Enough Tupperware
by Leslie Lawrence '72


Saturday 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.

After 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.
"Right here!"
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 that."

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.

And yet...
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 overtime, 52--45."

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 accomplishment: victory.

Kevin Haynes is a writer, editor, and hockey goalie in New York City.


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