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Shane LaHousse came closer than anyone to being a genuine star during MIT's first two seasons of football. As a high school player in Southgate, Mich., he made a visit to the University of Michigan, where he was promised "preferred walk-on status." He went to the Air Force Academy instead, then transferred to MIT after he learned that his eyesight had deteriorated to the point where it would disqualify him from flight training. He was MIT's leading rusher in 1988 and again last season. "Football was not a waste of my time," he says.
On the contrary. "When you've been in labs or class all day and the pressure is really starting to get to you," LaHousse says, "it feels great to go out there and knock heads for a couple of hours. Get dirty and get it out of your system and then go back to work. This may seem strange, but I did my best academic work during football season. I was just sharper."
And the notion that football might interfere with his real work in Cambridge is absurd. "It's the other way around," he says. "In our first season, one game we lost was played on a Friday night. I think we could have won, except that that morning there had been a big aero/astro exam and the whole backfield had been up all Thursday night studying. We couldn't do anything right during the game. We were half a step off all night."
This sense of...well, call it perspective about football extends to everyone at MIT—players, coaches, students and faculty. There is no admission charge at football games. MIT has cheerleaders (all women) who lead the fans in the following chant:
E to the u, d-u-d-x, e to the x, d-x
There is a band, which practices briefly before games and then performs, among other things, a salute to entropy, in which the formation more or less collapses. When the team turns the ball over, or the other team scores, MIT fans are likely to break into a spontaneous cheer:
That's all right
Royce Flippin, MIT's athletic director, and a star running back at Princeton in the '50s, says, "There is no resentment or suspicion among the faculty about the importance of football in the scheme of things. They know that nothing. certainly not football, is a threat to their status."
There is no detachment in the players' practice or play. Brian Teeple, a defensive back from Massillon, Ohio, compares MIT's program to the big-time football he knew at Massillon-Washing-ton High. "We had two-a-days in August, weeks before school started. We had one coach whose contract was not renewed after a 6-4 season. We were put on probation for two years for illegally recruiting players. At MIT, we want to win just as bad, and it feels just as good when we do. But we have a broader perspective."
As the sun went down, the team finished with a series of 10 100-yard wind sprints. The two young men in Jams and T-shirts ran them all. They lingered after the other players had drifted back into the locker room and asked Smith about uniforms. He told them to come back for practice in the morning, and if they were still around at the end of the week, he would see about getting them suited up.