Game 051:Pennsylvania 70, at Harvard 57 Friday, February 4, 2005 Lavietes Pavilion - Cambridge, MA
Two weeks after the Blizzard of 2005, much of the ancient city of Boston was still buried under three feet of frozen white. The temperatures had been too frigid for significant melting to occur, and what little rain had fallen only served to wrap the snow in a hard, slick casing of ice. Some intrepids had chiseled out narrow walkways where the city sidewalks had once been, allowing for tight single-file ambulation. It was the best they could do.
So on a 25-degree Friday night, I exited the Red Line subway station at Harvard Square and fell in line along John F. Kennedy Street. There were hundreds of bundled-up souls with me there, many sporting crimson-H hats and scarves, trudging along in lock-step. I wondered if I had made a mistake by not purchasing tickets beforehand, I had no idea that a Friday night Penn game would attract so much attention. I figured it was because it was the first Ivy League home game for the Crimson.
But then, after crossing the Charles River bridge and entering the wide (and well-paved) lot where Harvard's athletic complex is located, the path forked. I veered to the left along with a trickle of fans headed towards the basketball arena - but most surged onward, streaming onwards. Turns out that tip-off time at Lavietes Pavilion coincided with a puck-drop at the Bright Hockey Center between the Crimson skaters and Dartmouth. The Harvard sports community was simply voting with their boots.
And I guess I couldn't really blame them. The natural order of things dictates that if a school offers a full slate of sports, folks will gravitate towards the teams that feature excellence. I was informed that the Harvard hockey team is performing well in the ECAC hockey league this year, and that a second-place spot was on the line. I understand that they might actually win the Beanpot this year, that fiercely-contested four-team tournament that captivates Boston this time of year.
Inside that second-oldest arena in Division I basketball, there were indeed plenty of good seats still available - the ones that weren't taken up by Penn fans, that is. The school bused in their full band and cheer squad, and followers of the Red and Blue took over four of the six sections of collapsible bleachers. The Harvard band was nowhere to be found, and their cheerleaders and dance team were forced into the always-awkward position of having to strut their stuff to the opponents' tune. And with the Super Bowl just days away, the Quaker fans delighted in the chance to chant "E! A! G! L! E! S! Eagles!" as many times as they wanted to, deep inside enemy New England Patriot territory.
"Couldn't get into the hockey," a man behind me muttered into his cellphone. "Sold out. I'm over at the basketball. nothin' but frickin' Penn fans here."
The Quaker hoopsters certainly enjoyed the home-away-from-home cooking - they were able to play loose and relax, saving their energy for their showdown against ancient foe Princeton the following Tuesday. When they slacked off too much and let Harvard run off a few streaks to bring the scoring margin close, Quaker coach Fran Dunphy let loose a string of pointed invective at his players to remind them that the fans weren't going to come on the court and win it for them. Finally, Tim Begley decided enough was enough and dropped 14 second-half points on his way to a double-double (21 and 10), and Penn streaked out to a 3-0 Ivy record.
And the Harvard cagers? They walked off the floor dejected and beaten, half of the annual weekend of pummellings at the hands of Penn and Princeton complete. I felt a pang of sympathy as the white-shirted Crimson plodded through the handshake line, one step closer to the end of another lost season. The only interesting thing about Harvard basketball since the days when Michael Crichton and Al Gore suited up in the 1960's was a 1983-84 team that led the nation in free throw shooting. The only banners of accomplishment that hang in the Lavietes belong to the ladies, who've made a habit out of going to the NCAA women's tournament lately.
The Official Wife Of The Mid-Majority™ had to work late, so she met me out in the concourse after the game. We found ourselves carried along by an eager surge of exiting Harvard fans who had heard that the hockey game was tight; they wanted to see if they could see the final moments for themselves.
"Sorry guys," the security man at the Bright Hockey Arena called out in a thick Bostonian accent. He held his hand up in Heisman Trophy pose, protecting the side door from the surging throng. "No room in heah."
The disappointed crowd dissipated, and we stood around idly making dinner plans - we had whittled our choices down to Pizzeria Uno and Taco Bell. Just then, the security guy waved and motioned for us and another small clutch of disappointed basketball stragglers to enter. "Come on in," he said. "Youse okay."
Inside, the arena was warm and cozy and packed to capacity. The dashers were clean, white and free of advertisements, just like the ice surface. There were only two minutes remaining in a one-all tie, and the crowd buzzed like crackling static. And there, squeezed behind the glass in the far corner, was the full Harvard band. (So that's where they were.)
And then, with just 52 seconds left in regulation time, a young Pennsylvanian named Dylan Reese let loose a rocketing slapper from the high slot that whistled past Dartmouth goalie Dan Yacey. The Bright was suddenly airborne, as 3,000 hockey fans took part in the timeless icerink tradition of leaping from their seats and raising their arms as one. No need to feel sorry for Harvard - they had won the day, after all.