Had some cycles today and teed up a favorite movie/documentary on this snowy day and I want to share it with you.
Coming straight to the point and not to oversell this: Harvard Beats Yale 29-29 is the best sports movie/documentary I’ve ever seen.
“Rafferty’s no-frills annotated replay is the best football movie I’ve ever seen: A particular day in history becomes a moment out of time.” — Village Voice.
Where to begin?
Harvard-Yale is of course a fantastic rivalry in everything. The football game, ‘The Game,’ is the pinnacle. But since they’re never in the elite echelon, not much notice is paid nationally. However in 1968, both teams were undefeated. Yale, with Calvin Hill, was ranked 16th in the country and the clear favorite. The better team. Had never been behind in a game all year.
Harvard recovers fumble on their own 14, down 16, with 3:34 to go. Inexplicable time-outs, bizarre penalties, haughty Yalies, unexpected stars emerge; heroic plays ensue. Harvard scores 16 points in the final 42 seconds for the tie.*
This documentary consists of players’ reminiscences cut with actual game footage. It is elegant in its simplicity. The story of the game in itself is magnificent. The narration by the participants is sublime.
The game is one thing. The old players, though, are what makes this film remarkable.
I was struck by the diversity of personalities. You’ve got quirky, you’ve got the ‘good shits,’ You’ve got saintly (not meant in disparaging/sarcastic way.. one guy’s goodness of soul jumped through the screen to me). And you’ve got a stereotype Ivy elitist, straight from central casting.
Frank Champi, Harvard backup QB. “I love to throw the ball. I love throwing things. Baseballs, javelins, footballs. To this day I’ll go out in a field and throw the ball. I just love the aesthetics of throwing something and watching it fly.”
Pat Conway, Harvard cornerback. A couple years before 68, he quit Harvard, joined the Marines, was at Khe Sanh, came back to Harvard, and brings unique perspective.
JP Goldsmith, Yale safety. Just a thoughtful, intelligent, classy guy. You can’t get enough of him. “I got a lot more out of Yale football than it ever got out of me.” He’s the saint referenced above.
Mike Bouscaren, Yale linebacker. He’s the elitist stereotype. Wonderfully unaware. You’ll see.
- Calvin Hill was Yale’s halfback.
- Legend Carmen Cozza HOF (MiamiU! Woody!), 179–119–5, coached Yale (badly).
- Meryl Streep was Yale’s fullback’s girlfriend.
- George W. Bush roomed with one of the Yale players.
- Garry Trudeau based his BD character in Doonesbury on Yale’s quarterback, ‘The biggest folk hero in Cleveland high school football history,‘ (per Dan Coughlin in Pass the Nuts), Brian Dowling.
- And Tommy Lee Jones was an all-Ivy guard for Harvard and Al Gore’s roommate and one eccentric cat.
Glimpse into Ivy League culture.
Gatsby told us that the rich are different from you and me. And that’s somewhat true. But it doesn’t necessarily follow that there are a higher percentage of dicks in that demographic than in any other.
I got to learn this lesson in my 20s when I sold college residence hall furniture in New England. I met and worked with many universities. The people at Harvard from Deans of Students to physical plant employees were, top to bottom, the best and nicest and classiest… no airs whatsoever.** The same held for the students I met.
On the other hand, did you know waving hankies at the losing team’s football players was a rich-guy dick move?
It was interesting to me that the Harvard guys were more likely to come from a public school background; Yale with more Elihu Club progeny. This is my gut take in real life. Harvard is surprisingly somewhat accessible. Yale? Well if you have to ask…
Grainy 60s football footage.
I’m just a fan. Don Gillis is a rock solid pro doing the play-by-play. You’ll enjoy that there’s are no tedious replay reviews. It just goes to show that for all the advances in TV production and for all the proctology performed in today’s football, the game is the thing.
Personally, I’m big on less is more.
Just trust me on this one. The film is compelling on many levels. If you’re looking for an alternative to the Oscars tonight, this is your play.
Harvard Beats Yale 29-29 <– itunes link.
Here’s SI’s story.
* ESPN rated this game 9th greatest tie ever. Another reason why we hate ESPN.
** In fairness, when one institution has a 32 billion dollar endowment and is furnishing a dorm that was built in 1718, it does create a different dynamic than a state school working from a public bid process.