morning, gray and dripping rain. Game day. Someone in
Zeke House is blasting Bob Marley's "No Woman, No Cry"
so loud that its familiar refrain can be heard across the street:
"Everything's gonna be all right..."
At 9 a.m., the Yeomen start wandering into Stevenson Hall for a
buffet breakfast of scrambled eggs, sausage, fruit, and bagels.
The room is eerily quiet as they begin to line up with trays--upperclass
students first. Everyone is wearing crimson sweatsuits and gray
T-shirts, except for Ramsey and his seven assistant coaches; they're
sporting jackets and ties. Defensive coordinator Rob Erhardt stands
up to dismiss the team at 9:30.
"Be in the locker room at 10:15," he says.
Ramsey remains behind, enjoying breakfast and chatting with eight
members of the 1950 squad. As they finish their meal and get up
from the table, Bart Harrison '51 shakes the coach's hand. "We're
not available for substitutions," he advises Ramsey.
breakfast, the 1950 team walks across campus to Philips for a meeting
of The Heisman Club, which was founded to save football from extinction
back in the '70s. Its 4,000 members have since taken on other projects,
such as building a softball field, but reviving the football team
remains its top priority. So far, they like the progress made under
Ramsey and athletic director Michael Muska.
"We are in a genuine turnaround situation," says Koppes.
"What we see on campus is a shift in the attitude toward athletics."
True, the Yeomen are still searching for that elusive win, but Koppes
has been encouraged since Opening Day at Dill Field when he first
saw 50 Oberlin football players standing on the sidelines. "That,
in itself, was a victory."
Saturday afternoon. One hour
before kickoff, the Yeoman shuffle around Jones Field House, adjusting
their shoulder pads and stretching out on the new turf. Quarterback
Chris Moffatt '02, who also doubles as punter, booms several
balls into the nets of the baseball batting cage. The echo reverberates
around the walls of the old barn.
Down the hall, a few dozen players sit quietly in front of their
red wire-mesh lockers. Their gray T-shirts bear a different inscription:
"Bring It On." Some Yeomen stare into space or pray, others
nod to the music pulsing through their Walkmans. A few guys paint
their faces, freshman lineman Eric Eyre opting for a Batman effect.
Defensive line coach Bob Klinar strolls up to the white dry-erase
board and squiggles one sentence in red marker: "Focus 100%
of the X." "That's all it comes down to," he says,
shrugging. "Do your job first, help your buddy second."
Moments before the Yeomen take the field, Ramsey bursts through
the steel door and starts weaving through the room. "Where's
our A game?" he asks, his voice even but intense.
The team explodes.
"Where is it?" Louder this time.
Ramsey challenges his players. "There's no reason we shouldn't
walk off Dill Field victorious today," he announces, still
pacing. "You are much better than what you've shown. You know
He comes to a halt in front of the room. "Four quarters, 60
minutes, snap to whistle--every play, every snap, every kick,"
Ramsey says. "Let's get it done."
Game time. As they did in Pomona,
the Yeoman again start out strong. On their opening drive, the offense
holds the ball for 11 plays and picks up three first downs before
sputtering. The defense forces Case Western Reserve to go three-and-out
on its first possession.
Then the walls slowly cave in. Case Western connects on several
long passes, its running back scampers for 152 yards and two touchdowns,
and despite hanging tough for three quarters, Oberlin loses its
33rd straight game, 37--14.
Still--and Ryan and Jordan are going to hate hearing this--there
were a number of encouraging developments: Freshman running back
Joseph Foxworth '04 had several impressive carries, sophomore
linebacker Mike McClendon '03 returned an interception 65
yards for a touchdown, and Ramsey showed enough confidence in his
offense to try a few trick plays, from a fake field goal to an option
play that saw wide receiver Cody McCoy catch a lateral and heave
a long pass down the sideline, albeit incomplete.
"They're not playing bad football," says Bart Harrison
'51, a retired attorney from Philadelphia who played defensive end
on the 1950 Yeomen team. "They let Case Western escape three
times in third-and-long situations, and they're not executing on
key plays. That has a lot to do with confidence. But they're not
playing bad football."
That's certainly the consensus among the 450 fans exiting the field.
As Ramsey makes his way back to the locker room, he is approached
by an elderly couple who offer handshakes and encouragement. "You're
getting there," says the man, quickly adding that he and his
wife traveled to the game in Pomona.
Meanwhile, the solemn Yeomen sit stooped in front of their lockers.
Few have even taken off their jerseys when Ramsey walks through
the door like a man on a mission. "We've got a lot of work
to do," he announces, pacing among his players. "A lot
of work. Maybe it's time to take the gloves off and demand perfection
from you. We're a better team than 0-and-4."
He looks around the silent room. "We're not gonna quit on you,"
he says, wrapping up the mercifully brief postmortem. "Lifting,
tomorrow. 10 a.m."
Sunday morning. Oberlin's 33rd
consecutive loss merits exactly three sentences in The Chronicle-Telegram's
round-up of Ohio college football.
Things don't get much better in ensuing weeks. In fact, the pain
gets downright excruciating in mid-October, when the Yeomen lose
a heartbreaker to Hiram, 9--8, on a 33-yard interception return
for a touchdown. Four more losses follow as Oberlin completes another
winless season, stretching its losing streak to 39 games--and counting.
It's never too early to focus on next season, when the young Yeomen,
joined by a second crop of Ramsey recruits, are likely to begin
reaping the benefits of their hard work and experience. For inspiration,
all they have to do is look at that snapshot on the coach's bulletin
board, the one of a playoff college football team holding hands
at the moment of truth.
Seems their opponent wound up missing that chip-shot field goal,
giving Ramsey's team new life. "We won," he says. "Triple
Then Jeff Ramsey does something he has yet to do in his two seasons
at Oberlin. He laughs, basking in the memory of every coach's sweetest
Haynes is a writer, editor, and hockey goalie in New York
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