Hart, On Football

Jeffrey Hart is Professor Emeritus of English at Dartmouth College, and a cultural critic, essayist and columnist. He holds an A.B. and Ph.D. from Columbia University, both in English literature, and formerly served four years with U.S. Naval Intelligence. During his more active teaching tenure, professor Hart often made a point of nettling colleagues: while they protested the price of gas, he drove to school in a Cadillac limousine. Professor Hart is still a Senior Editor with National Review, and a founder and adviser to The Dartmouth Review.

Below is Professor Hart’s 1998 essay on Ivy League football, much butchered for space.

I am entirely possessed by the notion that Ivy League football is important, an affliction no doubt contracted in early childhood. Of course I did do my undergraduate work at Dartmouth and Columbia. and then spent my entire career as a college professor at Columbia and Dartmouth. Small world.

Dartmouth College Football, 1901.

Dartmouth College Football, 1901.

Oh yes, I recall that Penn States great coach Joe Paterno once told the Dartmouth athletic director that the Ivy League does not play football. (Though this was an odd remark in view of the fact that Mr. Paterno was once the quarterback for the Brown team).

Come to think about it, Mr. Paternos remark is even odder, since a Dartmouth team once won the Lambert Trophy, Eastern football supremacy, over Mr. Paternos own Penn State team. And, as a matter of fact, a dozen or so Ivy League players are now scattered among the teams of the NFL.

But Joe Paterno should be conceded part of his point. This year, I do not see a single Ivy League squad that might not lose to a top high school team from Texas or Nebraska. And that certainly includes the Dartmouth and Yale teams that played last Saturday in Hanover, N.H.

Nevertheless, it all seems to matter.

I dont even know who Notre Dame played last weekend, or Stanford, or Ohio State, or Duke or Virginia. And, as a matter of fact, I dont care. In 1956, when I was considering Ph.D. programs in literature, I thought only of Harvard, Yale, and Columbia.

My earliest memories of football date from a now distant childhood when my father, a Dartmouth alumnus, boarded the sold-out Dartmouth train from Penn Station in New York, loaded me on with him, and the train headed for Princeton, for the Game.

As a matter of fact, many of those boarding the train were loaded, too. And the trip to Princeton was uproarious with college songs and coviviality.

Dartmouth v. Princeton: Fans.

Dartmouth v. Princeton: Fans.

That was when I first became acquainted with what Scott Fitzgerald called the dreaming spires of recently Gothic Princeton, where Booth Tarkington had once serenaded solo the dark quadrangles under the stars, and where the great Hobey Baker was so pure a sportsman he was reduced to tears when he was fouled during a football game, not because he was hurt, but because the game was hurt. Princeton, where, on the day he was elected president of the United States, Governor Woodrow Wilson attended a football practice.

From those childhood trips to Princeton I remember Princeton great Dave Allardice, who had strongest throwing arm and best flat pass before Bob Waterfield, and Dartmouths Eddie Arico, a scat back who would run reverse twenty yards behind his line, studying the blocking upfield and then, reversing himself, run for a twenty yard game, running sixty yards in one play, a human yo-yo. Of course he played out of the old single-wing, with downfield blocking that made that sort of thing possible.

And of course there were similar childhood train trips up to the Yale Bowl in New Haven, where you walked through the imposing Walter Camp Gate, named for the great Yale coach who Knute Rockne said had more or less invented football.

Then there was your entrance into the Bowl, which looks low from outside but extends below to a dizzying depth below the ground. This was where Albie Booth (Little Boy Blue), the poet Archibald MacLeish, and Calvin Hill had played Yale football.

As a Dartmouth freshman I went on a wild excursion down to Soldiers Field in Cambridge, a huge horseshoe stadium with a Roman colonnade around its top, and saw a tough Dartmouth fullback named Hugh Carey from Marblehead, Mass. hammer a better Harvard team for a narrow Dartmouth victory, and after that circulated through the dances in the Harvard Houses and clubs and went to sleep on someones couch. Harvard Professors William James and, remarkably, George Santayana once were regulars at Harvard games, and Teddy Roosevelt was practically a coach.

Last year, I went again to the Yale Bowl for a Dartmouth-Yale game and once again was impressed by the traditional, indeed ceremonial aspect of these games. The parking fields outside Bowl were crowded with row upon row, hundreds of autos and SUVs for hours of tailgate parties. There were small bands playing ragtime and barbershop quartets in striped blazers and people were grilling steaks on elaborate stoves and setting bridge tables for dining.

Champagne corks were popping, and the other drinks flowed in rivers, though no one expected much from either the Dartmouth or the Yale team.

And as a matter of fact, the teams did not deliver much, but the whole occasion was almost a religious event, of ceremony and recollection.

And so it has gone, over the years. Last weekend, Yale came to Dartmouth for the Homecoming game in Hanover, the festivities beginning on Thursday before the game as people crowded into a small town, and packed Murphys on Main Street, the best restaurant in a small town. On Friday night there was a thirty-foot bonfire in the middle of the Dartmouth campus and a parade of alumni from earlier classes, the groups getting pretty small when you reached the 1930s.

Here is the way it looked in Hanover before the Yale game this year. Everybody knows that Dartmouth has something like an even chance against Yale, and wonders what the Dartmouth coach can come up with to make up for the obvious weaknesses of his team.

Unfortunately, the Dartmouth quarterback cannot throw accurately beyond about fifteen yards. If he could throw accurately at thirty, the defence would have to spread out to their rear, but, as it is, they can crowd the territory where he is effective. A couple of years ago, Dartmouths Jay Fieldler, now with the pros, could throw the ball through an automobile tire at forty yards, which gave the defence fits. The coach today had better come up with something, maybe some screen passes.

Adding to Dartmouth offensive problems are the two running backs. They are fast, but not fast enough to get outside. Neither are they powerful enough to run at the opposing line and make their own holes. And the problem is that the Dartmouth offensive line does not seem to make holes either.

So what to do? Maybe some quarterback options, in which he runs to the outside and hands off or fakes to a trailing back. That could spread the defending line. Maybe throw on first down. Maybe throw long and pray good as a punt, anyway.

In fact, Dartmouths main offensive weapon is the punter, who as the offence goes three and out, nevertheless kicks for forty or fifty yards forcing the opposing team into bad field position. Its possible they will fumble.

And the Dartmouth defence is not bad, through it gave up a kazillion points against a strong Colgate last week.

What Yale had to show is not so clear, and its record has been spotty.

But as of this week the Dartmouth team has lost only one Ivy League game, to Penn, which is not much good either. And Dartmouth is still in the Ivy League race!

The tailgate parties go on for hours, and then the crowd pours into memorial Field (First World War), and somewhere, in the silence before the band plays the national anthem, a now outlawed flask shatters loudly on the concrete floor of the Stadium.

Final score last Saturday: Dartmouth , 22, Yale, 19.

Dartmouth solved a few of its problems.

Please remind me, in which state is Ohio located?

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