Fitzgerald was a member of the 1970 Yale University football team, a sophomore,
listed in the program as No. 68. He continues to live in a sparsely decorated
room in Trumbull College, and his future plans are nebulous, though he feels he
will eventually stumble into business administration. His build is hefty, and
he is strong, particularly in the arms and shoulders. He sports a very minor
mustache that is a source of embarrassment because it refuses to luxuriate. He
plays, by his own account, a fair tuba (he gravitated to tubas early, largely
as the result of a passing remark of his high school bandmaster to the effect
that his build was just right for "holding the thing up"), and his
choice as the summer of 1970 drew to a close was whether to perform in the tuba
section of the Yale band or to try out for the football team. He was persuaded
by a serious-minded friend to essay the latter, on the grounds that three years
of football might stand him in better stead for a business career than the
equivalent time spent tootling a tuba.
quite believed the logic of his friend's argument—that a tuba was less of a
success symbol than a football—but it was enough to tip him into a decision: he
tried out for the football team and made it, though just barely. There were
times, standing on the sidelines during games, when he would turn and look up
with a certain longing at the big array of tubas at the back of the band; at
least the tuba players were enjoying some activity. His own activity, up to the
Harvard game, had been limited during the season to a total of three minutes of
football against Brown. By the time of the Harvard game, Fitzgerald's hope to
gain more playing time rested largely in Yale's running up a big score so the
reserves would be sent in. Yale was favored, but as soon as the game began at
Cambridge it was evident that Harvard was inspired.
remembers only a few things about the game itself. He recalls a Harvard
cheerleader dressed as a Puritan tangling with some Yale counterparts just up
the bench from him, and he remembers grinning broadly as one of the Yale coed
cheerleaders hit the Puritan with her megaphone. "It made a big thank
sound. Very satisfactory," said Fitzgerald.
four minutes to go, even his attention was directed to the game. Harvard was
ahead 14-10, but Yale had the ball on its 20-yard line, from which point it
moved briskly for 60 yards to the Harvard 20. Here Yale stalled. Passes on
third and fourth downs failed, and possession of the ball went to Harvard, with
only one minute and 16 seconds left. The handkerchiefs began to come out on the
Harvard side, and Fitzgerald, looking across at the derisive display, felt such
a wave of impotent anger that his hands began to shake.
Just then he was
startled to hear the Yale defensive coach, Bill Narduzzi, shouting at
him—ordering him to go in at left tackle for Tom Neville. "It took a while
for it to register," Fitzgerald recalled. "I stared at him. He kept
shouting at me. Then I felt this tremendous exhilaration. The fact that Yale
was losing disappeared from my mind. I ran onto the field."
Fitzgerald was involved in the extraordinary last play of the game, and indeed,
being on the scene, was in a perfect position to see what actually happened.
With 10 seconds to go, the Harvard quarterback, Eric Crone, had simply to take
the center's snap and fall on the ball, protecting it; he would hear the
distant 4-3-2-1 countdown from the Harvard crowd, and the game would be
What Crone did
stunned everyone in the stadium, including himself. Later, quizzed by newsmen,
he said he wasn't quite sure what had crossed his mind. At the snap he had
taken the ball and run backwards into his own end zone, holding the ball aloft,
somewhat in the style of an Olympic runner carrying the lighted torch. He then
stopped in the midst of a considerable crowd that had materialized in the end
zone, people pouring down from the stands, and it was here, standing amongst
them, that Crone realized his strange tactic had left him open to two
possibilities—being tackled by Yale players for a safety (two points for Yale,
but still a 14-12 Harvard victory) or, if he fumbled in the course of the
tackle and Yale recovered, a touchdown and an abrupt Yale victory.
happened was that the Yale roverback, Ron Kell, No. 40, pushed his way through
the crowd, reached for Crone and upended him in the hope the ball would squirt
free. Crone lay briefly in a fetal position. Two officials were standing close
by. One of them made the signal for the safety, facing the press box up on the
rim of Harvard Stadium, to indicate that Yale had scored two points and the
final score had changed to 14-12.
Fitzgerald was standing in the end zone right next to Crone, and he saw
something quite different. He had not been particularly pleased with his own
performance on that last play. In fact, when the play started he had discovered
his chin strap was dangling loose, and as Crone got the ball Fitzgerald was
still trying to snap the strap tight, his hands fumbling about his helmet.
"The Harvard man took me out of the play pretty easily," Fitzgerald
recalled. "I mean, with my hands up, trying to find that little button snap
on the side of the helmet, I just wasn't ready for him."
managed to slide off the block with fair success, and he was only a yard or so
behind his teammate Kell, in pursuit of Crone into the end zone. When Crone was
upended, he happened to have a clear lane of sight through the crowd that
allowed him to see a youngster wearing a denim jacket with the words WALTHAM
BLUE BUNNIES stenciled on the back reach in and snitch the ball.