For goodness sake, I don't know what I'm doing in here with all these football factories. At Princeton, we don't even call it Homecoming. Listen, Homecoming is entirely too Midwestern. You see, we don't emphasize football. But never mind. Each fall one game is played at Princeton that stirs the alumni—the Yale game or the Harvard game, depending on which "Big Three" rival we're playing at home that year. Believe it or not, some Americans still consider Harvard, Yale and Princeton as the Big Three, even when it comes to football. Anyway, whenever anybody refers to Harvard, Yale and Princeton, they always do it in that order. We Princetonians know in our hearts that the rest of the world thinks of us as No. 3, and that has always provided us with a greater incentive to try and show up the Harvards and the Yalies between the sideline stripes.
In the olden days, like when I was a student, we used to succeed at this regularly, too, and proud alumni would come in station wagons and special trains from near and far to watch the Tiger grid juggernaut roll. Hey, we played a single wing. A single wing! And we stuck it to all those pantywaist Tea formations. Each week: Kazmaier, Flippin, Sachs, Iacavazzi, some new Tiger star running wild, Palmer Stadium packed, alumni all rising at the end, holding their hats to their hearts, waving and singing Old Nassau. There was also still a lot of to-do about F. Scott Fitzgerald having gone to Princeton. You could cut the atmosphere with a bread knife.
Nowadays, I can't imagine why anybody in his right mind would go back to Old Nassau for a football game. Ever since they let girls in the school, the football team has gone all to hell. We haven't had a winning season since 1970, and it is an even more depressing fact that we haven't beat Yale since 1967. In many parts of India, children have been conceived, born, betrothed and married without ever knowing of a Princeton victory o'er Yale. Oh, sure, don't get me wrong, I'll be the first to admit there are more important things in life than football, but also, look, if I had wanted the Nebraska experience, I would have become a thresher.
Actually, none of this should be surprising inasmuch as the whole rationale for Princeton football has become superfluous. The idea of football games was a) to get the alumni back so they would get drunk and give more money, and b) give the students an excuse for what was called "importing" girls, there being none in the vicinity, except the ones at Rutgers, who didn't count. But now that they have girls on campus, b) is eliminated, and the alumni—a large portion of whom are still debating the merits of the Missouri Compromise—won't give money because they are furious that today's Princeton students have girls around when they didn't. And, listen, all kidding aside, even if we had only the third-best education in Megalopolis, we should come away from Princeton with some smarts. If there is one thing you learn with a Princeton education, it is don't waste a trip back to the Garden State to watch a rinky-dink Ivy League game—especially if you never win. We don't even beat Brown anymore; imagine that.
As a consequence, when I arrived back at Princeton one gorgeous autumn Saturday last year, everybody was so old. Apparently, the only alumni who still watch the Ivy League are so ancient they have not yet got the news about the pros. They will pay $7 a pop to watch the Big Three (sic) thrash about, But I saw many advertisements about The Friends of Princeton Football having a meeting, so I went there. Unfortunately, the room was empty. There was a great spread of coffee and juice and pastry, but nary one F. of P.F.
So, I made like Goldilocks for a while, and when I was filled I found a passerby in the hall and asked him were there no more Friends of Princeton Football (not counting the teams that play us), and he said whereas there wasn't but a corporal's guard, the Friends were not extinct altogether and had gone out to watch the Harvard-Princeton freshman game.
I grabbed a take-out pastry and went to see that game. Harvard and Princeton tied, 13 all, but I don't want to dwell on that, because, as you know, nowadays a tie is like kissing your sibling.
Now for the nostalgia highlight of this saga. As I was leaving the freshman game, I met William Lippincott, who was the dean of students when I was an undergraduate. He kicked me out twice, the second time being a bum rap, a real Star Chamber. But, as I told the dean on this occasion, let bygones be bygones, that is my motto. Besides, in those days you could get kicked out for so many things. There was a plethora of rules. You had to go to church, go to classes, do school-work; great impositions were placed on students in those days.
I had a roommate who played five-card stud as his major, and when he got kicked out the one time with me, the dean said: "Well, Mr. C—, I see you are already on scholastic probation, and on chapel probation and on cut probation, and when you come back from your suspension—you're a cardplayer, aren't you, Mr. C—?—well, I'm going to put you on disciplinary probation so that you'll have the only full house on campus." As you can see, Dean Lippincott was a man who loved his work, and so he and I cut up about the old times, and, to be perfectly honest, I was really delighted that he recognized me, because it would have left me empty if a guy who kicked me out didn't even remember me.
I went up Prospect Street then, past where all the social clubs are, into the middle of the campus, where the band was...what? Mobilizing? Fomenting? The Princeton band is much the best thing about Princeton football. It might have been even when we could beat Brown. The band marches in straggly lines and sort of forms clever halftime items, like the occasion when ABC was televising a Princeton game (no, I don't know why), and the band spelled out ABC, and as soon as the cameras turned on the field, the band switched the A to an N. The band may be running a little short on double entendres, but it retains the right attitude.