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  • Harvard Beats Yale 29–29 (2008)
  • Ronald A. Smith
Harvard Beats Yale 29–29 (2008). Produced and directed by Kevin Rafferty. Kevin Rafferty Productions. Distributed by Kino International. 104 mins.

Kevin Rafferty has produced a lengthy documentary on what some consider the greatest American football game ever played, which only a few privileged Harvard and Yale fans witnessed and few others cared about. At a time of great social unrest in America, one discovers how meaningful a non-meaningful game to the general American public was to those attached to Yale and Harvard. Yale, the football team with the most wins in history, entered the last game of the season, The Game, undefeated and ranked sixteenth in the 1968 season, facing undefeated Harvard. This was the first time the two teams had met when they were undefeated since 1909, when Yale and Harvard football really meant something to the nation. Rafferty, a Harvard undergraduate student during the turbulent sixties, is the logical individual to produce this documentary. His father was a former player for Yale, and his grandfather was an All-American and later coached at Yale in the early 1900s. Rafferty uses archival footage from the opening kickoff to the final play, the two-point conversion, and the Harvard “win.”

That day, five years and a day after the assassination of President Kennedy, The Game was played with the background of Vietnam rioting, the killings of both Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, the Democrat convention fiasco in Chicago, and the sexual revolution taking place in the 1960s. Rafferty brings in these events, though he does not dwell on them. He is more interested in how the players of that game, nearly four decades later, would remember the event. They did, as though it had just happened. Many of the participants were interviewed, dressed in their blue, button-down shirts. Interspersed with action film from The Game and narrated by the well-known Boston sportscaster Don Gillis, the interviews reflect the more activist-oriented Harvard players and the mostly preppy Yale athletes, who may have been more guarded by the socially “gated community” in New Haven. The featured interview throughout the film is with an offensive guard on the Harvard team, Tommy Lee Jones. The Academy Award winner roomed with Al Gore, and one gets the feeling that Jones is acting out faux intellectual notions of the 1960s. Jones says: “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. Revolution was in the air. People’s lives were changed by the minutes. Ideas were flying around like bullets.” Yet he tells the story of Gore being fascinated by the new touchtone telephones and learning to play “Dixie” on the new technology to the amusement of his classmates.

As the game footage moves along with Yale dominating, Rafferty notes Yale’s fullback Bob Levin, one of the few Yalee activists, dating Meryl Streep, who receives a cameo in a photograph from the period. He brings in Yale’s George W. Bush for his cheerleading and drunken arrest for tearing down a goalpost after a Princeton game. Cartoonist Garry Trudeau and his predecessor to Doonesbury is featured for his depiction of “B.D.,” the star Yale quarterback, Brian Dowling, who never lost a game going back to junior high [End Page 294] school. Pat Conway, the heroic Vietnam veteran playing defensive back for the Crimson, is used as a foil to the anti-war activism of some of the players on both sides of the ball.

The game action is interesting, if somewhat dragged out. There are too many replays of replays. We do, however, see the athleticism of Dowling, whom his fellow players called “God,” as he eludes futile tackles by Harvard. The skill of the only African-American athlete shown, Yale’s Calvin Hill, foretells his great career in the National Football League with the Dallas Cowboys. Unfortunately Hill’s fumble does not help the Yale cause. It is unfortunate that neither Hill nor Yale’s famed coach Carmen Cozza were interviewed for the documentary. And regrettably, although the film is set during the Civil Rights crisis toward the end of the 1960s, nothing...


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