Thrilling football documentary with a serious side

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Harvard's Pete Varney catches the two-point conversion that brings the score to 29-29 .

A spiritual force, the stars realigning, the gods seizing control. . . . To hear the veterans of the legendary Nov. 23, 1968 Harvard-Yale football game recall that day, what happened on the Cambridge field was nothing short of cosmic.

Of course, it was only a game. But in the annals of college football - and the gridiron rivalry between the Ivy League's Crimson and Bulldog teams - it was a contest of epic proportions. Kevin Rafferty's thrilling documentary Harvard Beats Yale 29-29 revisits the improbable events of that cold, sunny day, incorporating great play-by-play film coverage with interviews of the guys - now in their 60s - who ran around, passing and blocking, fumbling and intercepting, in the craziness of Harvard Stadium.

Not just a great sports movie, Harvard Beats Yale 29-29 captures a pivotal moment in recent history, as the Vietnam war spiraled (Harvard safety Pat Conway, a Marine, had just returned from a tour of duty), as student groups staged protests and strikes, as this country tried to put itself together again after the assassinations of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Playing for the Crimson (and interviewed in the film) was Tommy Lee Jones, whose roommate at Harvard was Al Gore. (Rafferty asks the Oscar-winner to cite examples of Gore's goofy humor, and Jones offers a couple of for instances. Hold on to your popcorn.) A Yale fullback's girlfriend was Meryl Streep; another teammate's roomie, George W. Bush.

Harvard Beats Yale 29-29 is a comeback story, a classic underdog yarn. But this winning doc also offers serious reflection on how events from our past continue to loom large in our lives - as regrets still counted, as lessons learned, as triumphs that awe and amaze.


Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://go.philly.com/onmovies.


Harvard Beats Yale 29-29

Directed by Kevin Rafferty. With J.P. Goldsmith, Vic Gatto, Brian Dowling, Frank Champi, Tommy Lee Jones. Distributed by Emerging Pictures.

Running time: 1 hours, 44 minutes.

Parent's guide: Unrated ().