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Susan J. Napier Headshot

Back to the [Yale] Game: Confessions of a Football Non-Appreciator

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I was going to write again about apocalypse this week but decided instead to talk about another deeply religious subject instead -- football and the American Way of Life. Well, maybe I won't dwell on the second part of that title but, having taught at the University of Texas for twenty-two years, I can definitely vouch for the religious aspect of the game. Not for me though. In fact, part of my confession is that in all those years in Texas I only went to one game and, even worse, left during half time. What could I do? I was a short near-sighted person surrounded by Texans, all of whom seemed minimally six feet tall (and that's not including the hair and the hats) and who persisted in standing throughout the entire first half. I figured it was too beautiful a day to waste staring at blue-jeaned backsides and snuck home, feeling very smug, to read a really depressing Swedish murder mystery. None of that crazy football stuff for me!

I wasn't always this annoying about football. Years ago as an undergraduate at Harvard I actually used to enjoy an occasional football game, especially the halftime shows. My favorite was a Harvard-Columbia game my freshman year in which the Harvard band pretended to confuse Columbia University with the nation of Colombia, resulting in the most hilarious and unfortunately politically incorrect-to-the-point-of-being-unquotable half-time show I have ever seen. Then there was the great Yale Game of 1975 when we won in the last two minutes of the game, (and I mean really won, not like that 29-29 Game that certain older graduates keep going on and on about). I remember rushing onto the field with my classmates feeling for the first time that incredibly heady mixture of being young and excited and taking part in a mass sporting event.

But I got older, prissier and more vulnerable to wind and cold. Consequently, when my recently acquired husband Steve suggested we go to the Yale game this year I agreed through mentally clenched teeth. At least my reunion class was going to be lunching inside a tent, something that might be fun or at least warm.

Back to the Game! Robert Benchley (Harvard 1912) once described his expectation on returning to his alma mater for the Game as at least fireworks and possibly retching on the part of his fellow reunioneers. Having been to several reunions by this point I had no such hopes (or fears), but I had enjoyed meeting my old friends in any case. Things brightened when I ran into my former suitemate, Walter, at the entrance. We agreed to meet inside so I dragged Steve away from a perfectly nice tailgate party with his friends to walk into a gigantic tent where a group of completely unfamiliar faces rose to greet me. Where did you go, Walter?

We wandered for a while among the wieners and the wine spritzers until we finally found a group of my classmates. Unfortunately, I didn't know any of them and they greeted us with all the pleasure they might have shown if a couple of scorpions had been dropped onto their table. Welcome back Steve and Susan! After being painfully reminded for half an hour that just because you went to Harvard doesn't necessarily mean that you have a lot in common with every classmate I was actually looking forward to the start of the game.

Things started well with a small child in the stand behind me wailing that "Foo-baw is scah-wee!" and that she wanted to go home. "Good instincts kid," I mentally congratulated the tyke. Soon, however, the day started going downhill. The child kept kicking me in the head (understandable, but not fun), while its mother carried on a continuous disquisition concerning her children's play group, sports and music schedule (Ashley -- all of us in the stands don't want you to forget that you have a piano lesson at 3:30 this Thursday). All this in a voice that would have been perfect for calling lost cattle in from the wilderness but didn't seem really necessary for what was presumably a private conversation with the woman sitting next to her.

Rather than trying to figure out the game I sulked and read the Harvard Lampoon's Game issue from cover to cover. It was actually pretty good, especially the football playing cards which included God (pictured as Morgan Freeman, naturally) who, when asked about why he isn't working on more important things than football, suddenly shouts "Oh shit, Libya!" and runs away.

But the afternoon wore on and I began to mellow. The sun was bright, the sky was that achingly clear New England autumn blue. I finally began to watch the game, fortified by edamame snacks and occasional refreshing sips of a flavored Japanese liquid made from rice. At one point I bet Steve ten edamame that the woman behind us would continue talking till the end of the game without once letting her neighbor get a word in. Unfortunately, he refused. I would have won, easy.

I will even confess that there are times in watching football outdoors that I find my heart soaring. The best moment is when the teams line up in formation to kick the ball (at least I think that's what they're doing). The way the sun dazzles on them as they surge smoothly forward like wolves fanning out to catch their prey actually makes my heart beat faster.

And the game started to get interesting. My husband is the kind of person who likes our team to stomp the hell out of their team. From my non-fan vantage point I prefer a closely fought game, but this one was getting a little too exciting. Yale kept coming back in a most distressing way. Perhaps a bit of stomping might actually be in order. But it didn't look good. Then Harvard had the ball. And kept it. And this guy whose name I can't remember but is a senior this year kept running across the field and running and running. And everyone was on their feet and I didn't even mind that I couldn't see anything.

Game over. Harvard wins 34-24. Everyone beams. I beam at the woman behind me and she beams at me and apologizes for her child kicking me in the head. We surge out of the grounds in the late afternoon sunlight and for one moment it is 1975 and I am young again.