Sunday, October 21

Kelly Hold Your Water

Odometer: 10,604
Location: Cambridge, MA

Despite the nearby throng gathered to watch the Head of the Charles rowing derby, football was still a matter of significant import on Saturday. The Harvard Crimson hosted their Ivy League rival Princeton Tigers in a field hockey match. Meanwhile, the same schools battled at historic Harvard Stadium in a game of football, which was of course the reason I came to town. The stadium is gorgeous, if a bit ancient. There is little decoration, but it’s got a certain pristine charm. There are no seats – you just sit on gigantic concrete steps, much like the Coliseum in Rome.
I lived in Boston eleven years ago, and I was somewhat surprised to find that I remembered very little about the layout and culture of the city. Granted, I was sleeping on a couch and had virtually no disposable cash. Exploring the city generally meant finding a pickup basketball game in the park and then going home to make a grilled cheese sandwich for dinner. On Saturday, people told me that it’s a Boston thing to arrive late for everything. I can’t recall that being the case, but I see how it makes sense. Very few fans arrived early enough to get their tailgate on in a solid fashion. I realize my perspective may be off after all the places I’ve been, and I know it wasn’t the Yale game, but I expected there to be a bit more activity. Hardly any students came out for the tailgate – in fact, not that many were there for the game itself. I realize you don’t go to Harvard to see the football team, but it’s Saturday afternoon. You’d think the kids could take a couple hours off from studying. For many attendees, tailgating was done more out of formality than anything else. But there were those that were more enthusiastic. The most notable were members of the 1958 team who meet at the same spot before every game. Diverse spreads of fancy food were offered at most of the areas in this lot, and I had more than my fair share. Many alumni from the football team were present, and I was shocked at how big they were. I’m six feet tall, but I felt tiny next to these guys. I expected that the Ivy League players would basically be regular dudes, only better at school. I actually felt a bit intimidated for the first time in this trip.

Young alumni "clean" the grill

The press box at Harvard is actually on the roof of the stadium, and is accessibly only by a hike up many flights of stairs. I didn’t linger there long, wanting to be down amongst the people as the game picked up. As I said, these guys are bigger than I expected. The game action featured hits as hard as I’ve seen anywhere else this season, with all players giving their best effort. After a few false start penalties, I was sitting behind the Princeton bench and heard a coach screaming at his unit, “Tell me what’s going on!!” Don’t try to tell these players or coaches that their game is less important. They know better. At one point, while sitting on the Harvard side, I spotted two African American students who had gone across the way and did the Soulja Boy dance while the Harvard Band was busy playing Beehtoven’s “Ode to Joy.” Sadly, I couldn’t get my camera out in time to film them. When I was at Bridegewater College, one of the students shouted to the mascot, “Hey Ernie – do Soulja Boy!” Folks, this song is officially become ubiquitous. I think we’ve all had enough. They’re doing it at Harvard. I strive to be a neutral observer at all of these games, but the Princeton uniform features a helmet identical to Michigan’s in design. The only difference is their orange and black colors. When I saw that they had a scrappy, undersized tailback wearing number 20, I couldn’t help but start to pull for the Tigers. Besides, after hearing it played at 30% of the games I’ve attended, I’m fairly certain Tiger Rag is the soundtrack to my dreams (and nightmares for that matter).
A fine look in any color

Speaking of which, the Princeton Band is some sort of goofy in-joke that I don’t totally understand. They wear silly outfits, which don’t even appear to utilize the correct shade of orange. Instead of a fluffy hat, the drum major is wearing a pallium just like the Pope (the Pope of Princeton?). They are clearly encouraged to include all types of “flair” on their costumes and spend most of the game just hanging out, not playing anything. They don’t even march. I’m not complaining. I’m just saying I don’t totally understand it. When the game ends, both teams line up and shake hands – just like in hockey or soccer. It was not something I was accustomed to seeing. I think that it would be an excellent idea to forcibly implement for one of the I-A conferences. Imagine the attention the MAC or CUSA would gain if they started mandatory handshake lines. Plus, it might help with recruits. I returned to the tailgate scene afterwards and found that the players and cheerleaders join in the fun once they’re cleaned up. Things remain relatively low-key even after a victory. I’m sure all the players are tired – not to mention the fact that they’ve neglected their studies all day. I ran into Harvard’s starting kicker, Matt Schindel, who just ended his career after tearing his ACL in practice. We compared future scars, though he didn’t seem that keen on talking about it. His surgery is due in the next few days. Mine isn’t until this trip is done. In the middle of the game, Princeton made a big defensive stop, and their crowd let out a big cheer. I came to the realization that I am becoming addicted to that cheering. There was something visceral released in me that I can only assume is comparable to a drag on that first morning cigarette, or a drive-thru Venti Mocha Latte. I’m just some guy in the stands, though. They’re not actually cheering for me. I can’t begin to imagine what it must feel like to be in the Arcade Fire or AC/DC and have people screaming for you on a nightly basis. They must fiend for the applause when not on tour. My next fix is in a week in Jacksonville Florida at the Worlds Largest Censored Party. The neutral site means that I’m sure to be hearing at least half the stadium cheering for every result. I can’t wait!


David said...

Another great Harvard tradition... Did you hear anyone play "Fight Fiercely, Harvard"?

It's the antithesis of a fight song, written by Harvard Alum Tom Lehrer

Reed said...

I did not hear the song - or if I did, I didn't catch it. Is there a link to it anywheres?

David said...

band version here
You can hear them singing the first verse at the end, which will give you sense of how the rest of the lyrics go here:

Written in 1953 by Tom Lehrer - the thinking man's Mark Russel for the 1960's, and tan early influence for nearly anyone in Novelty music.

Anonymous said...

On the comment regarding the Princeton football helmets: Fielding Yost was the coach at Princeton before he went to Michigan. He developed the helmet design at Princeton and then took it with him to Michigan. Princeton abandoned the design sometime after Yost left, but then started using it again about 10 years ago. So the Princeton helmet does not look like the Michigan helmet; rather, the Michigan helmet loks like the Princeton one.

Anonymous said...

Close, but it wasn't Yost, it was Fritz Crisler.

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