It’s that time of year again. Dust off ye olde faded pennant, make sure your flask is filled with single malt, and get out that big-ass sweater with a “Y” down the front. Yale-Harvard is upon us! Yes, the biggest game of the season for us Yale fans — the only one most of us actually go to. Strike up the band and raise a cheer! Boola, boola, boola! Or is it only two boolas? I forget.
When I came to Yale, I was surprised to learn that for many of my friends, the Yale-Harvard game was the first football game they had ever attended, and I was more than a little bit jealous. As much as I have sometimes wanted to escape football in my life, it just keeps on rearing its ugly head. Here at Yale, I find myself something of an authority on the game, at least within my circle of artsy girls and girly boys. I credit osmosis. Growing up in the South, with two brothers and a father who are gaga for the game, football was an unavoidable fact. Peyton Manning was my high school’s quarterback. I guess I was bound to pick up something.
My first exposure to the game of football was watching a New Orleans Saints game in the Superdome with my dad. And I was more taken by the impressive feat of engineering above me than by watching the Saints perform the clown show they called football. Until very recently, the Saints had the reputation of being one of the worst teams in the league. Fans would show up to the games wearing paper bags on their heads to express their embarrassment at following such a hopeless team. But the fans always returned, game after game — my dad included. He liked taking his little “Rico,” I think, because his other sons already knew more about the game than he did. He would buy me a foot-long “Dome Dog” and a Coke, park me in a seat, and I was a sitting duck — young, impressionable and ready to be taught the game as my dad knew it.
“Touchback!” he’d scream when a kick bounced out of the end zone. Then he’d turn to me and explain the rules of the touchback as if he were imparting the secret to happiness. I would nod my head, take in as much as seemed reasonable to me, and then return to devouring my nachos with cheese that looked like melted plastic, once in a while looking up to see Bobby Hebert throw another incomplete pass.
It’s not that I wasn’t grateful for the knowledge my father imparted, it’s just that I didn’t really care all that much. I never went to the games for the games themselves, but for all of the peripherals — the busty cheerleaders doing routines to pumping beats (remember Jock Jams?) were my favorite. The game itself was secondary, especially because the Saints never won.
I mean the game of football is sort of absurd, right? The ball is snapped, and big guys fall down on top of other big guys. Not to belittle the skill of anyone who actually plays the game (that would be a poor life choice), but there seems to be a lot of falling down in football. And I’ve seen a lot of football. When the Saints had Ricky Williams as runningback, Coach Ditka would send him up the middle straight into a pile of guys on almost every play.
I imagined Ditka on the sidelines barking through a wad of gum, “Ricky, here’s what you’re gonna do. On the next down, you’re going to run right into that pile of guys!” At one game in the Dome with my brother I pointed this out — that Ditka didn’t seem to be learning his lesson from this endless series of one-yard gains — and Matthew just rolled his eyes at me.
“It’s about the breakaway, Eric. Nine times out of 10, he runs into the big pile and gets tackled, but on the 10th he’ll break through for a big gain,” he said.
“Wake me up after nine plays,” I replied.
So I’m impatient. At least I gave the game a chance. And something tells me I’ll have company this Saturday — there’s always somewhere else to look when you’re bored of what’s happening on the field. Face it, most of us only want Yale to win; we don’t much care how. We don’t have to enjoy The Game as much as we have to enjoy the outcome. Isn’t that what fandom is all about? One’s team as a projection of oneself. A football game stands for a battle between two communities. Yale and Harvard are two of the world’s most prestigious academic institutions. On Saturday, we’ll project all of our competitive feelings onto a group of guys who fall down on top of one another. One in 10 plays, something exciting will happen.
Just let me know how it ends. I’m that guy behind you doing his best Torrance Shipman.
Eric Eagan is impatient. To keep his attention, it better be good — damn good.