Review

Harvard Beats Yale 29-29

by Kevin Rafferty

Turning books into movies is often the subject for discussion
and debate between readers and film aficionados. HARVARD BEATS YALE
29-29, by Kevin Rafferty, turns the debate on its ear due to its
distinction of being a movie turned into a book. The book grew out
of a documentary film of the famous Harvard-Yale football game
played on November 23, 1968, when the undefeated Elis faced off
against their traditional Crimson rivals in a battle for the Ivy
League championship.

Rafferty produced, directed, interviewed and photographed every
player he could locate and then interspersed scenes from the epic
game when Harvard scored 16 points in the final 42 seconds to turn
defeat into --- well, a tie. In 1968, sudden death was not a part
of college football. So the game ended with the score tied, but
with Harvard feeling the exhilaration of victory while Yale deemed
the final score a loss.

Rafferty attended Harvard as part of his teenage rebellion
against his family, a family connected to Yale through several
generations. After graduation, he began a filmmaking career, and
eventually that classic game became the focal point for a
documentary. After viewing a videotape of the game and reliving the
unbelievable conclusion, he decided upon a simple strategy for his
documentary: let the players tell the story. Armed with a video
camera and alumni lists, Rafferty set out across the country to
interview the game participants. The interviews are woven into a
film of the game itself as the players recall what occurred on the
field and on campus during the 1968 football season. While the
memories are fairly vivid, there are also some details that have
grown fuzzy over the years, and he points out several inaccuracies
in the players’ recollections.

The movie, of course, has time limitations. If you enjoy the
film, you must read HARVARD BEATS YALE 29-29. The biographies of
the players, briefly introduced in the movie, are far more
detailed, and we get to learn more about their lives since that
fateful day. In addition, their thoughts about the game, life and
football are more fully presented to readers. And through these
stories, we see just how much the game of football --- and all that
it represents --- has changed over the past 40 years.

Actor Tommy Lee Jones, starting offensive guard on the Harvard
team, in many ways represents how the college game has changed
since 1968. Today, most linemen weigh in at well over 300 pounds.
Jones was far closer to (and perhaps, even under) 200 pounds. Not
only have the players changed, but the game itself has become a lot
more sophisticated today than it was in 1968. Both Harvard and Yale
ran offensive plays that most modern high schools would
avoid as far too simple. But, while contemporary college football
has become far more refined and the players more athletic, it is
still a game played on a 100-yard field between players who give
their all.

Rafferty follows the movie’s basic format throughout the
book but in richer, more vivid detail. The interviews are fleshed
out and the players become more human. When Yale safety J.P.
Goldsmith recalls the dilemma of playing football on the Jewish
holy days, you’ll understand precisely the issue and the way
he and his father resolved the problem. When Harvard quarterback
George Lalich describes the culture gap between his middle-class
life in Chicago and the social status of Harvard, you’ll
understand how HARVARD BEATS YALE 29-29 is about more than a
football game. The material presented through lengthier interviews
and additional anecdotes make the movie and book an inseparable
combination.

If you are a football fan, child of the 1960s, or just someone
who enjoys an uplifting story, HARVARD BEATS YALE 29-29 will warm
your heart. The movie-book dilemma is well known: sometimes
it’s “read the book,” other times it’s
“see the movie.” My advice is simple: do both. You will
not be disappointed.

Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on January 22, 2011

Harvard Beats Yale 29-29
by Kevin Rafferty

  • Publication Date: October 15, 2009
  • Genres: Nonfiction, Sports
  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Overlook Hardcover
  • ISBN-10: 1590202171
  • ISBN-13: 9781590202173