Magazine article The New Yorker

Third-String Rummy

Magazine article The New Yorker

Third-String Rummy

Article excerpt

By last Thursday night, with the changing of the guard in Washington complete, some star power had returned to New York, and there, in the grand ballroom at the Waldorf-Astoria, sat an assortment of media and political figures in tuxedos, such as might have been found at one of the lesser inaugural balls: Stone Phillips, Iowa governor Chet Culver, "Hill Street Blues" star Ed Marinaro, Donald Rumsfeld. Ambassador Thomas Stephenson had just flown in from Lisbon. Ted Kennedy couldn't make it, but he sent a letter to be read on his behalf by the TV newsman Jack Ford. Five hundred dollars a plate, recession be damned. The Reverend Jason Pankau, a personal life coach from Stamford, offered an invocation from Proverbs 27:17: " 'As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.' We all share the common bond of having been sharpened . . . on Ivy League football fields."

If the election of President Obama was supposed to signal the end of clubby, fraternity-style rule and usher in a new, thin-necked, cerebral era, you wouldn't have known it from the Ivy Football Association Dinner, which, like a congressman's reelection bid, occurs every two years. "It is thought that the most unique aspect of Ivy League football is that many of the players go on to become nationally preeminent in their fields," the invitation read. Each school's football alumni association honors one of its own, and the names of some past honorees--Hank Paulson and G.E. chairman and C.E.O. Jeffrey Immelt, both Dartmouth offensive linemen, and both in the news--suggested an ongoing cultural relevance.

Governor Culver's father, John, a former Democratic congressman and senator, sat on the stage, as Harvard's chosen representative, and, in recalling his first trip to New Haven, in 1949, even claimed Obama as a kind of honorary member of the tribe. "The Yale captain that game was Levi Jackson, the first black captain in the history of Yale in any sport," he said. "And I thought, How sad it was that he died just a few years ago and couldn't witness a graduate of Columbia University become the first black President of the United States." Ted Kennedy was Culver's teammate: a left end. "John was a fullback who loved to charge straight up the center of the line," the Senator had written. "He was the kind of politician who didn't change with the prevailing political winds."

Some of the speeches, as the evening dragged on, seemed almost to borrow from the rhetoric and themes of campaign season. …

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