Column: Football team brings fans on wild ride
I’m from Atlanta, and I don’t care what anyone in Austin, Texas, Columbus, Ohio, or Los Angeles tells you — I come from the capital of college football. We are smack dab in the middle of SEC country, and when the SEC Championship rolls around in December, you can usually be sure it is a de facto semifinal for the national championship game. One only needs to look at my Facebook newsfeed on a fall Saturday morning to see the statuses. They are all some variety of “Gameday!” You see photos of people decked out in school colors framed by fall colors, quarter-by-quarter exclamations of ecstasy or despair, and sometimes downright nasty arguments about the merits of one team over another.
Of course, this is now only half of my newsfeed, the part that followed me from home. The other half is from my life here at Princeton, and aside from it being maybe more political and intellectual, it largely mirrors my old newsfeed from home. That is, of course, until the first September kickoff on campus rolls around.
I knew that this campus probably did not have as much of an investment in college football as say, Auburn or Georgia, but it was still shocking to see how little people cared. This is not to take anything away from those dedicated Tigers fans that made it out to every home game and many away games. This is also not to try and equate Ivy League football with SEC football. This is just to say that it felt strange.
What did not feel strange, but instead depressing, was that for my first two years, our football team did not give this campus a reason to care. I remember sitting through the end of the Bucknell game last year, saddened by the fact that I had to cover a team that turned over the ball six times. By the end of my sophomore year, I had become rather pessimistic about Princeton football, as had many of my peers.
But like I said, it is our football team. It is the only one we have. Maybe it was a chicken and egg problem — Princeton football would not do well until we supported it, but we wouldn’t support it until it did well.
The start of the season did not bode well, when the Tigers displayed some flashes of brilliance against Georgetown but somehow managed to squander the lead away. But that soon turned around. Unfortunately for fans, they did not get to see Princeton on the road as it throttled Columbia 33-6 and Lafayette 35-14. They did get to see a dominating performance in a 19-0 shutout of Brown. Of course, sophomore quarterback Quinn Epperly connected with junior wide receiver Roman Wilson to give us a homecoming win for the ages. And then Princeton delivered on something so long awaited for, when it crushed Yale 29-7 in front of a raucous road crowd to secure the first bonfire since 2006. Maybe miraculously, but probably not, the Tigers gave us something magical this season.
The football team itself may not be satisfied with their season, and rightfully so — their goal was to win the Ivy League title, and Princeton did fade down the stretch. The Tigers still had a chance on the final day, needing both a win over Dartmouth and a Penn loss to Cornell to split the title, but it was not so. But regardless, they took away what was important. This was an incredible season for Princeton football, to turn around consecutive 1-9 campaigns into a bonfire campaign.
“You got to focus on what you did right and have to get better with what you did wrong,” senior defensive end Mike Catapano said postgame. “Hopefully the underclassmen and the guys coming back really learn from this experience and really light it up for next year.”
So with that in mind, the team shook off its disappointment and celebrated this past Saturday with the rest of us.
“This campus, the USG, all the officials on this campus have done so much to try and get students to support us this year,” senior linebacker Andrew Starks said. “To see that support, it’s such a great uplifting feeling. I’m glad that we were able to secure a bonfire for this campus because they deserve it.”
But more than us, Andrew Starks deserves it. Mike Catapano deserves it. The football Class of 2013 deserves it. All the underclassmen on the football team deserve it. Head coach Bob Surace ’90, who is a finalist for FCS National Head Coach of the Year, and the rest of the coaching staff deserve it. They broke the chicken and egg cycle. We came out to support them because they played well.
The season may not have been as spectacular as it could have been, but it was spectacular enough. I may be a theoretically unbiased sportswriter, but I am also a student at this university. And so, while the football team may thank us for our support, I say, on behalf of a campus that loved the incredible ride you took us on, thank you for an incredible season.
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