Saturday, September 14, 2013

Langdon Lea , William Church Cabinet Card (Inscribed)

We originally owned three copies of this cabinet card and decided on keeping this one for our collection. It is inscribed from Langdon Lea "yours sincerely, "The Kid", and was kept by the grandchildren of William W. Church, as is described on the reverse in red pencil. Church, a Princeton All-American (1896) and Langdon Lea, Princeton, three time All-American (1893, 94, 95). Lea is pictured on the 1894  Mayo Cut Plug set of cards.
For more information and photos on Lea we would recommend the website
 Pach Bros receipt to W.W. Church for twelve photos of self for $3.00, that may have been for the pictured cabinet card and the others mentioned in the write-up above.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

An Interview with a Football Legend

About two years ago I had the privilege of meeting and interviewing Pete Varney, a man best known for catching the two point conversion after time had run out in the most famous of all  Harvard – Yale games, the 1968 “Harvard Beats Yale 29 – 29” tie. A documentary made about this rivalry and this game in particular came out in 2008. Harvard Beats Yale, 29 - 29 was a fascinating and well done piece that fans and historians of the game can earnestly appreciate.

I was most impressed by Varney’s modesty and concern and high hopes for those that he has coached. Varney is a sportsman in the truest and finest sense of the word.

I would like to share the following excerpts from my interview with Coach Varney.

J.L.:  As a player, how intense was the Harvard-Yale rivalry during your playing days?

Varney:  Well, it was something that every player looks forward to after they’re admitted to Harvard. They know their chief rival is Yale, so you want an opportunity to play in the game, number one. And, number two, you want to beat them. It’s something you always remember. Yeah, we beat Yale, that game was great, great game.’ It’s a conversation piece for the rest of your life with your teammates. 

J.L.:  During the game in 1968, Yale was up 29-13 with about two minutes left. Do you remember your feelings in those final two minutes or what your teammates were saying to rally everyone together? What was going on in the last couple moments?

Varney:  Quite honestly, Yale had dominated the game up to the last two minutes; they were just running all over us. The only thing that kept us in the game was turnovers. Calvin Hill I think had five for the game. The full-back Levi had a turnover late in the game. It just seemed like momentum had changed; and it was only for the last two minutes of the game. Everything seemed surreal. Everything seemed like a tidal wave. It was nothing you could control - it just happened. But that’s the reason I think everyone says Harvard won 29-29. Because, I think, if the game had continued, and the flow of the game had continued the way it was, just in the last two minutes, that we would have won. There was something magical and mystical about it, that everything just went our way.

JL:  When you think back to that two-point conversation at the end, do you still get as excited about it?

Varney:  It’s always better to be remembered as the guy who caught it then as the guy who missed it, that’s for sure (laughs). It was a play that we had run a hundred times that season successfully. Basically, even though I was as big as I was, I was like 240, they used to split me out so I was away from the interior line of scrimmage. I was split out like a wide receiver. What they were trying to do was use my size as an advantage over whoever was going to be covering me. And, again, we had run it since day one of the season up until that day. Frank Champy actually came to the huddle - the guy who was quarterbacking then- said, ‘we’re gonna use this, get open, I’m coming to you’. So, after I caught it, I was relaxed, but up until I caught it, it was kind of a tense moment.

JL:  Most people remember you for your part in the 29-29 Harvard win, but you were also a prolific baseball player, and you still have a lot of records at Harvard and also led Harvard to the NCAA Division I World Series league. You were drafted to play in the majors seven times, and were the number one pick three of those times. What’s the story with being drafted so many times and your reluctance to going to the major leagues?

Varney:  It was kind of different back then. Back then, every six months, if you did not sign while being drafted, you were thrown back into the pool. There was no rule that said you had to wait three years of college until after your junior year, as there is now, or until the age of 21. So the rules changed since then. In 1966, I got drafted by the Kansas City Athletics –and that was Charlie Finley- he offered me a contract. I said no and went to Deerfield Academy. That was in September. In January of ’67, I was drafted again. So every six months you were drafted if you didn’t sign. So, back then, the rule was that every six months, if you didn’t sign, you went back into the pool and teams could draft you. I think the rule was changed in the late 1990s. In the 1990s, basically the NCAA and the major league teams got together and said that throwing these kids back into the draft every six months was not good for the colleges because the colleges were signing kids to four year scholarships. So, the NCAA, the colleges, wanted some protection. If I’m going to invest some money in this scholarship in this kid, I want him for four years. Well, the only way we could do that is to compromise. Some of the NCAA and the major league people come together and said, ok, we’re going to wait until after junior year, if they don’t sign. As soon as they enter college, they have to either go until the end of their junior year or turn 21. So that’s the way the rule changed.
It is interesting, everybody remembers me for the 29-29 game, and nobody remembers my baseball career. So there’s the commentary on my baseball career.

J.L.:  So what was it like to play for the White Sox and Braves?

Varney: Well, I mean, it was a thrill. It’s something everybody wants to do. I describe my career as having a cup of coffee and not having the time to add the cream or sugar in it. But, again, it was a highlight. Your first at bat, your first hit, your first home run, all highlights of your career, stuff you’ll never forget. You’ve reached a pinnacle of your profession. You’re one of 1200 people in the world that are playing major league baseball, so it’s quite an honor. I wish it had lasted a little bit longer, but so be it.

J.L.:  So, you played professional baseball, but did you ever have any desire to play professional football as well?

Varney:  No. I knew from day one that I really wanted to be a baseball player. Played football, loved football, loved the camaraderie of it, loved the physicalness of it, loved every aspect of it. But, I get a workout with Dallas, and they offer me $5,000 to sign out of college and I say, ‘no, I’m going to go play baseball.” I just always assumed in my own mind that I was going to be a baseball player, not a football player.

J.L.:  After your professional playing career, you became a coach. You went to Narragansett High School briefly and then came to Brandeis. How did you decide to become a coach?

Varney:  I wanted to pursue my professional career playing baseball, and always in the back of my mind I wanted to be a coach. I loved my coaches in high school. They were always tough on me, kind of tough-love stuff. I wanted to do the same thing. I love baseball, I love kids, I love working with kids, I love teaching the game, and I just thought it was a natural fit for me. I probably could have done a lot of other things and made a lot more money, but, for me, I’ve been very happy with what I’ve been doing.

J.L.:  Did you have any coaches at Harvard or while playing baseball professionally that influenced you to become a coach, or was it just you wanting to become a coach on your own?

Varney:  Well, again, since high school, my high school football coaches, my high school basketball  coaches, my high school baseball coaches -  I’ve always respected them and admired what they were doing, how they were doing it and thought, ‘I would like to be doing that.’

J.L.:  You’ve been coaching at Brandeis for 29 years, and you’ve brought the Judges (Baseball) to the postseason in 20 of those seasons. What are some of your favorite memories, or favorite memory, from Brandeis?

Varney:  I think it’s when I get together with the alumni, we have a golf tournament. It’s one of the things we do. Seeing the kids come back and seeing the camaraderie they have with each other, that’s important to me. It’s important to me that they’ve done very well in their lives and with their families and the occupations that they’ve chosen. I have seven kids that are now college head coaches, which is pretty impressive. I’m happy for them, and that they wanted to go into the same profession as me. I think that’s pretty cool. I have a lot of high school coaches and teachers now who’ve been through the program… Whatever they’re doing, they’re doing it well, and that kind of sparks a little bit of pride in me, that the kids have gone through Brandeis and gotten their education and have gone on and been successful in life, in their family life and professional careers. 

J.L.:  So, I asked you about your favorite memory from Brandeis, but what is your favorite memory from your entire sports past?

Varney:  My entire sports past? Well, to rank them: First career home-run, Larry Ger in Shea Stadium, even though it was against the Yankees. It was when Yankee Stadium was being refurbished. You know, the 29-29 catch. I don’t know you could rank them: one, two, three. High school athletics: all of them. Going to the tech tourney and playing in the Boston Garden. I’ve been very, very, blessed in that all of my life a lot of my memories are revolving around athletics. So, to rank them, I don’t know if that’s fair. I can remember crying right after a basketball game the in the summer at Red Auerbach’s basketball camp. You know, all those memories conjure up emotions that are very positive about athletics. 

J.L.:  Many people consider you to be a celebrity and can recognize your photo. Do you think of yourself as a celebrity?

Varney:  I was part of a very unique experience. I think there are a couple reasons why people remember “the game”   Both teams were undefeated. I think it was the only time in the history of the Harvard-Yale game that both teams were undefeated not only in league play, but in outside play. Both teams were undefeated and it wound up in a tie! If it hadn’t wound up in a tie, I don’t know if people would remember it as much as if one team had really beat the other team. So that’s the significance of the game, I think. I’m very reluctant. A lot of people have come to me for over 40-some years about the game and sometimes I don’t feel very good about it because I think I was a small part of that game. A lot of people did a lot of great things in that game that season. It happened to be one particular moment in time, that’s all. I enjoy my relationship with my former teammates; it was a great thrill, obviously, but to think I’m a celebrity? No, I don’t think that at all. They still charge me a buck ninety-nine for coffee at Dunkin Donuts.

J.L.:  You’ve been interviewed many times before this. Is there anything else that hasn’t gotten out in those interviews about your sports legacy or your coaching that you’d like to say?

Varney:  Nope. Like I said, I’ve been very blessed. I’ve been very fortunate to have some very good student-athletes over the years. I’ve been very proud of what they’ve accomplished. I haven’t accomplished anything in my 29 years here [at Brandeis]. Haven’t caught a ball, hit a ball, thrown a ball. I’m very happy that I’ve had, hopefully, some positive influence over some young men over the years.

Pete Varney scoring Harvard's historic 2-point conversion