Harvard football players pile onto a charter bus, getting settled in after a hard-fought win. Before long, not even the bus driver can implore the group to quiet down, as the team’s raucous celebration completely drowns out his voice.
All of a sudden, a group breaks out into song: the members of Protein Shake, a rock band from the 2015 team, used to provide some of the entertainment for the long journey back to Cambridge. Now the current offensive linemen carry on the tradition.
“Some of the great offensive line group we had together at one time, all those NFLers, the guys like Adam Redmond, [Anthony] Fabiano, Cole Toner, Ben Braunecker, those guys used to sing,” Harvard coach Tim Murphy said. “You could tell they had practiced, and it was just so soothing, so calming, so entertaining. You have to have sort of a quirky sense of pride to do it, and a sense of humor, but at the same time they were really good.”
“We have some guys this year that like to sing on the bus,” senior halfback Ryan Antonellis added. “They’re not as good, but there are definitely some characters on the O-line. Guys that like to sing and yell, and, for better or worse, they just kind of do it.”
These are just a few snippets from a typical return trip for the Crimson football team. Typical in the sense that, since 2013, Harvard has only suffered three road defeats.
Adding to the win column is generally thought to be more difficult as the visiting team. Crimson football, either by chance or by some rare gift to win on the road, has broken this pattern in recent years. From 2013 to 2015, Harvard did not suffer a single loss as the away squad.
“Having a special sort of sense of pride in being ‘road warriors’ is a big thing with us,” Murphy said. “We know it’s harder. We know it’s relatively hostile territory. And we know that statistically speaking, it’s harder to do so we embrace that challenge.”
Road experiences for the Crimson are not always so positive, however. One of the games that slipped away was the 2012 loss at Princeton, in which the Tigers posted 29 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to take their first lead of the contest with 13 seconds remaining.
Defeats on road trips take on an added feeling of pensiveness and frustration, as the team has the entire journey back home to reflect on what could have been. Murphy offered just one word to describe the atmosphere among the players and coaches following a defeat: silence.
A recent road trip that ended poorly in more ways than one was Harvard’s opening week venture down to the University of Rhode Island. Not only did the Crimson have to swallow an unexpected defeat, but freshman cornerback Ben Abercrombie also suffered a serious neck injury.
“Rhode Island was definitely the quietest bus I’ve ever taken home, just with what happened with Ben and the loss,” Antonellis said. “No one said a word on the way home. It was really solemn.”
More often than not, however, the team does not have to worry about dealing with these negative postgame emotions.
“Honestly, I haven’t lost many road games, so usually [the trips are] fun from what I remember,” said senior defensive back Tim Haehl. “We usually throw on a funny movie or something.”
These trips, especially on the return path, allow the team to let loose and relax after a grueling week of practice, film review, and game action.
Though traveling with teammates serves as an excellent tool to spur team bonding, some players find more comfort at the friendly confines of Harvard Stadium. From Eliot House, the walk over to the Stadium is no more than five minutes at a leisurely pace. From the distant Quad, Allston is still just a short bike ride away.
Five times a year, the team has the luxury of playing at the historic field just a short distance from the players’ dorms. They do not have to plan their entire weekends around an elaborate travel schedule. They do not have to miss Friday classes. They do not have to venture into enemy territory, where a legion of opposing players waits to greet the Crimson’s smaller travel roster.
Five other times, however, the team has to hit the road. Some destinations are an hour or two away, such as non-conference opponents Holy Cross or Rhode Island. Others are much more distant. For example, in 2013, the Crimson took off for California to take on the University of San Diego.
Compared to other Harvard athletic programs with more games on their schedules, the football team’s travel commitment is relatively light. However, it can still be a challenge to balance the weekend schedule with academic commitments.
For Harvard students, classwork never sleeps, and it is very common for professors to require students to turn in assignments on Mondays. This leaves precious little time over the weekend for players to be fully invested in both their athletic and academic obligations.
“You expect to do a lot of work on the bus, catch up on sleep, listen to music, but we always end up watching movies and getting closer as a team,” Antonellis said.
Meals, like the other aspects of the trip, are finely tuned. Players will eat just before departing, and they are provided snacks on the road prepared by the training staff. As soon as they get off the bus or plane, get settled, and finish team meetings, they will have another meal at the hotel.
“When we go to a place like Georgetown, we’re going to be staying in a really nice hotel, and the catering services are amazing there,” Antonellis said. “The food’s definitely way better than HUDS. We always get steak dinners and stuff.”
Unlike the meals, however, not everything always goes according to plan. Antonellis would tell you of a freshman year mishap in which two fellow rookies missed the bus and were left behind. The bus, like everything else around the program, runs on Murphy time: it leaves ten minutes before it is scheduled to depart, and it waits for no straggler.
Haehl cites the cramped visitors’ locker rooms as one distinct negative of being away from the familiar Dillon Field House.
“You have to get taped,” Haehl said. “You have to get all your stuff on. And you’re standing in a four square-foot area with three other guys, and all of your lockers are just boxed in.”
For all the highs and the lows of a football season, all the triumphs and the struggles, all the positives and the negatives, one thing the team can agree on is that victorious road trips are an unmatched experience.
“There’s nothing more fun, and more family-like, and more palpable than a happy bus with a long way to go home,” Murphy remarked.
—Staff writer Jack Stockless can be reached at email@example.com.