As he has done before every Penn home game since 1977, Dan Staffieri ambled around the Perelman Quadrangle last Friday, bellowing through a bullhorn. "Here we go, Quakers!" he cried. "I-V-Y. Champs!" His chants echoed off the Gothic buildings like ricocheting cannonballs.
An 80-year-old assistant football coach in charge of "spirit," Staffieri tends to wear clothes that mildly tweak the opposition. This being the eve of the pivotal game with Harvard, he was clad in a crimson sweater, a crimson blazer and a jungle red tam-o'-shanter. Stuck to his forehead was a piece of masking tape bearing the word MUCH. "It's a motivational slogan for our players," he explained. "You can always tell a Harvard man, but you can't tell him much."
For the third time in four seasons, both teams showed up for last Saturday's showdown unbeaten in conference play. The Crimson had the only perfect record (8-0) in Division I-AA; the two-time defending league champ Quakers (7-1) were riding a 20-game Ivy winning streak. Victory would ensure at least a tie for the crown. Six of the last seven Ivy titles have gone to Harvard or Penn, and the teams have a combined 44-2 record against the other six since 2001. "Penn-Harvard is getting the feel of a rivalry," says Quakers safety Kevin Stefanski. "It's become the game that matters."
Though Penn had won 10 of the last 12 in the series, the planets seemed favorably aligned for Harvard. "We've had a mystical feeling all season," said offensive lineman Will Johnson. "Like the Red Sox, our guys play on emotion."
The Quakers played on borrowed time, having narrowly triumphed in their two previous games by mounting fourth-quarter comebacks. Still, all 12 "prognostiquakers" polled by Penn's student newspaper, The Daily Pennsylvanian, predicted a Harvard defeat. "While you are learning useful life skills like Sanskrit and forestry," the paper warned the Cambridge crew, "we will sue, scam and fraud your Dockers off with our cutthroat preprofessionalism."
The threat proved hollow. Quakers quarterback Bryan Walker, an untested freshman filling in for injured junior Pat McDermott, often looked as if he had never taken a snap in practice, much less a game. Harvard's eight-man front limited Penn to 68 yards on the ground--the entire Red and Blue backfield was outrushed by Crimson tailback Clifton Dawson (160 yards), a sophomore so fast he flickers. After surrendering a field goal on Penn's opening drive, Harvard reeled off 31 straight points. The six most deflating came late in the third quarter, when the Crimson, facing fourth-and-five from the Quakers' 18, lined up in field goal formation, and then holder Robert Balkema passed to Bobby Everett, normally a linebacker, for a touchdown. "Penn was in a coffin," offered special teams coach John Butler. "That was the final nail."
Other nails in the 31-10 rout included a Harvard interception and Penn's two lost fumbles. The Quakers scored their only touchdown with 2:13 left in the game. As is his custom after Quakers TDs, Staffieri rode a cart around the stadium track braying his motivational slogans to the crowd, or what was left of it. "We lost because of turnovers," he later said. Too many?
"No," he grumbled. "Too much."