballot is unflinchingly firm. Theirs is a tough and demanding job.
This week, for example, there were some real puzzlers to mull over in trying to decide who was No. 1. Like what to do with this bunch of kids from Northwestern, who dealt mighty Ohio State that 21-0 jolt. Next year Northwestern may make everyone's job a lot easier, but right now, despite the first victory by a Big Ten opponent over Ohio State in two seasons, how can you overlook North-western's one-touchdown loss a week before to Iowa? And speaking of Iowa, sure the Hawkeyes are undefeated and heading for the Rose Bowl as fast as Randy Duncan can pitch 'em there, but don't forget that early-season tie with the Air Force. And whoever heard of the Air Force?
Perhaps the solution is to stick with LSU, which beat Mississippi 14-0 in the week's only game involving major undefeated teams, yet what about Auburn? Auburn has been tied this year but it still remains undefeated over the last two seasons. There is also Oklahoma, which ruined Colorado's undefeated hopes 23-7, and Army, which came boiling back from its lone blemish of the year, a tie with Pitt, to pound poor Colgate 68-6. And speaking of Pitt, what about Syracuse, which has lost only once, yet remained virtually unnoticed until its victories the last two weeks over favored Penn State and Pittsburgh? Yeah, what about Syracuse?
Yet into each life a few sunbeams must flow, and to a pollster the happiest moment of all is when his puzzling pencil strays across the Ivy League. With two firm strokes he disposes of eight teams and goes on. Thank God, the pollsters say, for the Ivies.
November 10, 1958
This is not to imply that football is not played in the Ivy League. After all, this is where the game was invented, and should anyone doubt the fact, all he has to do is go there and see for himself. Sometimes the blocking and tackling are not so crisp—sometimes, in fact, there is hardly any blocking and tackling at all—and the crowds are seldom immense and the bands have quite a bit of trouble staying in step, but there is one saving grace about Ivy League football. So long as the eight teams confine their activities to each other and stay away from Army and Navy and Rutgers and Buffalo and the better Texas and Ohio high schools, everything will be all right. When two Ivy League teams play each other, there is a good contest and, perhaps even more important, everyone is going to have fun. It is this which makes football as it exists in the Ivy League about as close to what the sport was originally intended to be as anyone is going to find these days. May it never get any better.
This year the best team in the Ivy League appears to be Cornell. Until last Saturday the second-best team, amazingly enough, seemed to be Harvard. But against Pennsylvania Harvard lost its gifted little quarterback, Charlie Ravenel, three plays before the end of the first half, and went down 19-6. Ravenel's injury was only a mild concussion—there are other schools where he would have been used when he was needed so badly in that second half—and he will almost certainly be back ready to play this weekend against Princeton. With Ravenel in the lineup, Harvard is still one of the Ivy League's best.
If Charlie Ravenel has done something for Harvard, however, Harvard has done even more for Charlie Ravenel. Here Dean Brelis, Harvard man, journalist, novelist, tells you all about it:
In a matter of weeks, the red brick and the ever-present ivy of Harvard's many walls seem to have taken on a curious, increasing vibrancy, a sudden giving way to the spirit of half-forgotten memories of days when Harvard held its own on the football field. This dramatic stimulus has been brought about by a combination of factors, among them a coach named John Yovicsin, a freshman football team considered by all who have seen it to be one of the greatest Harvard has ever had, and a varsity which won three straight before losing to Penn last week. Harvard football teams, in recent years, have not won three straight games very often.
When the team defeated heavily favored Dartmouth the week before the Penn game, Harvard football reached its highest point of achievement in years. In the uproar of victory, the players rushed across the muddy field to the bench and lifted Yovicsin to their shoulders. In the impassioned enthusiasm of that moment, they also picked up a couple of teammates, one the heavy captain of the team, Shag Shaunessy, and another, the lightest man on the team, Charles Ravenel.
In the stands, old grads took off their sodden hats. Whatever Harvard conservatism or indifference had been bred into them—or adopted as a suitably stiff pose with which to witness a Harvard debacle on the football field—was forgotten. Indifference gave way to gleeful tears. Respectable silence was abandoned for a bombardment of cheers—for Harvard, for Yovicsin, for the team, for the past, for the existence of a Harvard quarterback with the volcanic personality to wheel the Crimson toward the touchdowns every alumnus wants. On the sidelines, a former Harvard football captain said: "What Ravenel does is play so hard, with so much desire, everyone else on the team gives all he's got."
"Chance," says Ravenel, "gave me my name. I was lucky to be born with it. It's pure chance for me that it happened. But since it has I naturally take pride in it." He does not talk about the Ravenel name with aristocratic posture in his bearing nor in his voice, though South Carolina Ravenels are a distinguished and large clan in Charleston. The Ravenel line has produced many sons of the South and, in Charlie's case, the family story is long but the family coffers barren. This fact has loomed over Charles Ravenel. He is as much aware of the economic factors of life as he is of the name Ravenel on the Charleston war monument overlooking the famous battery.
Besides giving him his name, chance had him born a poor boy with the determination to boost himself. That determination brought Charles Ravenel to Harvard.
"I've always wanted the best," he says. He mentions boyhood days in Charleston when he delivered newspapers on a bike, and there was the look of the city in the early morning and he couldn't restrain his enthusiasm. He sang to himself. He says these things with pride and no self-conscious apologies. It was a rough time and apparently did him no harm. His father works at the naval base, and Charlie knew that if he were going to college he would have to manage it on his own. His father, one gathers, is the kind of man who has made no spectacular success in life except to know that he has two sons who love and respect him.
Charlie was a bright boy in high school, and in football he was a pint-sized, indefatigable quarterback.
TWO MORE YEARS IS TOO MUCH
Talking about Ravenel after the Dartmouth game, Coach Bob Black-man of Dartmouth said of him, "I've known about Ravenel for a long time. He's always played on a winning team. The boy is hungry for winning. I dread to think of facing him for two more years."
By the time Charlie had finished high school in Charleston the word had gotten around southern colleges, and a few in the North, that Ravenel was a young man with a future on the football field. But he was small.
No one knew this better than young Ravenel. An uncle had played football for Notre Dame, "and I thought Notre Dame was the best football team in the country. I wanted to go there. I would have gone, too, if I thought I could have played football. But a little guy like myself wouldn't have a chance. I might have made the team but not first string. And what good's that? I wouldn't play. And I want to play football."
Lights flashed in his eyes, lighting up as the words came, rapid, and you felt how much he cares for the game and what a meaning it must have for the inner Charles Ravenel.
So there and then he decided that it would be Harvard. He arrived at this decision with a practical approach and solution to his problem.
"Football lasts for four years, then it's over. So I couldn't play football for Notre Dame. I kept thinking about what I wanted after college. The truth is, I wanted to practice law. My decision was easy. I would get the best education in the country, and I knew that the best was at Harvard. I've always wanted the best."
Ravenel has no illusions or pretenses about his role in the world of the intellectual. More healthy extrovert than fulltime scholar, he is nevertheless truly bright and was well above average in high school, yet after graduating he could not qualify for Harvard. Determined to get over the admission hurdle, he obtained a scholarship (awarded on the basis of need and ability) to Exeter.
"Going to Exeter was one of the great experiences," he says. In a totally different atmosphere from that of Charleston he grew academically, and when he played football (Exeter went undefeated), he did so in a manner that had coaches from all the Ivy League colleges carefully watching him. Ravenel still had a goal. He refused to discuss offers, but one thing he made clear. Not one could turn his head from what he wanted: a Harvard education and a first-string job on the Harvard football team. The year at Exeter had its desired effect: it enabled him to enter Harvard.
Ravenel is on a scholarship. He gets no monetary help from home. The scholarship, based entirely on his maintaining good grades, pays for his tuition and books and amounts to about $1,300 a year. This is not enough for any Harvard student, so Ravenel earns money for his other expenses (about $1,000 annually) working as a waiter-dishwasher at the Harvard Varsity Club. He is also a student representative of The New York Times, handling subscriptions and seeing to the distribution of papers.
Charlie is not a social lion, though he is a member of the Hasty Pudding Club and has been punched by the A.D., one of the better final clubs.
Charlie has a girl in the South. Her name is Bev DuBose, and she is a student at St. Mary's Junior College in Raleigh, N.C. although her home is in Columbia, S.C. But it is a thousand miles from the Carolinas to Cambridge, so Charlie occasionally dates a girl up North, too. The northern girl is Margie Howard and she is a freshman at nearby Mount Ida College. During the Dartmouth game she wore a big red coat with an H on the back which had been loaned to her by Charlie. He does not fancy Radcliffe girls.
His roommates are both 6 feet 2 inches, both 19, and both varsity athletes. They know girls at Wellesley and Pine Manor and date them. One roommate is Bert Messenbaugh, a big blond from Oklahoma City. He is a second-string end on the varsity team and became friends with Charlie when they played together last year on the freshman team. Bert is a premedical school major who came to Harvard because his history teacher at Casady School in Oklahoma was a Harvard man who described Cambridge with faithful enthusiasm and affection. "I love it," Bert says. "I wanted a good education and I wanted to know people off the football field as well as on it. This is the place for it. The kind of football we play is terrific, and what you get out of the classes is something you can't get anywhere else."
These same sentiments are expressed by Jerry H. Jones, the other roommate. He comes from Lamesa, Texas where his father is a rancher. He is on the varsity crew, rowed last year on Harvard's undefeated freshmen eight. He rows number six. "When I'm through here," he says, "I expect to go back to Texas and ranch. But I wanted a liberal education and that's why I'm here. It's a great place."
Obviously, the Harvard which once was a school for the Eastern Seaboard has stretched its boundaries so that now the stream of applications coming in every year does so from all parts of the nation. It is a national school, and because standards for admission are higher than ever now, Harvard attracts young men like Charlie Ravenel and his roommates, who are fine athletes but not taciturn and brooding when challenged to use their minds. Their manners and their dress are as correct as anything you might expect to find in a Beacon Hill drawing room. They do not live in a rarefied intellectual corner of undergraduate uncertainty. Anything but. They are in the Ivy League because their standards of mental stimulus and interest are not lackluster. They know what they want and they are out to get it.
They will talk about The Great Gatsby and Measure for Measure. The books in their shelves pass through a range of cerebral activity ranging from The Red and the Black to Tom Jones, from A History of Greece to The Mind of the South. On a wall there is a large Dixie flag. The records run the full measure of jazz, heavy on Ella Fitzgerald and Prank Sinatra and folk singers like Pete Seeger and Burl Ives. They are not in lethargic shape mentally.
Charlie, as a freshman, achieved two Bs and two Cs, a respectable showing.
As a sophomore, he has a course called Social Relations 105, which is a comparison of American and Russian economic and social systems, other courses in medieval history and American colonial history (history is his major), and a fourth course called Fine Arts 13.
"I know this sounds like basket-weaving," he says. "Something a football player would take. But it isn't. I really know nothing about art, and this is an introduction for me. It's fascinating."
His greatest discovery was reading War and Peace for the first time in a humanities course that has a gigantic reading list, beginning with Homer, ending with Joyce.
"I just got the feel of it," Charlie says of War and Peace. "I'm not an intellectual, but I understood what it meant even though I wasn't familiar with the time and the place of it—but I got the feel of it."
What does he want to do when he gets out of Harvard?
"Go back home. I want to go to law school in the South, and then, after that, practice in Charleston."
What does he seek through his college years? "Common sense. I don't want to be a man who has so much knowledge he doesn't know what to think. I want to be a good practical lawyer. I don't want to be the kind of man who coasts along. I want to be out there in front using my head, not with a lot of pretense, but just saying my piece and having it make sense." He paused for a moment. "I want a good woman, and I want to be able to sit in the foothills of South Carolina, having a drink of iced tea on the porch, watching the sun set."
Charlie has a younger brother, Hal, 18, at Clemson. Hal doesn't play football. He did, but a high school injury ended any career he might have had. "We're exactly the same size," said Charlie, "5 feet 8½ inches, 149 pounds. We exchange clothes all the time. Between the two of us we manage to look as though we have a much larger wardrobe."
What does he think of Ivy League football? "The crowds are enthusiastic and they like to see us play as much as we like to play. The competition is on all the time. Ivy League football is good enough for me."
What role does football play in his present life? "Football is one of the two stabilizing things in my life. It's like a pill. Every afternoon when I go to practice, I stop worrying about all the things someone like myself, still growing up, worries about. It's like going into a monastery for a couple of hours. It's a real stabilizer."
What is the other stabilizer?
"Religion. My faith in God, that He's providential, that He looks over me."
He had talked without naming a denomination. Which is his?
Charlie eats at the football varsity training table each day except Sunday. Daily breakfast is taken in Eliot House, where he lives. By and large, because of its architectural beauty, it is the house most desired by undergraduates. The housemaster is Professor John Finley, noted classicist.
On a Saturday night, G Entry, the section of Eliot House where Ravenel lives, is aglow with the clamor and excitement of the time-honored post-game parties. From the windows of the rooms crowded with pretty girls and exuberant undergraduates one can look out at the Charles River. The lights are going on toward the stadium, shining through the gray dark.
The spirit of the entry, five floors of it, is congenial, doors open on all floors, students wandering from one party to another, climbing stairs, recognizing one another with standard nicknames. Though this situation can be a fairly exciting one—as it was in the first hours after the great Dartmouth victory, with the hero of the game living on the top floor of the entry—it would be impossible to describe the celebration as one directed toward Ravenel. Rather, he is a modest part of it. Here all the people in the entry become to some degree Harvard. Everyone is himself and would strenuously object to any visible demonstration in favor of one person. In this respect each takes on something of what is the Harvard attitude of restraint. No one is fighting fanatically to tear down doors or shake Ravenel's hand for his successful performance that day. Actually, some are looking over prints that someone else had bought in Harvard Square, while others are listening to records.
Looking around him on the Saturday evening after the Dartmouth game, Charlie said to Marge, "Isn't this party just right?"
Just then, up the long flights of stairs, came the housemaster. He was neither professorial nor shy. The undergraduates like him, and Professor Finley's appearance brought welcoming smiles. He greeted them by name. Then he shook hands with Ravenel and told him, "I enjoyed today's game enormously." With that he went away and Ravenel said, "Wasn't that a nice thing for him to do?"
NOBODY BELIEVES NORTHWESTERN
What's this? Northwestern 21, Ohio State 0? Three weeks ago, when the sophomores and juniors who make up the bulk of Coach Ara Parseghian's Northwestern Wildcats were swamping Michigan 55-24, incredulous reporters and sports announcers kept asking for a recheck to make sure there hadn't been some absurd error. "We feel there's been a mistake here," said a voice over the public address system at one game when the 43-0 halftime score was broadcast. All season long people everywhere have been thinking this wonderful, unpredictable Northwestern team was somehow or other just a fluke—everywhere, that is, except in Evanston, Ill., where they have been accepting their blessings with uncomplicated joy. Like their brethren at Harvard, the Northwesterners are simply delighted that the long football drought is at last ended. No one expressed it better than Coach Parseghian himself when he was handed the winning football last Saturday after the glorious Ohio State victory: "I wouldn't give this ball up for a million dollars. No sir, not for $20 million."
Spread pass which initiated the onslaught against Ohio State is shown on the right.
Left End Elbert Kimbrough (86) goes eight yards downfield, hooks back, pulling right defensive halfback with him. Right End Irv Cross (32) repeats the same pattern 15 yards deep on his side. Ron Burton (22), the flanked left halfback who can run 100 yards in 9.6 seconds, starts straight downfield, then cuts behind the defensive right halfback and outruns the safety man to take the pass from Quarterback Dick Thornton. The play was good for 67 yards and Northwestern's first touchdown.