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Friday, August 28, 2009

Movie Review: Harvard Beats Yale, 29-29

I was up very early this morning and watched this movie, which is a documentary on the 1968 game between Harvard and Yale. Both were undefeated going into what's known as "The Game", and they hadn't done that since 1909. Yale was ranked 16th in the country and heavily favored. And, for 56+ minutes, despite four fumbles that they lost (two by fullback Bob Levin, and one apiece by running back Calvin Hill and linebacker/punt returner Mike Bouscaren), the Yalies showed why -- they were up 29-13. And then what happened is the stuff that makes the game as famous as it remains to this day.

The documentary is excellent, whether you're an Ivy League football fan or not, for several reasons. First, Ivy football then was much more serious stuff than it is now. No offense to those who currently play in the Ivies or who did after 1968, but the leagues weren't that far removed from their glory days of before the league started and many players turned down big-time schools to play in the Ivies. Second, and more importantly, is the craft of Kevin Rafferty, the filmmaker, who wrote a book on the same subject. He weaves into the documentary interviews with many players and footage from the game, with, which its calm play-by-play added drama to the documentary (of course, the events played a large part of it). The result is gripping, revealing and terrific.

Many interviewees were compelling. J.P. Goldsmith, the Yale safety, was one of the stars of the film, for his honesty and his good humor. Yale linebacker Mike Bouscaren comes off for much of the film as a rather ruthless, win-at-all-costs, humorless player (he's also a Yale legacy), but in the end what he learned from the experience was very telling. Brian Dowling, the Yale quarterback who hadn't lost a game since 7th grade, comes off introspective and yet as elusive as he was on the gridiron. Frank Champi, the back-up quarterback for Harvard who engineered the miraculous last few minutes, sounds like a reluctant hero, which he was. Harvard lineman Fritz Reed and fullback Gus Crim appear as amusing old battlers who liked a scrape and kept on coming back. Yale's Gallagher brothers, both defensive players, appeared as though they were standing on the sidelines and wanting to get back into the game, perhaps to dive a little longer and harder to nip Champi at the heels and bring him down. While Yale coach Carmen Cozza and running back Calvin Hill didn't appear, the film didn't suffer that much from their absence. There were many others who added to the rich fabric of this documentary, and I'm not doing them justice by not mentioning them, it's just that there are too many to remember.

Which is why, of course, you'll have to watch the movie. One person who wasn't all that impressive was Harvard's Tommy Lee Jones, who comes off very serious and more like an arrogant star than someone who was an Ivy League football player worried about tackling his opponents or fretting about a missed or mistaken call. Bob Levin, the Yale fullback (who dated Meryl Streep) was very thoughtful, and the story of Pat Conway, who spent three years as a Marine in Vietnam before returning to Harvard, is perhaps the most interesting.

This is a story well told. It would be worth your time renting it or, to contribute to the documentary film effort everywhere, purchasing it. You won't regret it.

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