Both teams pulled on the rope for five minutes to stretch it out. Then the judges marked the rope with fluorescent orange spray paint in front of each team's first pit. Finally a whistle was blown to signal the start.
Lunatic, the signal-caller for the freshmen, stood on the coaches' table and went through a wild series of break-dance-style moves. The moralers leaned into their designated pits, chanting the signals in unison: "Inch and up. Inch and up. Look and look. Heave! Heeeeeeeeeave! Lock and in. Lock and in. Strain! Straaaaaaaain.!"
The freshman pullers, heads thrown back, mouths agape, hauled on the rope until their veins bulged. "They ain't getting none!" screamed the freshman in pit 16, Adam (Animal) Hudson, with each heave. From the front pit, J.D. (Bear) Kensinger glared at the orange mark as it moved gradually back and forth. The freshman anchor, Jon (B.A.) VanderVelde, repeatedly threw himself backward against the rope, eyes pinched shut, back arched like a bow, grunting like a boar. Within 15 minutes the rope was dotted with blood; blisters and calluses on the pullers' hands, formed during practice sessions, had been rubbed raw.
On the sophomore side signal-caller Tom (Zeus) Poole waved his arms so frantically that he seemed to be trying to fly. The sophomores were unveiling their secret tactic: airborne heaves. In this move team members rose slightly from their pits, lifting the rope into the air, and, in unison, fell back into their holes. The airbornes were effective: The rope was moving in the sophomores' direction. With each inch gained, the crowd on the sophomores' side of the river became more crazed. After an hour of pulling, the sophomores were winning by three feet.
Gradually the momentum shifted back and dissipated, and by the end of the second hour the Pull was so close that nobody knew who was winning. The pullers' vests were shredded; their hands were shredded. Paint dripped down the freshmen's faces. It seemed inevitable that the allotted three hours would expire before either team delivered a knockout.
But 20 minutes before the end, the freshman team tried a series of desperate heaves. The sophomores countered with multiple airbornes. The pullers moaned in agony; the coaches shouted until hoarse.
Then, suddenly, a whistle blew and the Pull was declared over. Time was up. The crowd hushed, the judges took measurements, and the announcement was made. By a total of two feet, 10 inches, the sophomores had won. It was the Pull's narrowest recorded margin of victory. The sophomores leaped into the river for a celebratory bath; the freshmen sat dejectedly in their pits. There wasn't a dry eye in the house.