Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: With the Super Bowl happening on Sunday, we’ve lined up a week of movies about football and its fans.
Harvard Beats Yale 29-29 (2008)
Were a Hollywood screenwriter to invent the big comeback depicted in Harvard Beats Yale 29-29, people would deride it as woefully unrealistic. Sometimes called the most famous football game in Ivy League history, this 1968 gridiron showdown unfolded like the most rousing of sports-movie fairy tales—except, of course, that it all really happened. Both teams were undefeated (8-0) going into the final game of the season, but Yale was heavily favored to win. Down 29-13 with a couple minutes left on the clock, Harvard rallied to put 16 more points on the board and climactically close the gap. Though the game ended in a tie, many declared Harvard the unofficial victor. Given everyone’s expectations going in, and the sheer perseverance involved in coming from behind, it’s hard to argue the logic of that call.
Borrowing its title from a post-game Harvard Crimson headline, Kevin Rafferty’s superlative sports documentary tackles this real-life underdog story from a variety of angles. Much of the first half is devoted to laying groundwork and providing cultural context, as a gallery of enthusiastic interviewees—including Tommy Lee Jones, who played for Harvard and roomed with Al Gore—tell inspired anecdotes about 1960s college life. On some level, the film is about how a single event can become legend in the minds of those who experienced it; many who attended speak of this ancient athletic standoff in almost mythic terms, at least one alum suggesting that he could feel the weight of history as it was happening. Poetic waxing aside, Harvard Beats Yale 29-29 is predominately just a great football movie: Thanks to perfectly preserved kinescope footage, Rafferty is able to run through the action play by impossible play, allowing the surviving players to engage with—and sometimes contradict—what the cameras captured. It plays like an ESPN commentary track, deconstructing the game for diehards and laymen alike. And what a game to deconstruct.
Availability: Harvard Beats Yale 29-29 is available on Blu-ray and DVD (which can be obtained through Netflix) and to stream on Fandor and Hulu.