It is testimony to their, shall we say, sangfroid that Ivy Leaguers are not the least defensive about the mutually exclusive brand of football they play. While pigskin Philistines may protest that the Ivies are merely bush, the cloistered scholar-athletes of the northeastern seaboard will suggest in rebuttal that it is not so much how you play the game as how it comes out. Or something like that.
There is, in fact, a perfectly reasonable argument that Ivy League football right now is the most consistently entertaining, amateur or professional, played anywhere in the country. Indeed, the matches in those Edwardian stadiums on those Colonial campuses are all that a fan could ask for—unpredictable, frequently high-scoring, nearly always close and rare manifestations of that tired adage that "on any given Saturday...."
The three teams currently tied for the league lead have muddled their aspirations by taking turns beating each other. First, Pennsylvania beat Dartmouth 22-16, then Dartmouth beat Harvard 24-18 and last weekend Harvard beat Penn 34-30, in one of the most thrilling games yet played this season. And since Yale, Brown and Cornell are only one game in arrears, the league championship is far, far from settled.
What then is more exciting than a close race run by fierce competitors, no matter how swift they may be? "Fierce," incidentally, is not an ill-advised adjective, nor does it any longer ring of satire as it once did in the old Tom Lehrer ditty, Fight Fiercely, Harvard!
November 12, 1973
Take an Ivy League boy out of the library or the laboratory and he will prove as testy an antagonist as any brute from the wheatfields. "We take the game as seriously as anyone," emphasized Harvard Captain Dave St. Pierre. "We practice just as hard when we're out there and we play just as hard. We don't come here to escape competition."
The difference may be that the Ivy Leaguer will actually enjoy the game more, and for the simple reason that he is playing it for fun, not necessarily to fulfill the provisions of an athletic scholarship or to serve an apprenticeship before being called up to the National Football League.
"The time we give to the game is our own," says Harvard Quarterback Jim Stoeckel, a potential Rhodes scholar who is nearly as brilliant on the field as in the classroom.
"I think there is more genuine dedication in the Ivy League because the boys are on the field by choice," says Penn Coach Harry Gamble, himself a doctor of education. "They don't have to play football for fear of losing a scholarship. They just want to play. I'm not saying that isn't true elsewhere, but whereas you might get 90% dedication out of a squad in a big-time football school, here you get 100%."
There was enough dedication and, yes, ferocity Saturday at Franklin Field, where Harvard defeated Penn, to impel a cavalry charge at Balaklava. Granted, there were nine fumbles, two interceptions and one blocked punt; at least three of the scores came as a direct result of grievous turnovers; and in one sequence deep in Penn territory the two teams exchanged fumbles on successive plays before Harvard cut off the largesse by scoring. But consider also that Harvard and Penn, which had ranked one-three in the league on defense, gained 989 yards between them, setting seven team and league offensive records, and that the winning touchdown came with but a minute and 26 seconds remaining in the game on a sprawling, grappling goal-line catch of a Stoeckel pass by Harvard End Pat McInally that would not have embarrassed Paul Warfield.
The rival quarterbacks, Stoeckel and Penn's dauntless Marty Vaughn, enjoyed truly remarkable success, Stoeckel connecting on a Harvard record 27 of 48 passes for 291 yards and a touchdown and Vaughn hitting on 18 of 31 for 303 yards and a touchdown. McInally caught 10 of Stoeckel's passes for 117 yards, and Penn's Don Clune, a legitimate professional prospect, caught 10 for 163 yards. Stoeckel's tight end, Pete Curtin, whose brown hair flows to his shoulders, had seven catches, an extraordinarily productive day for a college man playing his position. And Penn's swift little halfback, Adolph (Beep Beep) Bellizeare, gained 138 yards on only 15 carries, including one electrifying, tackle-breaking touchdown run of 67 yards. Harvard's Neal Miller, a sophomore, had 130 yards and two touchdowns.
It was the sort of seesaw, now-we've-got-'em-now-we-don't contest that the Ivies dismiss as routine. It is doubtful that either of these teams could have crossed the 50-yard line against, say, Ohio State, but that is missing the point. The Ivy Leaguers are not in that league and they do not wish to be. They limit their schedule to only nine games, seven of which they play against each other; they eschew spring football and they do not demand of their players that they devote hours better spent absorbing Hegelian dialectic to reviewing game films or committing playbooks to rote. What they mainly offer is close, spirited competition, flavored occasionally by the performances of some athletes, like Clune, who are topflight. Ivy Leaguers can make it as pros—witness Calvin Hill, Yale '69, and Ed Marinaro, Cornell '72. It is only the Ivy philosophy that confines them.
"There are some very good athletes in this league," says Penn's Gamble, "but if they had to put in the practice time the big-time football schools require, they wouldn't survive academically. Our players are highly respected by the faculty on campus because they are carrying the full academic load and participating in football besides. That requires a good deal of character."
St. Pierre, who as Harvard's 100th football captain follows in some hallowed cleat marks—Henry R. Grant (1874), Hamilton Fish (1909), Charlie Brickley (1914), Eddie Mahan (1915)—pursues a demanding pre-medical course and yet plays not only football but baseball as well. And so does Stoeckel, an economics major. They would not have it otherwise.
"I'm not in sports to be able to walk around campus and be recognized," says St. Pierre, a good-looking, quietly intense 21-year-old. "I'm in it because I feel I have an innate talent that I want to match with somebody else's. It's fun for me and I also realize it's important in the formation of character, in the development of self-discipline."
Character? Self-discipline? What manner of college student is this?
Stoeckel's motivations are not quite so high-flown. "To be honest with you," he said before the Penn game, "the most important part of my life is sports. But it is only a part of my life. I've applied for a Rhodes scholarship, but if I were to receive a professional baseball offer [at 175 pounds, he considers himself too small for pro football], I'd take it. But that's only one option. The Rhodes is another. Graduate school in business is a third. And making money and traveling is still another. Harvard has given me this."
Harvard Coach Joe Restic, who came to Cambridge from the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, whom he coached to a division championship in the Canadian Football League three years ago, is a gaunt, tough-looking ex-pro player who seems to be the antithesis of an Ivy League mentor. But he has a master's degree in education, is an accomplished teacher and feels keenly his responsibilities to the young savants in his charge. And he is not in the least frustrated as a football technician. With the talented Stoeckel at the controls, his team runs out of some 16 different offensive sets, including the spreads favored by the pros and the veers and Wishbones now so fashionable among the major league collegians. Still, he never loses sight of the forest.
"I want football to be an experience for these boys, not a life. I know that here I am coaching youngsters who will someday be leaders. If I can help them along the way, I've done my job."
Restic is a most generous coach. He awarded 54 varsity letters last season, and in this year's 57-0 rout of Columbia he used 84 players, the last of whom was a 5'6", 112-pound halfback named Henry (The Flea) Sandow. The Flea is also a last-string crew coxswain.
To some, all of this may smack of the sort of holier-than-thou superciliousness they have come to expect from the Ivy League. And yet even in these amoral times it seems to work. Purity is not always tedious.
Last Saturday, Harvard took possession on its own 37 with Penn leading 28-27 and with slightly more than three minutes left in the game. Three plays lost three yards. Then on fourth down Stoeckel, scrambling desperately, passed complete to McInally for 15 yards and a life-saving first down. Two more completions and a Miller run carried the ball to the Penn 30.
Then with third down and three, a minute and a half remaining and no timeouts left, Stoeckel faded deep as McInally, a skinny, 6'6" 190-pounder, circled in the end zone. The ball reached him near the goal-line flag. He leaped, snatching first with one hand, then the other, and finally toppled into the end zone and out of bounds with the winning touchdown.
It was one of those classic moments in football, classic be it pro, college or high school.
McInally waved his arms exuberantly in the locker room afterwards. "Impossible things happen when you have faith," he said finally. "Harvard is the greatest place on earth. Period."
"This," said Restic, observing tumult around him, "is what it's all about."
This, as the Ivies insist, and no more.