Football: ‘Sea of orange’ travels to New Haven for rivalry game
NEW HAVEN, Conn. — They lined up well before 8 a.m. for a three-hour bus ride. They made signs and covered themselves in orange and black. They chanted loud enough to make it sound like a home game, and when the Tigers took a knee to end their 29-7 victory over Yale, more than 450 Princetonians leapt from the bleachers and stormed the field.
With the help of buses provided by the USG, Princeton brought a huge group of fans to New Haven on Saturday. The presence of so many visiting-team supporters changed the atmosphere of the bonfire-sealing victory.
“Having a lot of people at the games is good for your support and morale, so we’re glad to have student support,” said junior cornerback Trocon Davis, whose 100-yard interception return gave the Tigers the lead for good before halftime.
Support for the football team has generally been lukewarm over the last few seasons. Princeton today is a far cry from the school that claims 28 national titles, and Princeton Stadium always has available seats. Even in the context of the Ivy League, which has not been a football powerhouse since the early 1900s, the Tigers have underachieved in recent years, and declining fan support has attested to declining quality. Two years of one-win seasons in 2010 and 2011 did nothing to help morale.
Though many students dutifully attend home games — at least for the first half — hardly any support the team on most road trips. In contrast, USG president Bruce Easop ’13 said that 453 students boarded the buses to New Haven; the USG had sold 550 packages with bus and game tickets throughout the week. Some other students drove up separately or arrived at Yale earlier in the weekend, including the Nassoons and Glee Club, which both had concerts.
“I was in the band, and I never saw a turnout like this for an away game,” said Jason Pedraza ’11, one of many alumni who showed up at the Yale Bowl. “It’s nice to have something to cheer for.”
Most fans were cheering, first and foremost, for the bonfire. Several said they would have come anyway, knowing there was a good chance of watching the team beat Yale, but signs and chants of “Bon-fire!” spoke to the root cause of the excitement.
“I think a lot of people are definitely motivated by that,” Ashley Hatcher ’15 said of the bonfire. “But it’s also really easy to go. It’s 10 dollars; it’s on a Saturday. I think they made it really accessible.”
“We knew that we had to do this for the students, that it was going to be epic,” said Deana Davoudiasl ’15, a class senator who helped organize the buses. “I think a lot of people have built up the hype from the Harvard game. As soon as we beat Harvard, everyone knew we were going to Yale. It wasn’t even a question.”
Most fans said that Saturday was the first time they had watched the Tigers play on the road. Some even said it was the first time they had been to any Princeton football game, home or away.
Those new spectators had plenty to cheer about. After a strong first quarter from Yale and a sluggish response from the Tigers, the visiting crowd was treated to 29 unanswered points, including Davis’ touchdown and a heroic two-point conversion run by freshman kicker Nolan Bieck.
As they watched what evolved into a one-sided affair, fans said they would enjoy future road trips.
“The Harvard and Yale games, whichever one’s away, I would go to,” Matt Gwin ’14 said. He added that he had been to all of the home games this season, but he found that most away games were too hard to get to.
Davoudiasl said the USG was thrilled to see how many people had traveled to Yale, and that future bus trips were a definite possibility.
“A big thing that we want to do going forward is to get buses to marquee games like this,” she said.
As the day wore on and home fans began to desert, it looked as though there were more Princeton students than Yalies in the Yale Bowl, and certainly sounded that way. On every big play, a roar louder than some home games erupted from what, due to the USG-provided T-shirts, was a solid mass of orange. Accompanied by the Princeton band, which showed up in full force, cheers from the away side were consistently more raucous than those of the home fans. Members of the sprint football team captured the atmosphere when they led a chant of “This is our house!” toward the end of the fourth quarter.
The midfield celebration after the final play was reminiscent of Princeton’s comeback victory against Harvard in October, and it was easy to forget, as fans poured from the stands, that this was not Powers Field.
“When you turn around to go talk to the offense or defense, and you see that sea of orange, that was really nice,” head coach Bob Surace ’90 said.
Turnouts like Saturday’s will not become the norm unless the Tigers continue to improve for several more seasons. But many fans said they would like to make such a trip another time, and if Princeton plays for another bonfire in years to come, it may see that sea of orange again.