SI Vault
George Plimpton
September 08, 1975
Untroubled by the headaches of big-time college football, the Ivy League is a throwback to an earlier and more carefree time, when game plans, redshirts and weekly polls did not exist. The old grad, drink in hand, hurries toward the stadium in his raccoon coat, perhaps the same one he has worn to the Harvard-Yale game since he was a student. Pregame picnics, a bit more elegant than in other parts of the country, flourish as they did when F. Scott Fitzgerald was at Princeton and Cole Porter at Yale. Harvard and Yale are no longer candidates for the national championship, but their game is still The Game and every November it plays to a full house. On the following pages is a potpourri of scenes from New Haven, Hanover, Ithaca and the like, followed by a humorous and sympathetic look at Ivy attitudes by George Plimpton, Harvard '48.
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September 08, 1975

Yesterday Is Not Far Away

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"It was all football for them," comments Calvin Hill, the great running back who graduated from Yale and starred for Dallas before jumping to the WFL's Hawaii team. "I remember that my biggest surprise coming into the pros was how much time I suddenly had to concentrate on football. It seemed such a luxury. At Yale you had two hours of football, and that was all, and then you had to start thinking whether the Civil War was inevitable, because that was what you were going to be quizzed on in a classroom. But for many of my friends in football, coming to camp was no surprise at all, because in their college there was nothing else but football. That's very sad. They can't believe that 100% of the Ivy League college teams actually graduate."

What Ed Marinaro finds most depressing is what happens to players who come out of the Pacific Eight or the Big Ten, where football influences everything, and then don't make it in the pros. "It's a terrible blow to their egos because they can't adjust. They don't know anything else."

When Ed Marinaro was establishing his NCAA rushing records at Cornell (perhaps the most astonishing one a 281-yard day in 1969 against Harvard), the old grads would buttonhole him by his locker or on the campus and ask him about a mysterious George Pfann, or how did he compare himself to this gentleman. A puzzled Marinaro discovered that George Pfann was a Cornell quarterback who played 30 years before Marinaro was born. "I was asked a lot about George Pfann and I never had the slightest idea what to say. But I was always very polite about George Pfann."

Hamilton Fish is the only Harvard man on Walter Camp's alltime All-America team. He was a member of the undefeated 1908 squad. Tall and powerful for his 80-odd years, he is a noted American conservative. The other day he was asked for a general observation about football. He replied thoughtfully, "The fundamentals have always been the same. The main difference is the shape of the ball. I suppose, in a way, it's an improvement. I have no objection to it. It's opened up the game."

On the shelf in his closet in Boston's Chestnut Hill, Richard Hallowell of the Harvard class of 1920 keeps an aluminum fly-rod case in which rests a hickory stick about three feet long with a red silk flag attached. The flag has a black "H" sewn in the middle. The flag has passed in succession to four gentlemen since it was taken to its first Harvard-Yale game in 1884. It is willed to the Harvard man next in line who has seen the highest consecutive number of Harvard-Yale games. Hallowell is the present possessor.

Hallowell's predecessor took the flag to 75 games. Hallowell has seen 63 in a row. He is very careful with the flag, keeping it under his seat in the aluminum case. "I only haul it out at certain times," he says. His two favorite games are the 29-29 game in 1968 and a 0-0 tie in 1925, when Yale had a first down on the six-yard line with a minute or so to go and in two plays took the ball to the three, where time ran out because the Yale captain and the quarterback got into an argument. Hallowell laughs, remembering. He would have waved the flag gleefully had it been in his possession then.

Harland (Pinky) Baker is a member of Princeton's class of 1922. He got his nickname in his prep-school days at Exeter, running under a long, high pass thrown by a quarterback, who shouted after him, "Run for it, you pinkhead, run!" Baker is a superfan. He goes to all the Princeton practices, including the freshmen's. He carries a cowbell to lacrosse games. He cannot rid his mind of the Dartmouth-Princeton game played during Hurricane Flora in 1950. Princeton won 13-7 as Dick Kazmaier ran for two touchdowns to assure himself the Heisman Trophy. "There were only 100 Princeton men watching that day and 10 or 12 Dartmouth people across the way," he says. "Couldn't even face the wind. I watched the game peeking out from behind a concrete ramp. I was wearing these big wading boots that I use for goose and duck shooting and I wore a sou'wester. The wind just sang down the field—just Godawful. It was impossible to punt the ball because it came right back in your face. So it was better to run on fourth down against the wind no matter where you were on the field. They almost called it off, but Dartmouth came all that way and it was for the championship. I remember that wind picked up Kazmaier when he crossed the goal line and it carried him clear into the cement stands at the end of the stadium—just ripped him up against the stone. Oh, I can't get that game out of my mind. I'll tell you something. There were so few people there it was like they were playing it all for me...just for my benefit...."

John Kenneth Galbraith, the distinguished economist, does not approve of people with excessive football-worshiping tendencies; indeed, he has been to only two football games in his life ("Neither the game nor the general depravity of the onlookers appealed to me"), and in this year's class-day exercises at Harvard he commended the shift in attitude from what it had been when he was a student 41 years before. "Undergraduate esteem in the 1930s was sought partly in athletics.... Aristocracies are often marked by such effortless assumptions of superiority, supplemented by a special grace in the enjoyment of sex, alcohol and idleness. So it was then. And so greatly were these supplementary proficiencies admired, especially the consumption of alcohol, that the most distinguished of the alumni returned each autumn to the football games to show their continuing virtuosity.

"Some things in life are intrinsically without style or charm. One of them is to relive, however briefly, the enjoyments of youth. Burned in my memory of those fiestas is the boast of a celebrant, after a game, that from the top floor of a [ Harvard] dormitory he could dive headfirst down a stairwell, onto the cement floor, and survive. All cheered him on. He was wrong."

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