Rich Diana is so accustomed to being overlooked that it no longer bothers him much. "At the beginning of every school year I used to wonder why the teachers always called the roll last names first until they got to me," he says. " 'Adams, Mary; Brown, John; Diana Rich. Where's Diana? Is Diana Rich here? Where are you, Diana?' "
Where is Diana? His professors at Yale know, if no one else does. He's a cracker-jack senior biophysics and molecular biochemistry major, headed, he expects, for medical school. Diana also plays for Yale's football team. That's believable enough, because he stands 5'11" and weighs 215 pounds with an eight-lane neck and the torso of a floor safe—the perfect body for a pulling guard. The surprise is that Diana is a tailback, and not just any tailback. He's a genuine record-breaker who ranks in Eli history right there with Albie Booth, Clint Frank, Calvin Hill, Dick Jauron, John Pagliaro and Frank Merriwell.
Raised in the shadow of the Yale Bowl in nearby Hamden, Diana, the son of a TV repairman of Italian descent, rushed for 1,074 yards on 229 carries last year, the second-highest single-season total in Yale history. He also finished second in the country to Marcus Allen of USC in all-purpose running—rushing, receiving and kick-returning yardage—with 174.9 yards a game to Allen's 179.4. And he fumbled only twice. Says Yale Coach Carm Cozza, "Rich has power and decent speed, but he's got a great, great niftiness. He'll make you miss him. He bends tacklers back pretty good, too. And smart. Is he smart!"
In Yale's season-opening 28-7 victory over Brown, Diana had already run for 190 yards and three touchdowns when Cozza removed him in the fourth quarter. Only then did Eli Sports Information Director Mark Curran learn that recent research had uncovered an error in the Yale record book. What had been considered to be the school's single-game rushing record—a 223-yard performance by Booth against Army in 1929—had included a 79-yard punt return. The actual record belonged to Jauron, who gained 194 yards against Connecticut in 1972. Nevertheless, Cozza was reluctant to reinsert Diana. "I remember doing that for Brian Dowling in 1968," he said, "and he came out needing nine stitches in his face." But Cozza asked Diana if he wanted to go for the mark. Diana said sure. After a two-yard loss, gains of five and three yards gave him 196 and the record.
"I think I did the right thing for a couple of reasons," says Diana. "First, if I hadn't gone back in, my brother, Vinny, would have killed me. Second, agents have been calling me, asking how I could have gained 1,000 yards last year, finished second in the nation in all-purpose running and still be unknown? I'd say, 'Well, Yale doesn't send out little pamphlets about players the way other schools do.' Then I thought, 'Wait. What if I have the talent to be drafted, but I'm not because I haven't had the publicity?' So, breaking that record did get me some publicity."
Last week he rushed for 140 yards on 26 carries in a 27-18 defeat of Connecticut and got a little bit more ink. He scored on a one-yard plunge on Yale's first possession after carrying six times and catching a pass. In the fourth quarter Diana led the Elis to the decisive touchdown. He threw a 22-yard option pass to Tight End Tom Kokoska, and on the next play swept around left end for 28 yards. He then scored from the six, hitting a crack in the left side of the line and spinning like a tornado until he was in the end zone.
Diana is as quiet and modest as he is determined and confident. "Yale is an unusual place for an athlete," he says. "A lot of people here don't even know who I am. And some of those who do have a certain fear of me. I don't know why; I'm a very peaceful person. When I was moving into my room this year, a guy and his girl friend were walking behind me up the stairs. I heard her say to him, 'Oh no. Does he live on your floor, too?' He turns to her and says, 'Shh. He might hear you,' as if I'm some type of a beast or something. I would like to make it known that I'm not a jock. I may not be a Renaissance man, but I'm more than just an athlete."
The Ivy League is one of the few organizations left that treats collegiate athletics the way they were originally intended to be treated, and it's a delight to encounter a legitimate scholar-athlete like Diana. According to the Yale press guide, the football team has 83 former members of high school honor societies, 10 valedictorians, three salutatorians and 16 class presidents. Diana was ranked third in his class of 800 at Hamden High, and at least he's a hero in his hometown. With the exception of another Eli, Whitney, Diana is perhaps Hamden's most prominent native son.
Diana, who has a 3.5 GPA in his grueling discipline, wants to become a surgeon, and he's waiting to hear from such medical schools as Harvard, Yale and NYU after scoring in the 70th percentile on the medical boards, 'if I played somewhere else on scholarship, I probably wouldn't be able to devote as much time to studying," he says. "Here, academics are stressed, but so is sports. You can do both seriously."
That means undertaking a punishing schedule—16 hours of class each week and football practice every day from 3:45 until six. "Whether I go to medical school right away or wait depends on how football and baseball go," he says. Oh yes, Diana also plays centerfield for the Elis. Last year he hit .341 with eight homers and a school-record 43 RBIs.
But football is his first love. "You have to become a warrior when you're on the field," he says. It is hard to think of Diana, who has all the meanness and rough edges of a puppy dog, as a warrior. "That may be why I enjoy the game so much," he says. "I expend all my warlike tendencies in football so they don't show in real life." Last week he showed a visitor a film of the little dance he did after a 35-yard touchdown run in the Brown game. He wanted to prove he was capable of displaying emotion on the field. The dance was emotive, but Diana noticed something else in the film. A few yards from the goal line a Brown tackier desperately dived for Diana's ankles. You could see Diana make a tiny jump that was perfectly timed to elude his pursuer's grasp. "You know, I remember seeing that guy," Diana says, running the film back and forth several times. The man was clearly behind him. "I saw him, though," he says. "I don't know how, but I saw him."
Diana studies running backs like Earl Campbell and Walter Payton almost as assiduously as he studies physical chemistry, so maybe it's-not so hard to understand his success at carrying the football, even with his lineman's body. "There's so much you can learn just by watching," he says. "I have a knack for observing and absorbing and then applying things I see to my style.
"When I carry the football, there's such an exhilaration going through my body. I've hit home runs and made great catches, but there's nothing in life that can compare with carrying the ball. I love playing football so much that it hurts me to think that in eight more weeks I might not play anymore."