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HARVARD BEATS YALE 29-29 (director: Kevin Rafferty; cinematographer: Kevin Rafferty; editor: Kevin Rafferty; cast: Tommy Lee Jones, Brian Dowling; Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: PG; producer: Kevin Rafferty; Kino International; 2008)
“A most entertaining straightforward no-frills documentary by Harvard grad and then Harvard undergrad Kevin Rafferty.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A most entertaining straightforward no-frills documentary by Harvard grad and then Harvard undergrad Kevin Rafferty (“Feed”/”The Atomic Cafe”) on an historic Ivy League football game played at Harvard Stadium, November 23, 1968 that ended in a last second tie between Yale and Harvard. Both schools call this annual traditional grudge match The Game. It was the final game of the season for both schools. The tie led to the famous headline in Harvard’s undergraduate newspaper the Crimson: “Harvard Beats Yale 29-29.” With the perception being, a tie was really a Yale loss since they were the better team and were even ranked 16th in the country. The tremendous Harvard comeback, in college football’s oldest rivalry and the first time since 1909 when both teams were undefeated, came in the final 42 seconds when the Harvards scored 16 points to tie the clearly superior Yale team.

The entertaining documentary plays the entire football game back just as it was telecast, but cuts in with photos and interviews from the aged players who offer their spirited candid reminiscences. It also takes into account how it was played while the unpopular Vietnam War was in full stride, a sexual revolution was taking place with the introduction of the pill, Nixon was just elected president a few weeks earlier, change in society was in the air and there was student unrest. But despite all the divide in the country, the team remained united and fans of both schools came out to root for their football teams possibly as a means of escape from all the tension.

Yale’s star quarterback Brian Dowling had never lost a football game since he started playing in the seventh grade. In the Yale newspaper, cartoonist Garry Trudeau in a fun way chided college football-worship by using Dowling as a cartoon character and making him out to be an overconfident dumb jock character named “B.D.”—who was shown in the cartoon wearing his football helmet in class. The popular B. D. character is still featured in Trudeau’s Doonesbury.

Some now famous people who were in the game include the actor Tommy Lee Jones, who was a Harvard lineman and roommate of Al Gore. While for the Elis, one of the football players, Ted Livingston, was a roommate of cheerleader George W. Bush, and one of the football stars, Bob Levin, was dating Vassar student Meryl Streep (Yale was an all male school at the time). The Eli’s also had star running back Calvin Hill, who would be the highest scorer in Yale history and later play for the Dallas Cowboys and make the NFL’s Hall of Fame.

The fun film had no further ambition than to remember The Game through the eyes of those who participated in it. The players even said though it was only a football game, it taught them life lessons that they still have not forgotten. The beauty of the simplistic documentary is that even if you’re not a football fan you might be interested in this appealing football story, that has a little different slant on football than the usual sports film.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”