An oral history: Williams plays Amherst to one of college football's final ties
For football fans of a certain age, tie games used to represent something interesting.
You had classics like from 1968 when Harvard and Yale played to a 29-29 tie, and the Harvard Crimson's headline read "Harvard beats Yale, 29-29."
There was the tie in the 1948 Army-Navy Game. The Midshipmen were 0-8, the Cadets were 8-0, and the game ended up 21-21. Or the disappointing 10-10 tie between Notre Dame and Michigan State in 1966, when the Fighting Irish ran out the clock to insure the tie, and a shot at a national championship.
Then there was the Williams-Amherst game of 1995. The game ended in a scoreless tie. It turned out to be the final scoreless tie in NCAA history and was probably the penultimate tie in all of college football. Two weeks after the Nov. 16 "Biggest Little Game in America," Wisconsin and Illinois battled to a 3-3 deadlock.
The NCAA started playing overtime in the 1995 bowl season, and by the time the Ephs took the field for practice in 1996, overtime was the law of the land in college football.
The 0-0 tie had a little bit of everything and a lot of mud. Here is the oral history of that game, told by many of the participants.
Three weeks before the Williams-Amherst game, Williams beat Tufts 34-6 at Weston Field. The game was played in a day-long deluge of rain, 50-mile per hour winds, and ankle-deep mud.
Williams running back Jamall Pollock, a junior in 1995, and the No. 4 all-time rusher in Eph history with 1,293 yards — The thing about that monsoon was that it happened so intensely. As it went through the first and second quarter — by midway through the second quarter, we were just running through the field and my feet were sinking into turf that my heels were striking the foundation under the field. We all loved playing in the rain. Playing in the rain is great. Playing in the mud is great.
Weston had been rendered unplayable, so the Ephs played Hamilton at Mount Greylock the next week, winning 29-9. They traveled to Wesleyan for the start of the Little Three, beating the Cardinals 42-0, and extending their winning streak to 21 games.
Amherst defensive coordinator E.J. Mills (now the head coach there) — I just remember watching the Tufts game and at times, you could see kids taking head-first slides. It was like almost messing around. It was seriously crazy on that film. You knew that the field was going to be a lot of trouble.
But the damage turned out to be irreparable.
Williams football coach Dick Farley — We were trying everything under the sun. We contacted [famed groundskeeper George Toma]. Somebody in Buildings and Grounds got in touch with him somehow, and he suggested trying to put sawdust on the field, and hope it would dry out. Obviously, it never did.
The only thing I said at the time, and I said it to [Williams athletic director] Bob Peck — I said 'Hey look, there's no way we're going to be able to play the game on the field. If you move the game to Amherst, I don't mind that.'
Nowadays, Williams-Amherst is often seen on the New England Sports Network, as it will be this Saturday. Prior to 1995, the Williams-Amherst game had only been televised to alumni gatherings across the country. But in 1995, ESPN2 launched a series of "rivalry game" broadcasts that were shown live at 10 a.m.
ESPN's broadcast crew in Williamstown had longtime ESPN talent and current Washington Nationals TV broadcaster Bob Carpenter on play-by-play, current Oakland Raiders general manager Mike Mayock on analysis, and the late Beano Cook, a college football legend, on color.
John Walsh, Amherst linebacker (now head coach at Pomona Pitzer College) — That was when ESPN2 just started. It was like, 'what the heck was that?' We were excited. All of a sudden, here is an opportunity for entire families to watch us throughout the country. Then we found out it was a 10 a.m. game. All right, it was better than nothing. We'll play this game on national television, but we'll put it on at 10 a.m., east coast time.
Pollock — We were really excited. We were over the moon. We couldn't wait to be able to perform before a national television audience. We were really geared up and excited.
Mike Bajakian, Williams quarterback (now the offensive coordinator at Boston College) — I want to say we didn't get much advance warning. It might have been that week or maybe the week before. It added a little excitement. I do remember a change in routine a little bit, just waking up earlier. Everybody has their pregame routines, and I remember it threw me off a little bit, but not much.
Jack Siedlecki, Amherst head coach (currently color commentator on Yale football broadcasts) — We actually ran a practice that week at like 6:30 in the morning, because I didn't want the Amherst-Williams game to be the first day they got up that early for football. We did a pregame meal at 6 a.m. That was a huge thing. We went up there and stayed over the night before the game. We had never done that [for the Williams game] before.
In those days, Williams practiced on Cole Field, located on the other side of campus. So the players hadn't been on Weston Field since the Tufts game.
Pollock (now the assistant director of Brown University's Counseling and Professional Services) — The interesting thing about it is at that time, we didn't practice at Weston at all. Before the final game, the last time we had been on Weston was the Tufts game. I didn't know anything about what the field would look like.
So, when the red lights went on with the ESPN cameras, Williams put its 21-game winning streak on the line against an Amherst team that was 5-2.
Bajakian — We were pretty darn confident. Obviously, we had strong personnel with a lot of returning starters at every position. We didn't think we'd lose a beat.
Williams did not lose a beat when Bajakian dislocated his throwing shoulder in the preseason, as Peter Supino led Williams to four straight wins. In fact, Bajakian's first game back was the monsoon game.
Not only were the usual media suspects and ESPN2 in the Weston Field press box, but Sports Illustrated sent writer Tim Layden. Layden was in his second season covering college football and managed to convince his editors that the Williams-Amherst game would be a nice change of pace.
Layden — I felt like I had a pretty good story. Several of the Williams kids told interesting stories. Mike Bajakian talked about going over to the dining hall at Baxter Hall at the time and getting a grilled honey bun for breakfast on game days. I thought I had a pretty good D-III story in the notebook. Let's just go have a good game and let's go get the story in Sports Illustrated.
The preparation for the game was the same as always in Williamstown, and it turned out to be a very nice November morning. Sometimes, the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.
Williams punter Matt DeKamp (now a professor of physics at the University of Delaware) — I don't think there were any differences to the prep work because of the field. We were wondering how they were going to harden it up. I don't think we were really expecting it to be sawdust covering up all the patches.
Bajakian — There was a crispness to the air and early in the morning the sun was shining. There was a little edge. There was an excitement on campus for sure.
Walsh — I'm walking across the field when we first got there and my calves were burning. It was like walking on deep sand on the beach.
Pollock — It was like nothing I had ever experienced before or since. It felt like running in full pads through a desert. It was uncomfortable. There's no way you could be prepared for it. There was no way to cut, gather yourself or accelerate.
Siedlecki — I just remember stepping on the field and almost losing my shoes. I just knew it was going to be a tough go all day for the offenses. We were ankle-deep in mud the whole day.
Williams had come into the game with an offense led by Bajakian, Pollock and running back Mark Kossick, who eventually became the career scoring leader at Williams. The Ephs had outscored their last three foes by a combined 105-15.
Mills — Certainly, from a defensive standpoint, we saw it as an advantage because that was a really high-powered offense and it was going to be tough to move that day — and it was.
Walsh — It was my junior year and we started getting pretty good defensively. It got to where, for us, we had some good team speed and we had some good size up front. We felt confident. We also felt we were going against a team that was the best offense in the league, by far. I don't know if I was old enough or mature enough to see that this is going to counter-balance their explosive offense, but it did.
The game was, for the most part, played within the 30-yard markers. Neither team could get much of anything going. Amherst did miss a 27-yard field goal as Dave Bobruff's kick sailed under the crossbar. How it got to that is another story.
DeKamp — You mean the snap over my head? The longest 17-yard punt?
Long snapper Warren Cook sailed the snap over DeKamp's head deep in Williams territory. He managed to run the ball down and get a 17-yard kick off, giving the Lord Jeffs the ball on the Williams 36. Ten plays later, Dom Piccinich tackled Amherst's Dan Milazzo on the 9-yard line. That led to the missed field goal.
DeKamp — I remember being around the 20. All of a sudden [the snap] was so far over my head, it was not even worth jumping for. The next thing I knew I was running backward toward the end zone, picked it up and basically did a swivel kick. I don't know how it actually got underneath one of the defenders' arms, but it did.
Mills — We had a chance to tackle [DeKamp] and the ball would have been on the 10-yard line, but our kid tried to block it instead of tackle him, and he ended up getting the punt off.
DeKamp — I knew it had some sort of influence on the game, but I didn't think it would be a deciding factor whatsoever. Punts hardly ever are.
Williams had a chance to snatch victory away from its archrival. That came in the fourth quarter.
Bajakian hit tight end Mike Gardner on a 60-yard catch-and-run. Amherst defensive back Peter McConville's tackle of Gardner saved a touchdown.
It was first-and-goal inside the 10.
Pollock — There was no doubt in my mind we were going to score. I remember looking down [after a running play] that my head and shoulders had crossed the goal line, but the ball was just short. There was still no question, no doubt that we were going to punch it in and win the game — and that would be it.
Williams considered kicking a field goal on fourth down. It would have been at the same end of Weston where Bobruff missed his 17-yard attempt. But as Bajakian recalled in a The Berkshire Eagle story: "[Kicker] Sam Landis and [holder] Chris Bohane went out to check if we could kick. Sam's plant would have been ankle-deep in mud."
Farley — The snapper, the holder and the kicker just said that it's impossible. We can't make that happen.
Siedlecki — The surprising thing was there were very few turnovers. I think people expected fumbles and all that kind of stuff, and there really weren't.
The clock soon ran out, and there were nothing but zeroes on the old scoreboard at Weston Field. The time read 0:00, and the score read Williams 0, Amherst 0. The tie ended Williams' 21-game winning streak, the second longest in school history. It did not end the Williams unbeaten streak, which was extended to 23 games at the start of the 1996 season.
Walsh — No one likes to tie. You want to win, you want to lose. Man, we thought that as a defensive group, holy cow, unbelievable job holding that offense to zero. We did our job. It felt really good.
Siedlecki — The thing that I remember at the end of the game, and I know a lot of people say you never celebrate a tie. Amherst hadn't beaten Williams in [eight] years and it hadn't even been close in most of those games. That tie, to our kids, was like a win. Our kids were excited as if we had won the game.
In fact, the average score in those previous eight wins for Williams over Amherst was 33.25 to 7.7. It included two shutouts and three games where the Lord Jeffs only scored in single digits.
And on the home sideline, the reaction was far, far different.
Bajakian — I was definitely upset. We considered it a loss to end in a 0-0 tie. Let's face it, there's a big difference between 8-0 and 7-0-1. It was definitely upsetting. Coach Farley always says you have 60 minutes to play and a lifetime to remember. I can honestly tell you that I thought about that game every days for years to come. It left a very bitter taste.
Pollock — I was devastated. I was certainly tearful, really, really upset and distraught. I recall the Amherst team celebrating like they had won. To a certain extent, they did.
DeKamp — We had beaten everybody so easily during the season. We were undefeated the year before. In my entire time, we may have only lost three games. It just felt like a loss to us. I knew it was going to be the last game I ever played. It was disappointing.
Dick Farley told reporters after the game that despite the result, there was still only one undefeated team in NESCAC, and that was Williams.
Pollock — I know that Coach Farley said that and Coach Farley was always very masterful at framing things and looking at the positive side and building our capacity to be hopeful. But that game certainly felt incredibly painful.
Farley — You couldn't blame anybody. If this was the biggest disappointment you'll ever have in life, you'll have a good life. We proved we were probably the best team in the league. Mother Nature did us in, I guess. That's the best I can tell you.
Layden (who wrote his article for Sports Illustrated, but found out that Sunday morning that editor Mark Mulvoy had decided not to run it) — I got a call Sunday morning at 9:45 from [editor Paul Fichtenbaum], telling me that my editor Mark Mulvoy, who was running the magazine, was watching the game on TV, thought it was a mess and not representative of any kind of football and he wasn't going to run a story about it. That's the way the story died — in my notebook and on my laptop.
A couple of weeks later, Wisconsin and Illinois played to that 3-3 tie, and that was the end of the era of ties in college football.
Walsh — Any time you're part of history, it makes it more of a special memory.
Pollock — I do remember feeling why couldn't [overtime] have happened sooner and wondering if part of the legacy of that game was that college football went to overtime.
Bajakian — It's especially bitter that it's a 0-0 tie as opposed to a 35-35 tie. I tell our players [at BC], you look at your self in the mirror and say what could I have done differently. When you end in a 0-0 tie, you look at yourself in the mirror and say there are many things I could have done.
DeKamp — Just having such a unique ending to my collegiate football career is sort of memorable. It was such a unique game in such a variety of ways. That's how I'm remembering it — not whether it was a tie, loss or win.
Howard Herman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @howardherman on Twitter, or 413-496-6253.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.