THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

'68 is still the one most remembered

CARM COZZA32 seasons at Yale CARM COZZA32 seasons at Yale
By John Powers
Globe Staff / November 20, 2008
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Even now, the game comes up among people who weren't born 40 years ago. "They say they won that, right?" says Bobby Abare, Yale's current captain. In Cambridge, they still believe that Harvard "beat" Yale, 29-29, in 1968. That's what the famous Crimson headline declared and that's the title of the documentary produced by Harvard man Kevin Rafferty that is showing this weekend at the Brattle Theatre.

And that's how the Bulldogs felt that day, after Harvard scored 16 points in the final minute to mar their perfect season. "To us it felt like a loss, after winning 16 in a row and the way we outplayed them," says former Yale coach Carm Cozza.

What's most remarkable about what's known as "The 29-29 Game" is that it's still the most remembered of the 124 meetings in the series. "I am asked about that game more than any other game," says Cozza, who coached at Yale for 32 seasons. "We beat the Air Force, we beat the Naval Academy, we won 10 Ivy championships. I don't hear about that. I hear about the 29-29 tie."

There have been better Harvard-Yale games since, most notably in 1974, 1975, 1978, 1999, and 2005, all tugs of war throughout, most of them decided in the final minute. What made 1968 unique was that both teams were unbeaten for the first time since 1909 and haven't been since. "It's amazing," says Brian Dowling, who was Yale's captain that day and will be at midfield in the Stadium for Saturday's coin toss with counterpart Vic Gatto. "It's been 100 years and it's happened one time."

The Bulldogs, who had half a dozen future NFL draft picks on the field, dominated both the league that autumn and the game that day. But in the final three minutes Yale touched the ball once, fumbling the onside kick after Harvard's touchdown with 42 seconds to play.

The rest of the time, the ball was in the hands of Crimson backup Frank Champi, who was scrambling, throwing, then scrambling again. "You know how athletes talk about being in the zone, about how time seems to slow down?" he says. "I was in the zone."

Once Champi threw to Gatto for the touchdown as time ran out, he was convinced Harvard would get the tie. "After that, there was a definite touch of inevitability," recalls Champi, who fired the conversion pass to Pete Varney. "I think everyone on the team felt the same way."

Their comeback was so rapid, so remarkable, that the Crimson players had to watch the film to confirm how they'd done it. "Every time you see it, you're still not sure you're going to get it," says Gatto, who spent most of the game on the sideline with a hamstring injury before coming in for the end.

The game would not have ended the same way today. The rules on fumbles and penalties that helped Harvard have changed and tie games are decided in overtime, as was the 2005 meeting in New Haven, where the Crimson prevailed, 30-24, in the third extra session.

What happened in 1968 cannot be replicated.

"There's an adage that I've adopted over the years that the better team always wins on the day, and that day we were even," says Dowling. "Everybody won."

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