The spring sport
that appears to be moving up to take Rugby's place (and perhaps the place of
crew as well) is lacrosse. It may be the great Up spring sport of tomorrow.
By now the
discerning reader has probably noticed that I have so far avoided any
discussion of football and its position on the scale, and perhaps has wondered
why. My delay was deliberate. I was saving football until last. For it is about
football that my most significant, and startling, conclusions have been
I felt that
football deserved a long, steady look. It deserved a serious look, and a tender
look. Often called King Football, the sport is, if not the mainstay, certainly
the most enduring emblem of college life. For years football games have been
the centers of huge, happy and sentimental gatherings. Weekend after weekend,
year after year, the packed station wagons have threaded their way across the
New England landscape toward the famous stadiums and bowls. Though all seemed
well with football, to many of us there appeared signs that, at its heart,
football was sickening—that it was moving slowly down the list. Many
observers—misled by the steady flow of station wagons and the undiminished size
of the Saturday crowds—denied this. What they failed to realize was that the
crowds weren't gathering to watch football. They were gathering to meet old
friends at Portal 9, to pass around the thermos of Martinis, to bundle in lap
robes and beaver coats, to take movies of airplanes skywriting overhead, to
wear big orange chrysanthemums, to hear the band play at the half, to wander
over to Zeta Psi when the game was over.
During the games
cheering sections failed to materialize, or if they showed up failed to make
themselves heard across the field. Cheerleaders flopped hopelessly about,
tugging, as kittens do with balls of string, for shreds of enthusiasm.
Brilliant plays went unnoticed by larger and larger sections of the stands.
Increasing numbers of spectators began to make a habit, in the final quarter,
of heading for the parking lot before the game was over, to beat the crowds,
calling, "Let us know how it comes out. See you at the Zete house!"
College newspaper editors editorialized halfheartedly about "apathy,"
and Friday nights were given over to listless pep rallies. The social standing
of football on the campus went down and down.
After World War
II, when returning veterans—most of whom considered football kid stuff—flooded
the campuses, football went lower still. Football players began to be openly,
and loudly, kidded and lampooned. They became the butt of every joke. College
humor magazines depicted them as apes, as Neanderthals, beleaguered dimwits who
were able to stay in college only if they took the simplest gut courses and
received elaborate scholastic coaching from their friends. If a particular
fraternity happened to attract mostly football players to its membership, it
became quickly known as The Ape House, or The Gorilla Cage, or The Jungle Club.
College professors, rather than seeming to give football players a break, often
seemed to be purposely giving them a harder time than other students, calling
on them to recite excessively, ridiculing them if they made mistakes.
Musclehead and meathead became popular expressions of derogation.
In the '20s and
'30s, girls from Smith, Vassar, Wellesley, etc. were the football hero's for
the asking. In the late '40s and '50s, the football player—no hero any more—had
trouble finding himself a date. "Quite frankly, they don't make good
weekend dates," says a Wellesley girl. "If they're on the team you have
to go to the game with one of their friends. After the game, if they're not
banged up somehow, they're tired. Their training rules mean they don't have
much fun at parties. They go to sleep, and there you are."
During the week,
too, life at the training table had the effect of isolating the football player
from his fellow students. Lonely and neglected, he sought the only company that
was available to him—the company of other football players. In the days
following the first sputnik, intellectualism made a belated return to fashion
on most college campuses. Football, already a Down sport, fell several notches.
Then, very recently, a strange and wonderful thing began to happen to football.
It started up. In a way, this was inevitable.
happened, you see, was that football—behind the deceptive mask of the tens of
thousands who thronged to the stadiums every Saturday presumably to see
football but actually to see each other—had become a sport that was supported
only by a small, loyal and dedicated band of aficionados—the players, the
coaches, the players' immediate families and close friends. And such a sport,
of course, is an Up sport. As in department stores, the end of the down
escalator is only a short step from the beginning of the up.
This is the state
of football this fall—coming back into vogue but with modifications, like the
chemise. I confidently predict that football will rise on the list, earning, in
a few seasons' time, its rightful place again at the top of the list, above
tennis. There are still plenty of detractors, of course. Madeleine Faunce, 19,
a tall, dark-haired senior at Bennett, says: "Football players fail to
impress me, frankly. And I don't care for the game. I adore tennis. To me, a
football player is a great big overdeveloped blob of a thing. If a boy asks me
for a date the things I take into consideration are: his school, his
fraternity—some fraternities have gone way down, you know—and whether he's
interesting and nice. If he plays football, though, I'm immediately
suspicious." Miss Faunce adds, "Of course, I'm not really athletically
minded. We have required sports at Bennett. I play badminton all year
But from Cindy
Blanke, a pretty 17-year-old who is a senior at Rosemary Hall, a girls'
boarding school in Connecticut, comes a slightly younger point of view—and a
more positive one. "I like to watch a football game," she says a little
defensively. "And, though I guess you'd say I'm sort of going steady, let
me say that if a boy who played football asked me for a date, well, I wouldn't
hold the fact that he played football against him." Miss Blanke's favorite
sports, however, are tennis, lacrosse, hockey.