The 50th anniversary of The 1968 Game is Nov. 23 (Harvard Athletics).
By John Powers ’70
The game could not have ended the same way today. Once Harvard scored the tying points with no time remaining there would have been overtime, as there was in 2005 when the Crimson came from 18 points in arrears to win 30-24 in the gloaming at the Bowl. The squads would have kept playing, by torchlight if necessary, until the stalemate was broken. Perhaps Harvard's momentary magic would have carried over. Or maybe Yale wizard Brian Dowling, the ball finally back in his hands, would have run or thrown for his fifth touchdown.
As the famous Crimson headline HARVARD BEATS YALE 29-29 declared, there was a victor and a vanquished on that afternoon 50 years ago when Harvard scored 16 points in the final minute to draw even in a deadlock for the ages at the Stadium. It felt like an undeniable triumph to the hosts, who were headed for a three-touchdown drubbing with four minutes to play. And the visitors certainly took it as a defeat. "We feel like we lost the game," coach Carm Cozza said as his stunned players dressed quietly inside Dillon Field House.
Yale had been the better team all season, outscoring opponents by three touchdowns a game while never trailing. Harvard's defenders, the 'Boston Stranglers' who'd held six rivals to a touchdown or less, were back on their heels all day, down 22-0 in the second quarter. If the Bulldogs hadn't had seven turnovers, three of them inside the Harvard 15-yard line, it would likely have been a rout.
The startling reversal came down to Harvard mojo and Yale miscalculation. Had Yale gone for two points after its fourth touchdown as it had after its third, the Crimson couldn't have caught up. "I didn't think there was any way Harvard could get back into the game," Cozza said years later.
Had Yale kept the ball on the ground during its final possession and let the clock run down the Crimson almost surely wouldn't have had enough time to score two touchdowns. Once Bob Levin fumbled at the Harvard 14 on a screen pass with three and a half minutes to play everything went in Harvard's favor the rest of the way. "It was like a nightmare unfolding in front of us," said Yale tight end Bruce Weinstein.
It didn't seem possible that every fumble, every flag could have gone for the home side but they did. A Yale defender just happened to be holding well downfield, negating a sack of Harvard quarterback Frank Champi and moving the ball from the Crimson 17 to the Bulldog 47. Champi's subsequent fumble on another sack was ruled an attempted lateral. The ball just happened to be scooped up by lineman Fritz Reed, a former tight end who had good hands and could run -- and did for 23 yards.
A pass interference call on the incomplete conversion pass after Harvard's third touchdown gave the Crimson a better and shorter chance with fullback Gus Crim. "That was the big play," Dowling reckoned. "If they don't make that, the game's over. You can't make 10 points on a touchdown."
From there, Cozza said, 'it was everything but football.' Ken Thomas' squib kick just happened to bounce off Yale's Brad Lee and Harvard's Bill Kelly just happened to fall on the ball. Yale's Mike Bouscaren was whistled for a face mask on Champi's scramble and the ball was placed on the 20. Yale didn't see the draw play coming on 3rd and 10 and Crim rumbled to the 6. Champi was sacked again but Harvard just happened to have a timeout left with three seconds remaining. Crim, the primary target on the final play, was covered but Gatto, sidelined most of the day with a hamstring injury, just happened to get open on the opposite side and Champi spotted him. And even if tight end Pete Varney hadn't caught the tying conversion pass there was another interference call so Harvard would have had another chance.
There have been memorable outcomes of The Game many times since -- 1974 (Harvard 21-16), 1978 (Yale 35-28), 1999 (Yale 24-21) and 2009 (Harvard 14-10) come to mind. But what made their 1968 encounter unforgettable were the unique circumstances. Both varsities were unbeaten for the first time since 1909 and finished that way -- but with a winner and a loser.
"If we'd won and said later that we were part of an undefeated team at Yale, people might say, really? What year?," Dowling mused years later. "The way it turned out made it a game they'll talk about for a long time."