Every Yalie bemoans hearing the same three words: Harvard beats Yale.
Yet those words — “Harvard beats Yale 29-29” — c0mprised the headline that appeared in the Harvard Crimson after the Elis’ devastating collapse against the underdog Cantabs at the end of the 1968 football season. And now that legendary headline is also the title of a new documentary by filmmaker Kevin Rafferty, which premiered Wednesday in New Haven, New York and Cambridge, Mass., just in time for this Saturday’s game between the rival schools, the 125th in history.
Rafferty, an alumnus of Harvard, recalled that even through the turbulent times of the 1960s, with the Vietnam War, campus protests and Black Panther riots, the 1968 Harvard-Yale game was one peaceful event that stuck out amongst the turmoil. He had this in mind when he set out to commemorate that memorable 1968 game on film.
“I was at the game,” he said in an interview. “It was a very happy experience in the middle of the year when for many people it was a real horrible year. Martin Luther King was assassinated, Robert Kennedy was assassinated, campuses were shutting down, there was tear gas in Harvard Square. And in the middle of all this comes this football game.”
In the film, Rafferty used actual footage from the 1968 game and the commentary that aired on television at the time.
In what has become a tale that has been told over many generations, Harvard was able to come back from 16 points down with 42 seconds left in the fourth quarter to tie the game against the nationally ranked Bulldogs. There was no overtime back then. And although the game only ended in a tie, footage of Harvard students and fans storming the field made it seem as though Harvard had pulled off an upset victory.
And, for all intents and purposes, it was an upset. No one expected Harvard to even come close. With 1:13 left to play, Elis were already chanting “You’re number two, you’re number two!”
“In the midst of all, what happened at the end was unbelievable,” Rafferty said.
Making the documentary was a long process for Rafferty. After contacting athletes who had played in the 1968 game for both teams, Rafferty explained, he then drove a total of 15,000 miles across the country to interview each team’s players to hear their perspectives. His daughter, Madeleine Rafferty ’10, said it was the first time her family, who live in Manhattan, had ever bought a car.
“It was sort of a dream come true for him to drive across the country and interview his fellow classmates about something that clearly resounds in their lives,” she said.
One of the players Rafferty interviewed was Michael Bouscaren ’69, who played middle linebacker for the Elis in the 1968 game. Though it was painful to relive those disappointing 42 seconds that it took for Harvard to tie the game, Bouscaren said he enjoyed the documentary.
“I think it just reflected a very interesting characteristic about the reality of being human,” Bouscaren said. “I thought it was a very warm kind of celebration of introspection.”
Bouscaren — who expressed gratitude to Rafferty for making the film — said he will see the documentary this Sunday with his family.
“One of the exciting things about it for me is that parents, when their children grow up, often talk about their own childhood and their own experience in school and in college,” he said. “And the children kind of tune that out unless they have something tangible to put more of a reality into a reflection. This film is a wonderful opportunity for me to show my children to a part of my life that they wouldn’t know about.”
And 40 years later, the documentary offers today’s Eli football players a glimpse of their team’s history.
“It was a really cool movie,” said cornerback Paul Rice ’10, who saw the film Wednesday with teammate John Sheffield ’10. “It really gives you a sense of the history and perspective of how influential this game is especially on the 125th playing of [The Game]. So it was pretty cool to watch right before you play. It just adds to the aura of it.”
“Harvard Beats Yale 29-29” will be playing at the Criterion Cinemas through Wednesday.