SYDNEY: Smells like team spirit

Today, I learned that in 27 states the highest paid public employee is a football coach. I learned this fairly disturbing fact from a color-coded map taped to the back of the door to the Photographs, Prints and Drawings department on the fourth floor of the Yale University Art Gallery. I later found out that in my home state, that $5,266,667 check goes to Mack Brown at the University of Texas.

The above anecdote reveals two facts about my relationship with the great American sport that is football. Firstly that I grew up in Texas, land of Friday Night Lights and Big Twelve fanaticism. Second, that I glean my football education from flyers at the YUAG. Which is to say, I don’t know much about football.

So I guess it’s no surprise that while I enjoyed pancakes with my parents last Saturday morning, it didn’t even cross my mind that a major game was taking place at the Yale Bowl. You could call it apathy, but I don’t think my attitude toward the game was even defined enough to register that strongly. Football just isn’t something that I get.

I vaguely remember once trying to piece together the rules that govern the sport’s constant and inexplicable stop-and-start plays from a book called “Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better,” but it turns out that in this particular case I couldn’t do better. During last year’s Superbowl, it seemed like football just got in the way of a really fabulous televised Beyoncé concert.

Just once, I truly delved into the study of football. The context: a remedial crash course called “Talking Sports,” offered by my all-girls high school the week before we graduated. Needless to say, my prep school wanted to be certain we’d been prepped in every conceivable way. My history teacher taught the hour-long session, providing a useful handout to accompany his lecture. I still have the stapled packet on file at Yale — impressive, especially considering I’ve already misplaced my handout from this afternoon’s Intro to Human Brain lecture. He taught with all the precision and diagramming of his World War I lessons. T-formation? Wishbone? Spread offense? Battle of Verdun? Just try me.

I’m not completely sure how the supposed life skill of “talking sports” escaped my repertoire. In theory, middle and high school offered me eight years of potential genuine Texas high school football watching. But I mostly chose not to attend Friday night games. When I did, I didn’t watch, choosing instead to talk to boys or hit up the concession stand for hot chocolate.

To be clear, this wasn’t my school’s football team — we attended our brother school’s games. When I did venture into the stands, I found it difficult to get past the fact that my cheerleader friends cheered for boys who were not their classmates, wore uniforms that were not their school colors and outperformed the typically unvictorious players on the field.

In this way, I came to associate football with school spirit for a school to which I had no particular attachment. By the transitive property, I came to have no attachment to the sport. Even the Dallas Cowboys, supposedly America’s team, could not muster an ounce of my enthusiasm. The only time I visited Cowboy Stadium — officially, AT&T Stadium — I went to see the art collection installed in the space. As the only people to show up for the art that day, my mother and I received a private tour, passing larger groups that had come to see the stands, the field and the world’s fourth largest high definition video screen.

Case in point: I’ve never felt connected to football. But somehow last weekend I caught a case of school spirit.

When I heard that Yale had beaten Cornell 38 to 23, I experienced a surprising rush of excitement that almost sent me running from my parentally provided non-dining hall food to the box office, eager to reserve a seat for the Oct. 19 game against Fordham. I didn’t feel the need to review my handout to understand the winning play of Saturday’s match. The mechanics of the game didn’t matter.

What mattered was that this winning team wore my school’s colors! Not the Dallas Cowboys’ blue and silver, not my brother high school’s blue and gold, but Yale’s navy and white. It was our win! So there it was, that strange breed of school spirit that springs exclusively from the playing field. Boola boola!

Caroline Sydney is a sophomore in Silliman College. Contact her at caroline.sydney@yale.edu.

 

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