happened to be in the right position," Fitzgerald said to this reporter
later. "Even Kell didn't know. But I had seen it as Crone was going down,
this kid, this pinched-face kid, reaching in like a ferret and snatching the
ball, just as neat and quick as a shoplifter's move. I even think he was
surprised himself. I mean, he'd made this instinctive move, and he'd come up
with the prize, almost by chance. He saw me looking at him. His mouth dropped.
He wasn't more than a foot or so away. I made a grab for the ball and got my
fingers on it. I remember thinking it was the first time that season I'd
touched a football. It's not an opportunity that defensive tackles often get.
But this kid had a solid grip on it, and he turned and was gone. I thought
vaguely of running after him. I began to wonder what would happen if I got the
ball from him and touched it down. Just a passing thought. Then I began to
think more seriously. The big question when a ball leaves the field of play is:
Who last had possession? If you have a fumble and a lot of people are
scrambling for the ball and it goes out of bounds, the ball is retained by the
team which last touched it. Now, what happened in the Harvard end zone was that
no one had possession of the ball. The ball left the field in the possession of
this Waltham Blue Bunnies cat who was not legally involved in the game. I
suddenly felt that if I, a legal participant, could get the ball back and touch
it down in the end zone, it would mean a touchdown for my team and a Yale
victory. Pretty heady stuff for a guy who has played a total of just three
minutes—against Brown—in an entire season.
don't think I would have done anything if it hadn't been for the second
official who was standing by that play. I happened to look into his eyes, and I
realized that he had seen what I had seen. A look went between us—and I felt he
was trying to assure me, without actually telling me, that if I could get the
ball from the Waltham Blue Bunny and touch it down in the Harvard end zone, he
would stay around for it, and when it happened he would raise his arms up, and
it would be a touchdown for Yale, a victory, and man, like, I knew it was up to
shouted, 'I'll be back!' and I began jumping and looking around for the Waltham
Blue Bunnies cat.
meantime Crone, the Harvard quarterback, got up and started running for the
Harvard bench, bent over to protect what everyone thought was the football. He
did have something there that flashed brown and looked like a football. So,
what was it?
tell you what it was. It was a brown hat. That's right. In the confusion in the
end zone a spectator got knocked right off his feet, and a brown fedora rolled
off his head, right up next to where Crone was lying. Having lost the ball, he
was thrashing around looking for it, with eyes bugging like moons. Well, seeing
that flash of brown, he grabbed out and gathered that fedora right in and
cradled it, you know, so no one could get at it. Then finally, after lying
there a bit, he got up and ran off toward the Harvard bench, where his coach,
Yovicsin, was waiting for the game ball. It was Yovicsin's last game, and
though the Harvards are pretty independent, from all I hear, and don't give
much of a damn about this rah-rah business and 'winning the big one for the
coach,' they would have saved the ball for him this one time. I mean, they
wouldn't ordinarily. They don't care about game balls. Sometimes, they tell me,
at Harvard when the final whistle blows, they just leave the football rocking
there on the grass, like it was something they'd got finished with, like a
picnic napkin. But this time it was obvious Yovicsin had to get the ball. I
mean, the guy had won like 100 games for Harvard.
"So Crone had
it, but what he had was this brown hat. I mean, he must have known it almost
right off, as soon as he grabbed for it in the end zone, that there was
something wrong with the feel of the ball. Like, it was too flabby. So he snuck
a look at it, thinking maybe it had deflated or something, and hoping that he'd
read the familiar words that are written on footballs, 'Spalding Collegiate
Official,' whatever it is, but of course what he read when he looked down was
what was in the label, 'Dobbs,' or whatever the hat manufacturer was, and maybe
a hat size tag, 7�, and he must have known he was in trouble. But still, he had
to go through with it, because if he runs out of the end zone and everyone sees
he's carrying a brown Dobbs hat, size 7�, and not a football, well, that's
going to create, like, a stir.
about Yovicsin? What about him? Here's this poor guy—he's got some sort of mild
heart condition, which is why he's retiring—thinking about where he's going to
put the game ball in his trophy cabinet, with the score and the year carefully
painted on it in white numerals, and he's thinking about the speech he's going
to make to the players back in the field house, and how he's going to hold the
game ball up and say that he prizes that $20 football more than his house and
his car, it really means that much to him, and also he's wondering if he should
work up a tear, perhaps just a dampness of the eye, to punctuate his farewell.
He's standing by the bench, a mob of photographers clicking away, and he's
thinking about all of this, when up trots his quarterback, Crone, his face pale
behind the bars of his helmet and surreptitiously bending over and shoving
something at him like it's a pack of heroin, and he hands over this hat.
this?' Yovicsin asks.
" 'It's the
game ball,' Crone whispers, and he explains what happened back there in the end
"Now, I don't
know if this is actually what happened between Yovicsin and Crone—I mean I was
too busy trying to track down the guy with the Waltham Blue Bunnies jacket to
do much speculating. I remember thinking that poor Yovicsin, looking down at
the Dobbs hat, had little choice but to try to ignore what he had heard from
Crone. His only other possibility was to gather the Harvard squad together in
the Dillon Field House and confess, 'Fellows, we've got a little problem here,'
and send them out looking for the ball, which is what I was doing. But I had a
great advantage. Because there was one thing I knew no one else did, except the
official, not even Crone, and that was that the ball had been snatched by this
cat from the Waltham Blue Bunnies."