Harvard Beats Yale 29-29

What does a film about the 85th playing of “The Game” between Yale and Harvard have to do with China? Absolutely nothing. However, in 1968, I had the honor and privilege of being the starting guard on one of the best Yale teams of all time and playing in that historic match up. Forty years later, I got the chance to appear in my first movie.

The rivalry between Yale and Harvard is one of the oldest in college sports. The two schools have met on the gridiron 125 times, beginning in 1875 when football began evolving from rugby. “The Game” is always the last of the season for the two schools, and is played in alternate years at the Yale Bowl in New Haven Connecticut and Harvard Stadium in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

In 1968, Yale fielded one of its best teams ever. Led by star quarterback Brian Dowling, who had not lost a game he had started since the sixth grade, and halfback Calvin Hill, who went on to a successful career in the National Football League with the Dallas Cowboys and the Cleveland Browns, Yale was ranked 16th in the nation at the beginning of the season, amazing recognition in itself for an Ivy league school.

As expected, Yale rolled over all of its opponents and came into the final game against Harvard undefeated–and heavily favored to win. Miraculously, Harvard, which was in a rebuilding year, also won all of its games. For the first time since 1909, the football teams of both Yale and Harvard were undefeated as they met for their final game.

Played in front of an overflow crowd at Harvard Stadium, the game proceeded as expected –-Yale dominated. With five minutes left in the first half, Yale led 22-0. With only 42 seconds remaining, it’s Yale 29, Harvard 13. What happens next will never be forgotten–Harvard scores two touchdowns, making both two-point conversions. The final scoring takes place with no time left on the clock. The headline in the Harvard Crimson the next day reads “Harvard Beats Yale 29-29,” and years later, Sports Illustrated would call it one of the five best college football games ever played.

In 2007, Kevin Rafferty, a filmmaker and Harvard grad whose grandfather was an All-American at Yale and whose father attended and coached at Yale, decided to make a film about the 1968 game. Told completely from the players’ perspective, Harvard Beats Yale 29-29, combines original footage of the game with clips of Rafferty’s interviews with about thirty players from both sides.
In addition to yours truly, the game and the film feature:

  • Brian Dowling, Yale’s quarterback who was also the character “BD” in the Doonesbury comic strip that Garry Trudeau started that year as a staff writer for the Yale Daily News.
  • Calvin Hill, Yale’s halfback who went on to NFL fame and whose son, Grant, is an all star player in the NBA with the Phoenix Suns.
  • Bobby Levin, Yale’s fullback who dated a young lady from Vassar named Meryl Streep.
  • Ted Livingston, a Yale tackle who roomed with George W. Bush.
  • Tommy Lee Jones, a Harvard guard and academy award winning actor who happened to room with Al Gore.

Harvard Beats Yale 29-29 is not just a film about a football game; it’s a film about a game played in the tumultuous 1960s, a time when the country was in upheaval as the Vietnam War raged and traditional sexual mores were challenged. The film has been widely acclaimed and has received very favorable reviews from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The New Yorker, among others. It is now playing in theaters throughout the United States. Click on the link to view the trailer and to see cinemas and dates.

I’m obviously biased, but I encourage you to see Harvard Beats Yale 29-29 if you have a chance. Even if you don’t like football and couldn’t care less about either Yale or Harvard, you will greatly enjoy the movie.

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