Legendary Michigan State football coach Duffy Daugherty was once quoted as saying, “A tie is like kissing your sister.” If Duffy was talking about the 1968 Harvard-Yale game, then your sister just might be Marisa Miller or Bar Refaeli.
OK, maybe that’s a bit overboard, but the ‘68 clash between the Crimson & the Bulldogs was an exciting one - or so I’ve heard over the years. To the best of my knowledge, ESPN Classic hasn’t shown a replay of the game, so I could never judge for myself. Thanks to director Kevin Rafferty, now I can - and the game truly lived up to the now well-known if slightly absurd headline, “Harvard Beats Yale, 29-29″.
Rafferty’s documentary of the same name tells the story of this gridiron contest between heavily favored Yale (who was undefeated & ranked 16th in the country) and underdog Harvard (who was also undefeated but less-heralded). There are the token interviews with the pigskin participants from both sides of the line of scrimmage, including Harvard guard-turned-famous actor Tommy Lee Jones, and Yale quarterback Brian Dowling, who was the inspiration for the character B.D. in fellow Yale student Garry Trudeau’s “Doonesbury” comic strip.
However, there are no soft-focused shots of a university campus in autumn as leaves fall gently to the ground. There is no powerful John Facenda-like narration buoyed by a dramatic orchestral soundtrack. (In fact, the only music in the entire movie is someone playing “Dixie” on a touchtone phone - based on a story Tommy Lee tells about his college roommate Al Gore.) The 105-minute film is basically a re-broadcast of the televised game with player interviews interspersed throughout. And it’s this low-key, no-frills, straight-forward approach that makes the movie enjoyable to watch.
The players themselves set all the drama that’s needed by speaking plainly and directly about the events that unfolded during the time period and during the game itself. Harvard safety Pat Conway talks about coming back to campus after spending two years fighting in Vietnam, while Yale running back Bob Levin discusses his days of dating a young Meryl Streep.
Another fascinating facet of the film is how each side is presented. The Harvard kids (well, they’re not so much kids anymore) are presented more as working-class stiffs, while some of the Yalies come off as legacy-driven and maybe a tad bit aloof. Seems strange that an Ivy League school would come off as “working class”, but director Rafferty is a Harvard grad, and he could be trying to make his alma mater more likable in the eyes of his audience. Then again, a Yale grad probably wouldn’t be producing a movie about this game - unless it’s made as a conspiracy theory.
I don’t want to spoil anything else about the film, although the title pretty much gives away the ending. But whether you’re a college football fan, history buff, or Ivy League snob, it’s definitely worth checking out.