By dumbfounding coincidence, a film about the most famous tie game in football history premiered Wednesday in New York, just 72 hours after the stalemate between the Eagles and Bengals made ties a national talking point.
But the deadlocked result of the classic game at the center of Harvard Beats Yale 29-29, a documentary by Kevin Rafferty, is where the comparisons to Sunday’s NFL snoozer ends.
Tomorrow, Harvard and Yale -- the nation's oldest and third-oldest colleges, respectively -- meet for the 125th playing in their longrunning rivalry known simply as The Game. But it's also the 40th anniversary of their legendary 1968 meeting, when the Ancient Eight rivals entered the annual grudge match undefeated for the first time since 1909.
The Bulldogs, overwhelming favorites on merit, were headlined by Heisman hopeful quarterback Brian Dowling (nicknamed "God," who hadn't lost a game since seventh grade) and running back Calvin Hill, a future Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champ. The game unfolded according to expectations, with Yale leading 29-13 after 59 minutes. But Harvard scored two touchdowns -- and a pair of two-point conversions -- in the final 42 seconds, escaping with the "victory" revealed in the title.
Rafferty, a veteran filmmaker who helmed the 1982 cult classic The Atomic Cafe, intercuts the original ABC telecast of the game with contemporary recollections from several dozen participants -- from Yale tackle Bob Livingston (George W. Bush's roommate), Harvard guard Tommy Lee Jones (Al Gore's roommate), to Yale fullback Bob Levin (Meryl Streep's boyfriend). The stripped-down production and direct approach of Harvard Beats Yale 29-29 -- which borrows its title from The Crimson's day-after headline -- makes for an evenly wrought and refreshingly unpretentious 105 minutes. Instead, the rich historical significance on the game's periphery reveals itself, in anecdotes like the story of Harvard's Pat Conway, a Vietnam vet playing aside teammates active in the anti-war movement.
If you're in the New York area, Harvard Beats Yale 29-29 is running through Dec. 2 at Film Forum, a non-profit movie theater in the West Village. If not, a DVD of the film with additional interviews is slated for an early 2009 release.