If the play had worked we’d be calling head coach Tom Williams a genius.
There were two and a half minutes left, leaving plenty of time for Harvard to score. Harvard’s first touchdown had energized the team and its fans, and though they had no time-outs left, the team was rolling. Yale’s defense, on the other hand, was out of gas, and Williams knew it. Moreover, Yale kicker Tom Mante ’10, as great as he is, would have been punting into a strong wind. Even if Yale had picked up 30 or 40 yards, it would have taken only one good pass play for Harvard to counter.
Before the infamous call, Yale was seven for seven on special teams deceptions for the year — four for four on onside kicks and three successful fake punts. All of the punts had been to the right and two had used the short snap to Paul Rice. To the extent Harvard was expecting a trick play it was that one. Yale set up perfectly, Harvard took the bait, Yale reversed the pitch and picked up 15 yards.
Admittedly, it was a high-risk play, but how can we second-guess a coach’s view that the team was unlikely to stop them regardless of where they took possession?
Yale had played their hearts out and had played over their heads all day. They got some lucky breaks on spots. Harvard was the better team, and, in the fourth quarter, they finally broke through. Coach Williams had a tough decision, and he rolled the bones.
Some will say he should have left it in the hands of his defense. We should remember, however, that the defense was shredded by Brown and Princeton in the last two weeks and that the defense had just given up a touchdown after valiantly shutting the door for more than 53 minutes and was now exhausted. Leaving The Game in the hands of his defense would have been the easy, conventional call. If it failed, we would have been able to say, “Nice try,” or, “We came close as underdogs, but the clock had struck midnight for our defense.” At least, that’s how Williams saw it.
Coach Williams took the blame on his shoulders, although it is rumored that someone else made The Call without his knowledge. But if he did not make the decision, his unwillingness to single out anyone else and take the fall speaks volumes about his leadership abilities.
Unfortunately, whether he made it or not, it has already become ”The Call“ of The Game, and it will be remembered as ”the blunder” of a rookie Yale coach.
And that’s really a shame. He was seven yards from being a genius and had the guts to go all-out for a win or stand by the person who did. I have decided I liked the call. I’ll live with its consequences. I just hope Coach Williams sticks around for a long time.
Peter Kaufman is a 1975 graduate of Jonathan Edwards College and a former sports editor of the News.