Pags packs his bags

In his farewell performance for Yale, Tailback John Pagliaro was more than a match for Harvard's multiflex, leading the Elis to the Ivy League championship
November 21, 1977

On the morning of the Harvard-Yale game a handsome couple and their two children, decked out in full Harvard regalia, boarded a train for New Haven in New York's Grand Central Station. The little girl, who was about nine, screwed up her face and asked her father, "Daddy, what are Harvard and Yale, anyway?" Without a moment's hesitation, the man replied, "Harvard and Yale, honey, are two football teams."

Well, we all know what Harvard and Yale really are. True, they do have football teams, but, seriously now, Bunkie, let us keep things in perspective. This is the Ivy League.

Yet last week—Nobel Prizes, Cabinet posts and endowments aside for the moment—interest in what Harvards and Yalies call The Game was more intense than it has been in years, "a manifestation of the general gradual throwback to the '50s," one Yalie said. Yale, 5-1, had already clinched a share of the Ivy title with a 44-8 drubbing of Princeton the previous week, and a win would give the Elis their first undisputed championship since 1967, after having shared it four times in the past nine years. Harvard, at 4-2, was still in contention, along with Brown and Dartmouth.

Anti-Harvard banners hung all over the Yale campus, most running toward the obscene. On Friday night students packed Toad's Place on York Street to dance to a band called Elephant's Memory, while next door at hallowed Mory's Old Blues sang Whiffenpoof Song, downed beer from flagons and recalled how clever Walter Camp was to invent the line of scrimmage back in '80.

Like the disparate groups of fans, this game would be one of contrasts. Harvard featured its exotic "multiflex offense"—a collection of plays and formations that would do any touch football outfit proud. "It really is simple," Coach Joe Restic said. "Multiple and flexible." Oh. Yale had a grind-it-out power offense, as befits a team coached by Carmen Cozza, a graduate (along with Ara Parseghian, Bo Schembechler, et al.) of the Miami (Ohio) "Cradle of Coaches." Harvard would rely heavily on the passing of junior Quarterback Larry Brown, who the previous week had set single-game school records for passing yardage (349) and total offense (375) in a 34-15 win over Penn. Yale had an all-Italian running backfield of lefty Quarterback Bob Rizzo, a student of molecular biophysics and biochemistry—a discipline only slightly less complicated than the multiflex—ramrodding Fullback Rick Angelone and the remarkable senior tailback, John Pagliaro.

As quietly as he goes about campus and downplays his personal achievements, Pagliaro went into the Harvard game as the nation's leading scorer (9.7 points per game) and seventh-best rusher (123.4 yards per game). He was also Yale's alltime scoring leader with 33 touchdowns and No. 2 career rusher. And, having gained 1,023 as a junior and 987 so far this season, he stood an excellent chance of becoming the only Yale runner to have back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons.

It would be enough to qualify Pagliaro for storybook status to point out that he grew up just 12 miles down the road in Derby, Conn. (literally "down the road," the Yale Bowl abutting Derby Avenue), a largely Italian-Irish industrial town of 12,000. The 5'10", 190-pound Pagliaro was courted by some 75 schools, but with a lifelong dream of scoring touchdowns for Yale like his boyhood heroes Chuck Mercein, Calvin Hill and Dick Jauron, not for a moment did he entertain notions of going anywhere else. "He is a combination of Albie Booth and Clint Frank, a scooter and a bouncer," says teammate Kevin Kelly, an offensive end and noted student of Yale football lore. Even Old Blues concur that "Pags" is the stuff of legend.

Handsome and soft-spoken as Pagliaro is, if they ever make the movie Pagliaro of Yale, somewhere in the film will be this line, authored by Yale's Sports Information Director Peter Easton: "To the folks in Derby, John was a hero. He was going to go to Yale and become an even bigger hero and, by God, he has."

To accommodate the folks in Derby—Defensive Tackle Bob Skoronski and punter/punt returner Mike Sullivan also have ties to the town—Yale opened up a ticket outlet at the Housatonic Lumber Co. there. Pagliaro and his father, a postal worker, shelled out more than $600 so relatives and friends and the quarter-beer drinkers at "Uncle Anthony's" Stork's Tavern could see The Game.

On a bright, crisp and windless Saturday, 64,685 fans were in the Bowl for the 94th renewal. Yale mounted the first drive, a workmanlike 60-yard attack, with ballcarrying duties spread around to keep the Harvard defense from keying on Pagliaro. When the Elis stalled, Dave Schwartz, a starting forward on the soccer team, booted a 22-yard field goal.

Then Harvard's multiflex began to whir from its own 38. Sometimes backs would line up as ends, sometimes 10 men would be on the line. The Crimson ran from single, double and triple wings. They used cross bucks, traps and options. There were so many men in motion they appeared to be square dancing. On the first play of the second quarter Brown passed 14 yards to Tight End Paul Sablock for a touchdown and Gary Bosnic's conversion made it 7-3 Harvard.

Yale came back with another power drive, this time answering the day's biggest question: Can Harvard stop Pagliaro? The Elis went 54 yards on nine running plays, five of them by Pagliaro, including a 13-yarder on a quick burst up the middle and a lightning cut to the right sideline. Angelone scored the touchdown from the five, through a hole made possible by a perfect fake to Pagliaro, and Yale led 10-7.

Meanwhile, the Yale defense came to grips with the multiflex, shifting move for move with the Crimson. Restic even tried putting his quarterback in motion, with the snap going directly to the tailback, who happened to be Brian Buckley, a second-string quarterback. One time Buckley threw a pass intended for Brown—quarterback to quarterback. No matter. Turnovers would stop Harvard's last two threatening drives.

This was Derby Day at the Bowl. Pagliaro had already surpassed 100 yards for the fifth straight game by the fourth quarter, but with the score still 10-7, Rizzo was sacked on his own 35 on third down. Sullivan went back to punt and got a bad snap and a fierce rush. He lit out for the sideline and streaked by the first-down marker and the Harvard defense 65 yards for a touchdown. The Derby crowd had more than it bargained for, and Pagliaro was yet to make a curtain call.

The final Yale drive was all his: Pagliaro of Yale, last reel. He carried on nine of the 13 plays, plunging, spinning, slashing, twisting—five and six yards at a clip—and finally leaping, not diving, over the Harvard line from the two, ball held aloft, for the final touchdown of the game and his career. Yale 24-7.

He was so overjoyed he threw the ball up in the air and into the stands, costing Yale a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. Unsportsmanlike conduct? Unnecessary exuberance is more like it. Pagliaro had gained 172 yards on 30 carries, thereby finishing the season with 1,159 yards, another Yale record, but still 471 yards shy of Jauron's career record.

In the jubilant locker room, Pagliaro, as usual, refused to put personal triumphs ahead of the team's, ahead of Yale's. "Heroes reside in people's minds," he said between sips of champagne, puffs of a cigar, embraces with teammates and choruses of "Bull dog! Bull dog! Bow, wow, wow."

"This is why I've always loved the Ivies," he said, puffing and drinking. "We don't need national championships. Just joy...and cigars and champagne."

PHOTOPagliaro's 172 yards rushing against Harvard put him over 1,000 for the second consecutive season.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)