Rich Ackerman has been in the media business for two decades, but he'll experience a first tomorrow when he does play-by-play for the Harvard-Yale football game on Versus.
The broadcast of the 125th meeting between the Ivy League teams, which airs at noon from Harvard Stadium, will feature footage of the most memorable moments in the rivalry, including a segment commemorating the 40th anniversary of the 29-29 tie. Versus will show interviews of seniors on both squads describing what the game means to them and its relevance to the league title this season.
Four schools still have a shot at the Ivy crown. Harvard and Brown are tied at 5-1, with Brown hosting Columbia at 1 p.m. If both teams win, they will share the title. Yale and Cornell are tied for second at 4-2, and it's possible the season could end with a four-way tie for first.
"You just feel the tradition, you feel how much it means to the people involved with it and it's really something special to be a part of," said Ackerman, who will be joined by color analyst Dale Hellestrae and sideline reporter Bob Harwood. "This is probably one of the bigger events I'll ever do and I'm very happy to be a part of it. You definitely feel very fortunate.
"It's the 25th time that this game has had a bearing on the Ivy League title. To have 25 situations where it has a bearing on the title, that's really fortunate. That goes to show you how special the two schools are. It really is amazing how often it has come down to this game."
Even with the ongoing success of the local professional franchises in this area, Ackerman believes there is still plenty of appreciation left for the tradition of Harvard-Yale.
"I certainly think it gets its due from the people involved, the alumni and the people from the respective institutions," said Ackerman. "In general, it might, on a national level, not get the respect that it deserves. Once you are around the two schools, you're around the coaches and around the athletes, you really say, 'These people involved all deserve more credit for what they go through.' They do it with class, they're successful."
For most, if not all, of the seniors, their football careers will be over after the game. Ackerman said that, too, is part of what makes the game so special.
"[Harvard coach] Tim Murphy said it best," said Ackerman. "He said, 'None of these kids need football. They could walk away at any time and, yet, they're the first ones there to open up the weight room. They're there at 5:30 a.m. in the offseason, in the middle of February, they're walking across the Charles River in subzero temperatures to get to the weight room and they're out there because they love it.' "
Ackerman said the Harvard-Yale contest represents everything positive about college sports.
"There are so many great stories about the players on these two teams," said Ackerman. "I wish it would get more exposure. Obviously, we're a national television audience but I wish it would be more to the forefront. We bemoan the fact that college athletics and professional athletics are about big money. These kids are basically what it's all about, going to school and getting a marvelous education and playing at a high level. It really is the definition of student-athlete. Ninety-nine percent of them, eventually it's going to be their last game. Hopefully, we see a future president come out of this game, you never know."