Saturday, December 5, 2009

A Brief Review


The Story of the Most Famous Football Game Ever Played in the Ivy Told by the Players
By Kevin Rafferty
175 pp. The Overlook Press $35

The Iron Duke’s apocryphal words—”The battle of Waterloo was won on the playing-fields of Eton”—apparently could be turned upside down and stretched to cover what happened at Harvard Stadium, November 23rd, 1968.

The story is this: Yale is an undefeated football powerhouse. Harvard is having a decent year, but odds are they fall. And so it seems, score 29-13 in favor of Yale with 42 seconds left, whereupon Harvard back-up quarterback Frank Champi engineers a two-touchdown recovery to tie the unbeaten Yalies.

Many post-Viet Nam movers-and-shakers were connected to those elite Ivy League schools that day, including a future president and a vice-president (George W. Bush and Albert Gore), a chunk of the legal and financial establishment-to-be, the cartoonist who would go on to create Doonesbury, and even an Oscar-winner (Tommie Lee Jones was an All-League lineman for Harvard) and an Oscar-winner-by-proxy (Meryl Streep was dating Yale fullback Bob Levin).

All that’s not really relevant to Rafferty’s story, except for the inclusion of Trudeau’s cartoons satirizing the god-like status of Yale star Brian Dowling. Truth told, this isn’t a book so much as a nicely bound story-board for Rafferty’s documentary film that preceded the literary effort. Rafferty was a Harvard student in 1968, much to the dismay of his Yale alum father, and “ ... in 2006, I was casting about for the idea of a new film ... suddenly, there it was ... an idea.”

The book is interesting in the way that personalities shine through, but I suspect it would best serve as a companion to the film.

For example, Tommie Lee Jones comes across as blasé and taciturn, qualities that might be less enigmatic on film. And a Yale linebacker—”My intent was to inflict so much damage on him that he wouldn’t be able to play the game anymore.”—might not seem so thuggish if we were to hear his voice and watch his mannerisms. But again, he’s now “involved in the investment world,” and, well ...

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