Monday, November 14, 2011
Guess what. We're champions. Again.
NOT AS LOYAL AS THE PENN STATERS. I went to a lot of games when I was a student, and in those days the Patriots also played at Harvard Stadium on Sundays (yeah, I'm that old.) I saw Joe Namath subjected to the gentlest sack any NFL quarterback has ever received. They owed him.
But here's the funny thing. I never bought anything that said Harvard on it. I never bought a Harvard tee-shirt, sweatshirt, or class ring. I was so used to the squiggly-eyed look people gave you when they asked you where you went to college and you said "Harvard" that I just never went there. How many times can you hear people say "Hah-vid" and laugh as if it's the first time you heard the joke? Pahk the cah in the Hahvid Yahd? Fine. Go for it. Enjoy yourself.
Then I got married for the final time a few years ago. I introduced my bride to the fun of college football, which she had never cared about and suddenly fell in love with. We got Rutgers season tickets. And, as if by magic, I suddenly started getting all this Harvard stuff as presents from my wife. Tee-shirts advertising their frequent Ivy football championships, an official Harvard sweatshirt (my first one ever, at the age of 57), a long-sleeved gray jersey that felt almost discreet and another bright crimson one that boasted of the team Ryan Fitzpatrick led to the title. And my wife had a tee-shirt that contained the coats of arms of all the Harvard houses on the back. Presents for the female kids and grandkids turned out to be Harvard things, some of them involving glitter.
I was embarrassed. Sometimes I'd change my shirt before a family gathering or a trip to the hardware store. I always disliked people who wanted Harvard to be the first thing strangers knew about them. As if... well, who needs more snobs?
You know what, though? This week, I'm finally proud. Especially of Harvard football. Harvard Stadium has 40,000 seats, usually half-empty except for the Yale game. Franklin Field, Penn's home, has 60,000 seats, usually two-thirds empty when Harvard is playing there, and we've been there twice for that with abysmal results. The last time I actually had to apologize to the guests we'd invited to the dismal performance of Harvard -- it was the single worst, dullest college football game I've ever seen. Why I picked up the whole tab at the fabulous Ralph's Italian restaurant in South Philly.
I'm not apologetic now, though. I'm proud. Finally proud. With one week to go in the season, Harvard has clinched its 14th Ivy football title out of the last 56 years. It doesn't even matter what happens against Yale next week, except that Yale's quarterback should definitely attend his Rhodes Scholarship interview in Atlanta rather than play a meaningless rivalry game.
Which is why I'm proud at this point. Big time football has just exploded in a nuclear firestorm. The Ivy League ("The Ancient Eight" as one of my tee-shirts has it) has been, after all these years, vindicated. Harvard football players aren't physics majors and classics scholars. They tend to live with other jocks in Kirkand House. On the whole, they're dumber than the rest, but some of them still make it to the NFL, which they do NOT turn their noses up at. But, but, but... they are definitely, absolutely amateurs. They do not go to bowl games, there are no challenges or replays at Ivy games, and every one of us roots for Columbia to win at least one game every year, because they are the smallest undergrad population and we don't want them to become hopelessly discouraged.
Yesterday I had to run an errand that encompassed two states. I put on a 2006 Harvard football championship tee-shirt. I was just hoping someone would make a sleighting remark, so I could say we play football cleanly as a sport. Unlike some schools we could mention.
No one did.
I mean, who cares about Ivy League football? Let's be real here.
But we did help invent the game. Does that count for anything...?
uh, No. So be it. And I'm busting my buttons over it, for the first time in 40 years. Go figure.
We win. Or, rather, I win. Who out there has a wife like mine, who always knows what's important way ahead of time? I tell you, it makes me humble.