THE TIMES may have been a-changin', but for the Harvard and Yale football teams, what mattered on Nov. 23, 1968, was not Vietnam or politics or the sexual revolution. It was The Game, which that year was preceded by even more hype than usual. Not since 1909 had both the Crimson and the Bulldogs entered their annual matchup undefeated. Yale, led by captain and quarterback Brian Dowling (nickname: God) and running back Calvin Hill (a future Pro Bowler), was favored to win.
At halftime, with Harvard down 22--6, the Bulldogs were cocky, even celebratory. With a minute left in the fourth quarter and Yale still ahead 29--13, it seemed like a matter of running down the clock. But then, as former Yale tackle Tom Peacock tells filmmaker Kevin Rafferty (Harvard, class of '70) in the new documentary Harvard Beats Yale 29--29, "you just got the feeling that the universe had shifted somehow." For Yale it was a slow-motion nightmare. For Harvard it was a miracle of almost Biblical proportions. (Given the title, taken from an inspired Harvard Crimson headline, it's probably not much of a spoiler to say that Harvard rallied to force a tie.)
Fifty players, actor Tommy Lee Jones (then a Harvard offensive lineman) among them, recount their memories of the game, in tones by turns reflective, bemused, incredulous and matter-of-fact. (The interviews, all conducted within the last few years, are intercut with footage of the game.) The strength of the film, which has opened in New York City, Boston and New Haven and will have a national rollout next year, lies in its storytelling rather than its visual elements. The players' stories make for an edge-of-the-seat narrative, and Harvard cornerback Rick Frisbie vividly " sums up the collective spirit: Nothing that happened before in his life was as sweet as the final minutes of that '68 game. And no, as Frisbie pointedly notes, he wasn't a virgin. Compared with that Game, he tells Rafferty, sex was nothing.