The Game and its Result
The pre-game atmosphere in the locker room reminded Tim of the judo tournaments in which he had participated. Everyone was looking down at the floor and saying little. Tim knew exactly how awful the feeling was, the only consolation being the knowledge that it would go away once the action had begun. But it wasn’t like that for Howie and himself. They knew that they would participate in only a few plays, and they didn’t care very much whether the team won or lost. These attitudes had to be concealed from the others, and they spoke to one another quietly as they struggled into the unfamiliar uniforms. Tim left off all the pads on the ground that they might inhibit his punting and throwing.
When they finally finished the pre-game warm-up in front of the increasingly noisy crowd, there was a tension which even Tim began to feel. Harvard was respectable on defense but fairly hopeless on offense, having been shut out three times that year. The crowd seemed to have forgotten that fact, and, indeed, the tradition was that the Yale game was a thing apart, a time when high emotion might produce almost any result.
The Harvard captains did manage to win the coin toss, and were the receiving team. The deep man caught the ball cleanly and ran the ball out to the twenty six without fumbling. The Harvard quarterback led his group forthrightly out on to the field in an optimistic mood amid cheering from the home crowd. Then, predictably, the team went three and out, with the third down pass almost being intercepted. Tim trotted out, attracting no particular notice. The center came back a little high, but he grabbed it, took a step, and punted. He knew that he struck the ball solidly, perhaps not getting it quite as high as he would have liked. Still, it went far, and he heard the crowd react, not used to such punts.
The Yale return man was much too shallow, and had to race back under the punt. He then tried to catch the ball over his shoulder on the run. That was a mistake. The ball, bouncing off his hands and running along the ground, became the object of a mad scramble. Harvard eventually recovered on the Yale ten. As Tim came off the field, Coach Mannion gave him a hearty whack of approval.
It was three and out again, but Harvard had a good field goal kicker, a Brazilian soccer player, and he put the ball through for three.
For a long time, little happened. Yale would move down the field pretty well, but screw up with fumbles, penalties, and two missed field goals. Tim punted a number of times, but Yale was ready for him now. There were no more fumbled punts, but several fair catches. Tim was nevertheless keeping Yale back so far in its own territory that it would make some mistake before getting into scoring position. The half ended with only the one score, Harvard’s field goal.
The coach gave only a brief business-like half-time talk, but the quarterback, Dave Loach, rose to speak. Tim, sitting next to Howie in the back corner of the room, gave his friend a despairing look.
Loach, whom they knew slightly from their house, was an oddity, a young man who seemed, and almost looked, middle-aged. Square-faced with wire-rimmed glasses (contacts on the field), he seemed substantial, respectable, and unimaginative. Many might have imagined him as a bureaucrat, but he was, in fact, a pre-med who did reasonably well in his studies, probably well enough to get into a decent medical school. The only trouble was that he was boring, and seemed less intelligent than he really was. But he knew everything, was never wrong about anything, and had been heard introducing himself to outsiders as ‘Dr. Loach.’ As someone had jokingly remarked, “A man who claims to be a doctor without being one is an imposter. But a pre-med who does that is guilty only of exaggeration.”
It was generally agreed that success of any kind fuelled the exaggeration and made Loach more unbearable than before. Since failure could do no harm, Tim and Howie both hoped that Loach would find a way of conspicuously losing the game.
The speech had every cliché save ‘Win one for the Gipper’. Oddly, it was delivered, not with the oratorical gestures and flourishes that would fit the words, but in a quiet professorial manner. Tim was wondering whether Loach had memorized it from a book of football speeches when Howie whispered to him, “He’s going to be a really horrible doctor.”
Even the players who seriously wanted to win the game seemed relieved when Loach finally sat down.
The third quarter was virtually a repeat of the second. Yale moved the ball, but faltered. Harvard hardly moved, but Tim’s punting kept putting Yale back into its own territory. In the middle of the fourth quarter, Mannion came over to Tim and Howie, and said, “Three points aren’t going to be enough. The next punting situation, we’ll do the sideline pass.”
It arrived soon enough, and Howie went in as the right half-back, ostensibly to block. When the ball was snapped, he headed straight downfield as Tim, sprinting to his right, easily eluded the rushers. It was basically a touch football play, and Tim waited to see Howie cut to his right before throwing a fairly easy pass. Howie caught it, still in bounds, and simply outran a linebacker. A defensive back coming over seemed to underestimate Howie’s strength, and was left on the grass. It looked as if Howie might go all the way until he was tripped on the Yale five.
Howie and Tim, back on the bench after congratulations all around, sniggered as Loach threw three bad passes. The Brazilian then kicked another field goal.
Yale got a good return on the ensuing kick, out to their forty five. They then put together their most consistent drive of the game, down to the Harvard six, with only a few minutes remaining in the game. With the roar of the crowd swelling, the defense played even better than before, stuffing three running plays in a row. Since Yale needed a touchdown to tie or win, their quarterback faded back for a pass. He waited a little too long, and was sacked on the eighteen.
Harvard had only to run out the clock. If three running plays didn’t quite do it, Tim could have punted Yale way back with only seconds remaining. Amazingly, Loach checked off, faked a handoff, and went back to pass. Tim happened to be looking at the coach, who was obviously surprised and thunderstruck. When he got pressure, Loach ran toward the near sideline, still looking to pass. Then, as he drew his arm back, a defender hit him. The ball popped up into the air, and another defender grabbed it and ran it into the end zone.
There was an amazing silence in the stadium. Tim watched as Loach came off the field, moving behind the bench to avoid the coaches. He looked much the same as always.
Yale kicked the extra point, never a certainty in the Ivy League, and went ahead 7-6.
Before the kickoff, Coach Mannion, in remarkable self possession, came over to Tim and Howie, and said, “On first down, we’ll run the number three play we practiced. The punt formation won’t fool anyone, but that’s the only formation you’ve practiced with.”
The kickoff was run back to the twenty five, and Tim and Howie trotted in. Yale lined up in their standard defense, as expected, and Tim stood back his usual fifteen yards. Howie was lined up on the left, and took off on the snap.
The assistant coach had designed the play to give Howie time to get a good forty yards downfield. Tim started running to his right, and the defense, remembering the last play, moved to block his way. According to plan, he turned quickly toward his own goal line, and then back across the field. When he got clear in the middle, he stepped forward and threw for maximum distance. The pass, traveling more than seventy yards in the air, was easily gathered in by Howie with no defender near him. In fact, Howie ran along the goal line to use up time before the Yale defense caught on. When they neared him, he crossed over with only seconds remaining. Without any demonstration, he handed the ball to the referee who came running up.
During this time, Tim had run down the sideline, and, meeting Howie coming back, he shouted over the roar of the crowd, “This place is going crazy. Let’s get out of here.”
Without a word, Howie joined him in a run for the locker room. When they got there, Howie said,
“They have to kick the extra point, and then kick off. If we hurry, we can beat the crowd.”
Dumping their uniforms on the floor and getting dressed in a flurry, the two friends ran out past the surprised attendants. A few people were leaving the stadium, but not enough to impede their way as they made for the bridge across the river.
It had been agreed that they would meet at Meredith’s room in Eliot House, and they reached it with no pursuit in sight. She had been listening to the game on the radio, and congratulated them on their play. She then asked how they had made it back so quickly. When Tim explained, she replied, “Then you don’t know how the game just ended.”
“Did we leave too soon?”
“I don’t know about that. Yale ran the last kickoff back for a touchdown, kicked the extra point, and won the game.”
All three were laughing loudly as Jimmy came out from the inner room.
Jimmy was trying to become as American as possible, and this quest had some peculiar side effects, particularly as regards sports. Part of being American, he thought, was being a fan. He thus supported all the Harvard teams, the Boston Red Sox, the New England Patriots, the Boston Celtics, and the Boston Bruins. It had often been pointed out to him that it did none of them any good if these teams won, or harm if they lost. He also had a tendency to hero-worship Tim and Howie, which they worked to discourage. Howie had once said to him,
“You’re a mathematical hero, Jimmy. That’s much better than being a sports hero.”
Even that didn’t seem to convince him.
The upshot was that Jimmy was now deeply upset at Harvard’s loss, particularly in view of the spectacular play of his friends. However, Meredith was producing good things to eat and drink, and that did seem to have a calming effect.
Before long, they heard Sharon calling up, asking if they were home. Meredith stuck her head out of the window and invited her up. She arrived in a flurry of happy excitement, saying, “So much has happened. I hardly know where to begin.”
“Did you hear the game on the radio?”
“Yeah, the last bit on the car radio. I knew you guys wouldn’t be unhappy about Harvard losing.”
There was a groan from Jimmy, but she continued, “The really funny thing, Timmy, is that, even though you played so well, Father is furious at you.”
“You told him you were just taking tickets at the gate. He says that you lied to him.”
That set Tim back. Then, recovering, he explained to the others, “When I told him I was playing a small role in the game, he suggested that I was going to be taking tickets at the gate. It was meant to be insulting rather then teasing, so I told him I’d be right at Gate 3.”
That caused some laughter, and Sharon explained, “Father has no humor at all.”
Meredith replied, “It couldn’t be just that. He must be jealous of Tim’s success.’
“Yeah, I guess so. The other funny thing is that he and Mother are going to a post-game party. Everyone will be complimenting them over Tim’s play and Father will have to pretend to be pleased. Which won’t be easy for him.”
Audrey asked, “Tim, does your father hate you, or what?”
“He’d probably like me if I became a lawyer and went into his firm.”
“So, in refusing, you’re rejecting, not only the law, but your father as well?”
It was said with a half-smile that drew a few chuckles, but Sharon replied for him, “Tim, or anyone, would have to be crazy to want to be like Father.”
Jimmy asked, “Is he an interesting kind of lawyer?”
“No. It’s mostly just figuring out how people and companies can pay the least taxes. No civil rights, or anything like that. Strictly money.”
It was generally agreed that Tim wasn’t obsessed with money, and Tim himself replied, “My idea of comfort is pretty minimal, I guess.”
Sharon continued, “Father was in such a state that he insisted on leaving immediately, even though it was way too early for the party. He hustled Mother out before she’d got her make-up on right, and burned rubber down the driveway.”
Meredith asked sweetly, “Will you be like that when you get older, Tim?”
Despite Tim’s remonstrances, it was agreed that he would be defenseless against his bad genes.
The snacks and beer having been consumed, the group was still hungry. Audrey pointed out that, since Tim and Howie were now local celebrities, they couldn’t go to their usual pizza place. But Sharon had brought a car, making it possible for them to escape to Watertown. As someone said, “The people in Watertown have other things than Harvard football to worry about.”
With six people in the car, four in the back seat, they managed to cover the few miles without undue pain. On arrival, they found a little Armenian restaurant on a back street between a barbershop and a hair salon, both closed for the night. A peek in the windows showed that the barbershop was very clean, the hair salon not so clean. The restaurant was harder to look into, but Meredith strode bravely in, followed by the others. The interior looked Italian to Tim, but he supposed that the menu would have Armenian elements. In fact, it turned out to be exotic and interesting.
They ordered a communal tureen of chicken soup Bagdassarian, the name derived from that of the restaurant, and found it pleasantly spicy in an unfamiliar way. There followed quite a convivial dinner. Even Jimmy livened up enough to tell a joke, which was unusual for him. As they were sitting with coffee, Sharon, trying to call home, found that her cell phone battery was dead. No one else had a live one, but there was an old pay phone near the men’s room. Coming back and reporting no answer, she said to Tim, “I don’t suppose you want to be with the parental units, anyway.”
“No. I guess not. But I would like to find out if things have calmed down at all.”
“I guess I can call the people who’re giving the party. I know them slightly.”
When Sharon came back from the phone a second time, she said, “That’s strange. They never got to the party.”
“Father must have been in too bad a mood to go to it.”
“Where could they have gone?”
No one could guess. As they were about to leave, Sharon called again, still with no answer. Meredith then said, “I have a call to make. I’ll be right back.”
It was a few minutes before Meredith returned to the table, and she said, “I guess we’re all finished here. Let’s pay and go outside.”
As soon as they were out on the street, she said, “Bad news. I called the police, and there was an accident.”
Sharon spoke quickly and quietly, “They’re both dead.”
No one said anything for a bit, but, then, Meredith said, “You’d better sleep on the couch in my room, Sharon. I have an extra toothbrush, everything you might need.”