Monday, April 14, 2008

"Leatherheads" highlights today's lacking school spirit

The movie opens in Princeton’s old Palmer Stadium, where 40,000 fans are cheering on the Tigers and singing a 1920s fight song. Then the camera zooms in to a muddy field in the countryside where professional football was supposedly born. George Clooney, who plays a too-old Dodge Connelly, is trying to promote a sport that is without money or fans. That is, until they recruit a young Princeton superstar to play for the Duluth Bulldogs.

I walked out of the movie with one thought – what happened to the glory days? Princeton’s team defined modern-day football and aroused feelings of grandeur and courage among students, alums and football fans around the nation. Princeton took part in the birth of college football in 1869, though Rutgers took the game at its home stadium that day. The defeat was soon followed by an 80-year stretch of football dominance that earned the Tigers 28 national championship titles.

Princeton Football was closest to resurrecting its past in the fall of 2006 during the Yale game. The bonfire and Ivy League title were on the line, and 18,000 fans came out to watch the show. Once again, Princeton students were excited to be in the stadium cheering for their boys.

Let’s fast-forward to May of this year. Men’s hockey made recent history by trouncing the Crimson to win the ECAC championship. The hockey rink was full of fans, but they were mostly locals with young children. The band was the largest, and rowdiest, group of student fans. God bless these tuba and trumpet players who continue to lift my spirits each time I drag myself out to a game.

Princeton continues to have top-notch sports, from lacrosse to squash to crew. But few teams, and even fewer women’s teams, draw a broad student fan base. “Leatherheads” is a reminder that this isn’t how it always used to be. I’m left wondering why. Are athletics less important to the twenty-first century Princeton student? Or is school spirit expressed in other ways than supporting our peers in an Ivy League line-up?


Anonymous said...

Leaving I-A has had a trickle-down effect on how we look at all of our sports. Ivy League football was nationally competitive, if not necessarily prominently so, until the drop down to I-AA. The administration has shown that priorities are elsewhere and students respond accordingly. Whether that's a good thing is another question.

A recent New York Times article examined the effect of football's drop in stature:

Schools like Stanford, Northwestern, Notre Dame, and Vanderbilt manage to compete with the big boys--but they do so at a cost.