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Frank Deford
October 22, 1979
Winning might not be everything, but who wants to come home and just be depressed?
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October 22, 1979

Princeton 1957-62

Winning might not be everything, but who wants to come home and just be depressed?

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You see, there is an oppressive self-consciousness to Ivy League football. In the game programs, they always make a big fuss about printing what the players major in right alongside what position they play. While the crew can row all year, spring football is taboo because football is not emphasized. But, of course, Princeton still claims to be a major-college Division I-A NCAA team, it hustles tickets, and it fires its coaches just about as regularly as the San Diego Chargers do. And the trouble is that beneath this smug administrative double standard of the Ivies there are people just as involved, people who work and care about a won-lost record just as much as they do in Norman, Oklahoma. Only they are never permitted to admit that football can matter. More platitudes are mouthed about the importance of higher education in behalf of Ivy League football than in behalf of higher education. So it is all very maddening and hypo-critical, and it is why the sensible young alumni go see the pros and root for them, because there they can be honest about caring. Ivy League football fans have the same frustrations competitively as the Victorians did sexually.

But the band laughs. I walked along with it for a while. They played the Dead March from Saul as they hove into Palmer Stadium. I talked to the two students who accompany the band, dressed up as the team's striped mascots, Peter Maritz and Lynn Stout, respectively your Tiger and Tigerette. Lynn said it was not all that bad being a mascot for an inveterate loser because, "this way, when you get one or two victories, they mean more." I thought that was sweet.

Lynn and Peter romped around during the game, and the cheerleaders also did their best. There is no demand for pep rallies or bonfires anymore, and the cheerleaders told me that the students are just plain out of practice when it comes to cheering. Also, they can see it does no good. The best cheerers, the only real cheerers, are the ones who come in a group and get drunk. The cheerleaders said the boys from Tiger Inn, one of the eating clubs, were best at this. But I didn't hear a bloody soul cheer when the cheerleaders tried, "Let's go, big team, let's go." Neither did "M—O—V—E, move that ball" strike any sparks in the stands, although a fight cheer—spelled out "F—I—G—T"—got some mumbles. Well, what the H....

But lo and behold, the team played like a T—E—A—M. The Tigers have an edge going in against Harvard, because the Cantabs never care that much about playing Princeton; that is the way it is when you never hear Princeton, Yale, Harvard in that particular order. So, even when we can't beat Brown anymore, we can beat Harvard, and on this magnificent Indian summer day the 17,500 die-hards who had come out began to dare to dream of Princeton's first Ivy victory of the year. Hadn't the freshmen actually tied an opponent?

At the end of the first half we led 14-3, and there was a sophomore back named Cris Crissy, known as the Penn Yan Express because he was reared in Penn Yan, N.Y., who was running handoffs and catching passes all over, and I got very excited because I thought I had discovered the Penn Yan Express, and for a moment there I was going to call up Herman Weiskopf, who writes "Football's Week" for SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, and tip him off to this find of mine, advising Herman to make the Penn Yan Express "Back of the Week"—we'd scoop the wire services!—but in the second half the Penn Yan Express got double coverage and whatnot, and he tailed off some. Also, the Harvards scored 21 points in less than five minutes.

But you know what? The Tigers did not go belly up. I would say that maybe the worm had finally turned except that Yale stomped on Princeton again two weeks later. But at least the Tigers came back against the John Harvards. There were assorted Princeton pyrotechnics and heroics, a stalwart goal-line stand, and, at the end, a 24-24 tie. To be sure, this added up to a lot of disappointing sister-kissing this day in Tigertown, but if you, like Princeton football, hadn't been loved by anybody for years, you too would be grateful for whatever small amatory favors ties bestow.

After the game I talked to the Penn Yan Express, and he said that for the first time at Princeton "I could feel tradition out there today." I thought that was nice. And then I went back to my old club and had a couple beers, but all of a sudden, just like that, I wanted to get out of there, out of the "Homecoming," because I felt a little sad about it all. It suddenly occurred to me that of all the things they do at Princeton, they probably play football the worst of all. They're a losing team in a second-rate Eastern league. Why would I return for that? If I'm coming back—hey, let me see something with emphasis.

Football is far more out of whack at Princeton than it is at places like Miami and Notre Dame, because those schools emphasize other things too: they are honest enough to put themselves on the line, admit they care and try to be the best—the way Princeton does in all other endeavors. I'll return for my next Princeton football game when the Tigers are in the Top 10 or when they stop selling tickets and play it just for fun. But then again, maybe you really can't Homecome again. You can't for a loser, anyhow. I know that now.

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