However, I think I did rather well, considering that I wasn't at my best anyway during football games. I was always hungry, for one thing, since there was never time for lunch if you were going to be there in time for the kickoff and I couldn't eat hot dogs; it was always snowing, raining or sleeting, and I was always curiously dressed in an attempt to be both warm and gorgeous at the same time. I never understood how other girls managed to dress for the game, the cocktail parties and the dance all at once. I suppose they rushed back between events and changed in their dates' rooms, but apparently my dates didn't think this was wise, for they never suggested it. So I usually wore a cocktail dress with no back, or no front, or neither, with an enormous polo coat over it, while the wind whistled down my back and people stared at the large amounts of black taffeta and crinoline hanging out from underneath. Once I tried wearing a skirt and sweater, which was fine for the game, but in the evening all the other girls turned up in black taffeta, and there I was in my British tweeds. At any rate, I never figured it out, and part of my silence was due to the fact that my teeth were always chattering at the game and anything I said came out sounding as though I was tight.
But there was safety in silence. A girl who cheered too loudly or inappropriately (when the other team made a touchdown, for instance) was worse than one who sulked, and I at least might be chalked up as a taciturn and thoughtful type, working out the plays in advance. Behind my impassivity, I was making observations, gaining in wisdom and insight. My pride was ebbing and I was gradually coming to accept the importance of what was going on below, on the field. After all, it was childish to compete with a superior force; football, obviously, had a great deal that I didn't. There I sat, visions of a broiled tenderloin and a Martini floating through my frivolous mind, oddly dressed, ignorant, unde-pendable; while on the football field a well-ordered predictable pageant was going on, full of drama and excitement within its framework of rules. Looking down, my steady-minded date knew that when the ball left the center's hands, the players would move into action; that when the horn was blown, a penalty would follow; and if No. 11 made a touchdown, he would score six points for his team. I, on the other hand, was likely to drop my purse under the stands, lose a glove or tell a funny story about my roommate at the wrong time; I might faint from hunger, pass out from too many swigs from the flask or spend half an hour looking for the ladies' room. I was, if occasionally amusing, a squirrel cage of confusion in comparison to the beauty and order at my feet.
Not only this, but my earnest date, observing the game, found positive things in it to identify with. He became in turn each of the players breaking away for a 60-yard run, kicking a field goal from the 30-yard line or catching a game-winning forward pass in the last 10 seconds of play. Best of all, he became No. 9, who wounded himself spectacularly (but not too seriously) at a crucial moment, was carried off the field amid cheers and whistles and turned up later at one of the cocktail parties with his arm in a sling, smiling bravely. How could I compete with this? Searching under the stands for my lost lipstick and batiste handkerchief hardly served to bring forth surges of heroism. Beyond this, football embodied my date's highest values. It had virility, competition, good fellowship, opportunity for courage, drama and predictability.
Football was also a tradition; and that, to my date at least, was very important. It was part of college, part of fall, part of the New England way of life, and he was gathering things from it that would last him for years. His father still came back, in a raccoon coat, with his mother, who had been courted in these very stands. When he would be vice-president of a Wall Street firm and living in a sturdily built house in Scarsdale (which was the future I usually visualized for my dates) he would come back, with coat and hip flask, and cheer as ardently as ever. It would always be something solid in a world of scatterbrained women.
As the last quarter finished off and we drifted back toward the fraternity house, it became easier and easier to feel mellow and affectionate toward football. Soon I would be sitting, warm and comfortable, in someone's room at the Phi Psi house, appropriately dressed at last, with a drink in my hand and two or three bowls of Fritos clearly visible. It didn't really matter who had won, since either way had certain advantages. If Amherst lost (which they usually did, except when the freshmen were playing the Andover seniors and my loyalty had been sadly torn) we could all be grave and philosophical about it, saying it was a pity, but then Amherst excelled in other areas. If Amherst won, it was such an exciting novelty that my date might lose his grip and buy me a steak and a bottle of wine at the River Lodge. What did it matter? The important thing was that a game had been played.
Because of the game, we were all united. On a Saturday evening during the spring the Phi Psis or the Dekes and their dates were likely to be a diffuse lot. Conversation would be aimless, one or two people would get hopelessly drunk, someone would water the beer, the only pianist in the house would refuse to play. Everyone would be wrapped in a fog of his own problems and no one cooperated. But after a game we were all full of fraternity spirit, raising our glasses on high and singing Lord Jeffery Amherst loudly. We had a bond; we were all in this together.
I felt this particularly strongly, since I spent four happy years at the Phi Psi house. I knew the curtains in the living room and the cracks in the front steps like my own right hand, and at one point, toward the end of my senior year, I thought of suggesting that they put up a plaque for me, a little tribute to my constancy.
But I dismissed the idea as inappropriate. After all, I already had my reward. I had learned, in the stands, about the kind of men who would someday be running the banks, law firms, investment houses and colleges of our country. Four years back I had longed for a man who would feed me wine and recite poetry to me on the banks of the river. But suppose I had gotten him and moved into his cold water flat with him and taken in laundry to finance the publication of his first book of poems? God forbid. Our children might be destitute, the wine might run out, the washing machine might break down and he would be on the banks of the river with another woman. Now I knew what was good for me: a man who got down and looked for my lost lipstick, who lent me his muffler, who respected law and order and tradition and houses in Scarsdale and who was part of a way of life that had existed for a long time and was likely to exist even longer. By teaching me all this, Amherst had gained a female alumnus. The man I married might be a graduate of Rollins or the Sorbonne or the New School for Social Research—who could tell? No matter how often he took me back for reunions, he never could give me what Amherst had. He could take me to strange football games in unknown places, jai-alai in Spain, cricket in India; it would all be interesting, but it would not be what I understood.
The man I did marry, as it turned out, graduated from Northwestern and took me to Little League games in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. He also took me to jai-alai in Cuba, bullfights in Spain and horse races in Rome. Now that we are back in the States for a while, he spends a good deal of time at Yankee Stadium. I usually don't go with him, but when I do I understand why he's there. He likes order and predictability and he swings the bat with Mickey Mantle every time.
This fall we will probably go to some Columbia football games, and by now I feel I can take them in my stride. I'll dress properly, I won't be afraid to ask for a hamburger on the way and I'll be able to relax in my hard-won understanding. And maybe I'll even begin to understand, for the first time, just what the hell's going on down on the field.