Since It’s Football Season….

harvardbeatsyaleAn article in the latest issue of the Yale Alumni Magazine talks about the “infamous Harvard game of ’68” and about the new documentary film Harvard Beats Yale 29-29 by filmmaker Kevin Rafferty, director of The Atomic Cafe (and also, of course, a Harvard alum, class of 1970).

The article, by Charles McGrath, Yale ’68 and later editor of both the New York Times Book Review and The New Yorker, recounts how Yale’s football team that year came into the Game (capital G when it’s against Harvard) “nationally ranked and riding a 16-game winning streak” and had a commanding lead for much of the contest. With only 42 seconds left, in fact, Yale was leading Harvard 29-13, but then in those last 42 seconds….

McGrath’s article revisits that Game and its heart-breaking ending — to half the crowd at least — and offers a revealing look at the film, which features vintage footage as well as recent interviews with the players, including Tommy Lee Jones, who helped lead Harvard to that last-minute comeback. McGrath also offers a quick portrait of the filmmaker behind the movie. Though Rafferty was a Harvard student himself, both his father and his grandfather had played for Yale, and the article quotes him looking back on his own memories of that day:

“My father watched from the other side… and afterward I said to him, ‘Dad, how did you like the game?’ This was a guy who had been at Guam and Iwo Jima. He looked me in the eye and said, ‘Worst day of my life.'”

While I haven’t seen the film yet, I’m looking forward to catching it when and if it comes close to D.C. Having been born in 1968 myself, I’ll admit to having gotten caught up in all of the recent media attention on that pivotal year — from Time magazine’s commemorative issue these 40 years later to the various books on ’68 to Brett Morgan’s great documentary/animated feature film Chicago 10, which uses the Democratic convention in Chicago to open up a view of an entire era. As McGrath points out in his evocative and illuminating article, Harvard Beats Yale 29-29 also explores some of the pivotal events of that year beyond the confines of a single football game and offers gestures toward the unifying power of sports in tough times:

Several of the players also talk [in the film] about what it was like to be a young person back in 1968, when there was so much going on besides football: the first stirrings of the feminist movement and sexual revolution, the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, the war in Vietnam, which hung threateningly over all of us, dividing faculty and students, friends and classmates and even teammates. Pat Conway, who played defense for Harvard, was a newly returned Vietnam vet on a squad where many of the players were outspoken opponents of the war. Football brought them together, he says, and Del Marting ’69, the great Yale end, recalls that it did the same thing for the Yale community as a whole. “The team’s success had a role in keeping the campus focused on something else,” he says. “Everyone went out to the Bowl on Saturday.” 

For those people who do still pay any attention to Ivy League football, this year’s Yale-Harvard Game takes place Saturday, November 22, and D.C. Yalies have been encouraged to meet at McFadden’s Saloon, 2400 Pennsylvania Ave. NW for a watch party. 

In other film news: I’m headed out tonight (Thursday, November 13) to see Godfrey Cheshire’s recent documentary, Moving Midway, at the Avalon Theatre in D.C., and encourage others to come out as well. Cheshire himself will be on hand to talk about the film — which documents the moving of his family’s plantation home and his discovery, in the process, of an African American branch of his family — and he’ll be joined by Robert Hinton, one of the film’s associate producers and professor of Africana Studies at New York University. I’ll report on that tomorrow.

— Art Taylor

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