Ahh, Parents’ Weekend. Reorganized rooms, delectable dinners and a potentially embarrassing football tailgate.
Last year, due to a scheduling mishap that had the Elis in Hanover instead of here in New Haven, my parents were spared the sight of hundreds of Yalies dusting off their hangovers to revel anew at an hour unconscionable were it not for the prospect of free liquor. However, this year, my parents were among the many brave souls who ventured into the lion’s den to either have the worst suspicions of their child’s behavior confirmed or to have visions of their child’s purity defiled.
To be honest, my parents were somewhat relieved, as they had anticipated a more vulgar and primitive start to their afternoon. I think they even enjoyed themselves through their obvious discomfort. The one person who really had a ball, though, was my seven-year-old brother Alex, who parlayed his cuteness into multiple hamburgers, a cup of someone’s private tub of purified water (like most seven-year-olds, he has a rabid fear of soda) and more friends than I could ever hope to make.
But his curiosity really piqued inside the Yale Bowl itself, where his constant, seemingly ignorant probing forced me to look at the game through a new lens — one that turned out to be astonishingly perceptive.
“Which team is Yale?”
A seemingly innocuous question with an equally obvious answer — the team in the blue, right? Well, maybe my brother was a little more astute than I had expected. Wasn’t Yale, the team with the league’s top running offense and top runner (Robert Carr ’05) supposed to be the team pounding the ball against the team with the second-worst rushing defense? So why was the team wearing white racking up over 200 yards on the ground?
As Alex had clearly read the advanced scouting report on both squads, I soon forgave his initially banal question and began to see the unique insight that he had brought to the game, but was struggling to articulate. Yale 7, Dartmouth 7 early in the second quarter.
“What’s a first down?”
Not necessarily an easy thing to explain, but as Alvin Cowan ’04 drills a pass to Nate Lawrie ’04 to move the chains, I give it my best shot. The ensuing confusion doesn’t last long, however, as two plays later, Cowan hooks up with Ralph Plumb ’05 on a 28-yard scoring strike, and my brother stands to give his best rendition of “Bull-dog” along with the 20,000 strong in the shockingly crowded Yale Bowl. No confusion there — he’s had the words down for years. Oh, the joys of being a legacy. Yale 14, Dartmouth 7.
“What’s a second down?”
“What’s a penalty?”
Again, a very topical question. I extrapolated and changed the question to “What’s a penalty — flag doing on the field on another special teams play????” And then we were in business. Both teams shot themselves in the foot by getting flagged on routine kicking plays.
Dartmouth’s foul turned out to be more costly, but Yale’s came first and was more egregious. On fourth-and-three from the Yale 37, Dartmouth elected to punt midway through the second quarter. The punt would have pinned the Elis at their own six-yardline, an admittedly poor field position. But Yale never got the chance to drive the length of the field, as a holding call gave the Big Green the ball back and resulted in three points and a 14-10 game at halftime.
But what Dartmouth took with one hand, it gave back with the other. After tying the game at 17 in the third, Dartmouth kicked off and had Yale pinned at its own 12. Unfortunately for the Big Green, from the middle of nowhere, one of its players got a little too excited when he saw some people he didn’t recognize, and he was well past the line of scrimmage to greet them when the kicker made contact with the ball. Moving back five yards, Dartmouth tried the kickoff thing again, and this time Carr fielded it and took it to the house.
In the scheme of things, Dartmouth’s penalty proved much more influential to the game’s outcome — the shell-shocked Big Green never scored again while Yale added three more scores to give the game the appearance of a rout. But the Yale penalty cost the Bulldogs a change of possession, and those mental errors are less forgivable.
“What are you talking about, Ben?”
Yeah, umm — sorry for getting carried away there buddy. A penalty is a bad thing and the person whose fault it was will get yelled at a lot. OK?
Brief interlude: halftime arrives in between those two penalties, and my brother is all ears before the marching band takes the field. While the PA announcer runs down the scores of the other Ivy League games, my brother tunes out briefly and misses the announcement of the Harvard score (20-0 Crimson over Cornell at the time).
“I hope Harvard loses.”
Spoken like a true Yale affiliate. I give him an update of the score he just missed.
“Ohhh, Harvard always wins.”
This is where I understand his mentality all the way through. As a Bostonian, my brother has been imbued with an acute sense of fatalism since the day he first watched his favorite DVD: “Boston Red Sox: 100 Years of Baseball History.” In his mind, the arch nemesis always thwarts the hopes of his valiant heroes, and thus as the Red Sox have historically fallen victim to the Yankees, in the long run, Harvard must always best the sons of Eli. After all, his first Harvard-Yale game, which came last year, ended in Crimson victory. He has been indoctrinated; he knows no better. And, indeed, Harvard puts the clamps down on the Big Red in the second half and finishes with a 27-0 victory.
Back to the game at the Yale Bowl. The Elis have put some distance between themselves and Dartmouth to the tune of a 33-17 lead. With three minutes remaining in the fourth, we decide to leave in order to catch the beginning of Game 3 of the ALCS — aka, the Rumble in Kenmore Square. In the eighth inning of the melee that masqueraded as a baseball game, Alex had one final question/frustrated response to one of my dejected tirades.
“We’re gonna lose. I just know it. OK?”
Once again, right on the money.