Harvard-Yale match a ‘60s metaphor to 2014 politics

Review by M.V. Moorhead

So now we know—if
we care—that the
Seattle Seahawks
and the Denver Broncos
will face each other in
the Super Bowl on Feb.
2. I hope everybody
enjoys the day.
If, like me, you’re
mostly indifferent to
football, you’ll enjoy the
quiet streets, sparsely
populated movie theaters
and short waits at
If you’re a fan, you’ll
enjoy the festivity of
the day, the excitement
of the game and the
spectacle of the show.
You may also be one
of those who enjoy the
Super Bowl commercials,
little drills in corporate
ego that often showcase
dazzling skill in
compressed cinematic
If, however, you
don’t care to watch the
game but would still like
to mark the occasion
with some footballthemed
let me offer a video
suggestion: the charming
documentary Harvard
Beats Yale 29-29.
Directed by Harvard
man and sometime
Michael Moore crony
Kevin Rafferty, the
film is an account of
a legendary game—
the legendary game,
basically—between the
two Ivy League football
squads that took place
on Nov. 23, 1968, and
ended, back when
American sporting
events still could, in a tie.
As the title, a
headline in the Harvard
Crimson, suggests,
Harvard regarded the
score as a victory, since
they were behind 29-13
at the half and were
the far less favored
and dominant team.
But Yale fell asleep
with their lead, and
let it dribble away in
a series of improbable
The film is—
probably by economic
structured. It’s just the
TV broadcast (greatly
abridged, of course) of
the game from Harvard
Stadium, intercut with
talking-head interview
footage with the players
from both teams, as
they are now—bemused,
wryly wistful middleaged
Among them is
Tommy Lee Jones, an
offensive tackle on the
Harvard team, who
seems particularly
addled, but manages to
get out the tale of how
his Harvard roomie Al
Gore figured out how to
play “Dixie” on an early
touch-tone phone.
The movie has a sly
undercurrent of sociopolitical
it was overt rather than
sly, it would wreck the
movie—about that fabled
American tribe, The
Elite. HBY29-29 hints
that there are at least
two academic Elites—
the sensitive peacenikprotester
Hahvahd of
Tommy Lee Jones and
Al Gore, and the more
macho and puritanical
Yale of William F.
Buckley and George W.
The former
sensibility is particularly
embodied here by
Yale linebacker Mike
Bouscaren, who comes
across like Buckley’s jugeared,
reptilian younger
brother, and who seems
to take an odd and
somehow endearing glee
in painting himself as a
dirty-playing scoundrel,
though Rafferty
demonstrates, through
an ironically JFK-like
breakdown of game
footage, that Bouscaren
is either exaggerating or
Somehow the real
metaphorical political
resonance of this game,
having cast Harvard as
the Left and Yale as the
Right, is that it was a tie.
As we know all
too well in recent
years, sometimes a tie,
in politics, can mean
intractable gridlock.
But sometimes a
tie means simply that
neither side grows
too powerful, and
compromise becomes
That’s the win,
for America, that my
moderate soul hopes for.


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