In such an atmosphere it is not surprising that a football defeat is keenly felt. David Shribman, a Dartmouth sportswriter, was moved to such anguish by the team's 14-9 loss to Yale last year that he wrote in his report to the alumni: "A full 45 years after the week that sent the stock market into its greatest decline ever, the Green suffered a 14-9 loss to undefeated Yale every bit as heartbreaking as the ruins of fortunes that began on Black Thursday in 1929."
This attitude is hardly matched down the line in Cambridge. Last year Harvard, with a fine team that ended up with Yale as a co-holder of the Ivy title, journeyed to Dartmouth, but hardly anyone bothered to follow them. Of the 5,500 tickets reserved for Harvard visitors, 1,200 were returned. The band went, and it played Fair Harvard nervously under the Dartmouth dormitory windows, the tuba players turning to see if there was anything moving up behind them.
Harvard's pep rallies ceased in the 1960s when the football players began to worry about how they would be received at these affairs. In 1962 Coach John Yovicsin got up on the steps of the Hemenway Gym in Cambridge and, pleased with the number of Harvard men in front of him, began with a pleasantry, saying he had always heard about Harvard indifference—whereupon he was interrupted by such a long and sustained cheer for Harvard indifference that he found it difficult to continue.
Ah, the Ivy League bands! They are a community unto themselves. Where they sit is described as "The Pit." Their vectors of interest only occasionally are concerned with what is happening down on the field unless it is the activity of campus dogs roaming the sidelines, or the progress of a paper glider launched toward the playing field, which they urge on, exploding with joy if one happens to fetch up against the backside of a player bent over in the huddle. Their girls are tucked in beside them. There is little conformity of dress. Many wear Mickey Mouse hats. Their sector is the noisiest in the stadium, but it is the roar of conversation—like that at a vast cocktail party—that drifts out of it, rather than shouts in support of the team. Whatever interest there has been in the game wanes almost completely after the first half. Their backs always seem to be to the field. The great gold bells of a pair of tubas bellow at each other; the two instruments seem to lock, rocking back and forth obscenely to the accompaniment of the peeps and squawks of detached mouthpieces and the rhythm of whiskey flasks and beer bottles clinked against each other. They have their own private cheers—a "confetti" cheer in which they rip up their programs and toss them in the air. Obscenity abounds. A trumpet player will rise and call out, "Give me a 'C.' "
The band members respond: "C!" "An 'O'!" "O!" "A 'P'!" "P!" "A 'U'!" "U!" "An 'L'!" "L!" "An 'A'!" "A!"...until the word is done, and around the perimeter of the band, lips compress and the more traditional of the alumni start composing letters in their minds to be posted to the alumni bulletin on Monday morning.
On the field at halftime, the bands (with the exception of Cornell's, which is scorned by the others for trying to imitate the high-stepping, tuba-twisting, precision movements of the Big Ten) stand in ill-formed lines and they never seem to take off on the downbeat, stepping ever so smartly, without the glockenspiel player dropping the music off the little stand on his instrument. The effect of his stopping to pick it up seems to sweep through the band so that whatever precision exists breaks down almost immediately into the chaos of a crowd moving for a subway entrance.
The halftime shows are usually representative of the band itself—7� minutes for each college to put on its display of rowdy iconoclasm. A few years ago Brown University, which on occasion has performed in bathing suits, stunned a Princeton crowd in Palmer Stadium with a halftime offering, complete with graphic formations, entitled Salute to the Human Reproductive System.
But the music is often so good (despite the band's devoting only an hour or so a week to practice), that many people come to the stadium on Saturday afternoons simply to hear it played. A number of the bands have trumpet cheers adapted from the classics—Beethoven, Stravinsky, Vivaldi—the notes rising out of all that rumpus with such purity that even the musicians themselves seem to quiet down to hear what their peers can do.
Chuck Bednarik, perhaps Penn's most illustrious football-playing graduate, starred for 14 fearsome years with the Philadelphia Eagles. He was bitter when Penn decided to de-emphasize football and join the Ivy League. "I was an alumnus at the height of my football career with the Eagles, and it was just embarrassing to wander in there and watch Penn lose 10 games in a row before those tiny crowds—8,000 people in the same place where the smallest crowd I ever played in front of was 56,000. But then I began to analyze it. The Ivy League degree is the greatest—it's unreal. There are so many football factories. That is where you can go if you really want to try to play football professionally. But I'll tell you something. Recently, things have begun to pick up around there."
It was a particularly cruel wrench for Pennsylvania to de-emphasize its football program—far more so than for its Ivy League brethren—since its teams had kept company with the strongest football powers in the country. As if in shame at the status it had willed upon itself, Penn's sports program went through such a complete reversal that eight years ago a commission took a look and decided that because of de-emphasis the university's athletic programs were in danger of disappearing altogether; the won-lost percentage of the school's teams was under .500. Since then, there has been a distinct shift. Committees were formed, more money was allotted for hiring good coaches, athletic facilities were improved...all within the Ivy League code, but successful enough over the past years to raise the won-lost percentage of Penn's teams above .700. Penn has had three winning football seasons in a row; it had only two others in the previous 20 years. When other Ivy League coaches talk about Penn, they lower their voices slightly; they cannot quite believe what is going on to the south of them.