The test of a good documentary is whether it can get you to invest in a subject that you previously had absolutely no interest in whatsoever. By that standard, Kevin Rafferty’s look at the most (in)famous college football game ever is close to perfect; folks who don’t have any inkling what an I formation is will still find themselves sucked into the film’s vortex. Even though the title gives away the outcome, the way the vérité veteran (The Atomic Cafe) deftly intersperses talking-head testimonies with faded footage makes this 1968 Crimson-versus-Blue competition remarkably compelling.
Technically, the only things the Cambridge athletes beat were the clock and the odds. But that tie was enough to declare them the victors: With 42 seconds left, Harvard’s team was down 16 points when the underdogs staged an unbelievable comeback. Rafferty interviews every living player from both sides, with participants like Tommy Lee Jones and superquarterback Brian Dowling recalling how the outcome changed their outlook forever.
Of course, there’s only so much boomer nostalgia from gray-haired gridiron gods one can take. The world outside the stadium is invoked—Vietnam, SDS, the sexual revolution—but the focus remains on the Ivy League grudge match; parallels to a later standoff between a Harvard man and a Yalie (Al Gore and George W. Bush, both namechecked) aren’t even attempted. “It was just a football game,” one interviewee sighs. Harvard Beats Yale 29–29 ends up being just a football-game doc; the grace the movie displays in re-creating that match, however, still makes it a winner.