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Fight with brain and brawn


You can hardly say I was raised on football. For me, NFL stands for “National Forensics League” and phrases like “The USS Enterprise Carrier is nearly four football fields long” were more confusing than helpful. But we did have the Broncos’ 1997 Super Bowl victory on VHS, and I shared with my boyhood peers pick-up football and the same sort of generalized admiration for Broncos stars from John Elway to Jason Elam. More important than the sport itself, though, were the rituals it begot —my family has always observed the de facto national holiday that is Super Bowl Sunday, and some of my fondest childhood memories include a football game running in the background to friendship and community.

Upon reaching Princeton, as a member of the band, I have followed (literally!) Tiger football more closely than I ever expected to. But, as it was back home, it is the communal traditions we build around football —from waking up early Saturday morning to drum cadences to (no longer) burning John Harvard in effigy — thatare far more memorable and important than the day-to-day of the game itself. Ivy League football —with its dynamic players and long history of intense rivalries —is a perfect backdrop for traditions that create a Princeton identity, from band to bonfire.


Those readers who haven’t spent much time on a football field (or even those who spend most of their time there actually playing football) may not be familiar with the rivalry between high school marching bands and football teams. Think “American Pie”: “The players tried to take the field/The marching band refused to yield.” Like the one-way rivalries between Penn and Princeton or Princeton and Yale, that between bands and football teams across the nation is played out in oft-silly self-aggrandizement on one side and indifference on the other. Bands jokingly ask what the football players are doing on “our” field or lobby for the recognition of marching band as a varsity sport, while football players … play football. Having spent most of my high school career among bandies, I recognized this sentiment and expected it when I joined the Princeton band but was surprised to find little of the bitterness, real or contrived. Instead, we do as much as possible to be the team’s best fans, in our own ironic, quirky, off-color way. With everything from ironic ignorance of the game’s rules (yelling for our offensive backs “to hit a homer”) to outright violence (“Knives! Knives! Knives!), we support the team when other students leave. This is true whether we are cheering on the team through consecutive 1-9 seasons or staying through the fourth quarter despite being down 24-10 to Harvard. And it was also true watching the Tigers steamroll the Bulldogs in last week’s record-breaking victory.

It’s when football shines, though, that it becomes a rallying point campus-wide. As much as die-hards like to scorn fair-weather fans, the energy that a high-achieving football team brings to campus is exhilarating and well worth a few poor seasons.

The energy doesn’t come from mere victories, however. Princeton football this year and Ivy football in general is particularly exciting for a number of reasons. On the field, Princeton’s dynamic no-huddle offense has been a pleasure to watch, drawing notice for its record-breaking number of points this season (and still one game to go) and its mercurial habit of switching among three quarterbacks, occasionally all on the field at once. Junior Quinn Epperly’s ability to think on his feet and make plays in and out of the pocket adds a level of excitement rare in today’s paradigm of static, well-protected passers. It’s enough to make me relive foggy memories of John Elway’s scrambles (and recover somewhat from the failed promises that Tim Tebow brought to Broncos country).

Off the field, Ivy football has done much to limit the problems plaguing schools with richer, more successful programs. By declining to grant athletic scholarships and attaching an academic index to recruiting practices, the league has done much to support the ideal of the student-athlete. Many, including Nathan Mathabane’13in hiscolumnlast year, have discussed the perceived advantage that athletes have during the admission process, but such policies on the league and University scale ensure that such advantages are minor, if extant at all. And besides, it is a small-minded view of talent to claim a student-athlete spending years training mind and body is less deserving of Princeton than a student who has focused exclusively on pursuits of the mind. One Ivy policy Princeton might reconsider, though, is that of refusing bids in the FCS national tournament —officials have expressed concerns over academic conflicts for a team traveling to a national tournament in early December, but, with Princeton finals already pushed into the new year, I see no reason for the Tigers not to compete if the team is interested.

So huzzah for Tiger football —win or lose in Hanover tomorrow, they are already champions and will return to a student body cheering for the success of their classmates, for an exciting sport and victory in their long rivalries and the chance to watch the flames paint Nassau Hall and West College and Whig and Clio Halls bright Princeton orange.

Bennett McIntosh is a sophomore from Littleton, Colo. He can be reached