Under Sunday’s clear, night sky, the lights shone brightly on Soldiers Field as the Harvard and Northeastern squads set up for a corner kick. The clock dwindled down, only seven minutes remaining in the scoreless match. With the eyes of over 2,500 fans on the pitch, the kick was taken. Bodies jostled, trying to make contact with the ball. One found success, dropping it back to the feet of Brian Rogers.
And the crowd was on its feet, cheering as the players piled onto each other in celebration. One student ran in front of the bleachers, waving a Harvard banner behind him to a roar of approval. The notes of “Olé” rang across the stadium, lingering on after the subsequent kick-off.
It’s moments like these when I realize the magic of college sports, the power of a game to unify a student body. Although there were eleven men on the field representing Harvard that night, the Crimson had a twelfth man in spirit: its fans.
We stood together, by the field and as a school, and shared in the squad’s 1-0 victory.
It’s hard to deny the home-field advantage of a stadium pulsing with supportive energy. The chants of “Let’s Go Harvard” as the midfielder takes it up the line, the collective sigh as the ball just misses wide, and the yells when the ref calls a questionable foul all combine to create an environment with the power to lift a team up and to give it an extra competitive edge.
Yet what does it take to draw the students from their dorm rooms across the river in these high numbers?
Is it the attraction of a night game? Marketing campaigns offering prizes for attendance? The excitement of a big match against a rival? A little bit of everything?
After all, night games are proven to be popular with the student body, with the first football match under the lights consistently being one of the most well attended contests of each season.
I cherish memories of watching my first college football game in 2009, seeing Harvard defeat Brown, 24-21, in front of over 17,000 fans under the stadium lights.
With a sea of crimson in the stands and an endless stream of cheers, it was my first real exposure to school spirit and what it meant to be part of the Harvard student body.
It’s something I always look forward to, a welcome back to the Crimson community and a way for us to unite at the beginning of the school year.
And students are typically eager to come to the big matches on campus, from The Game every year to the basketball team’s showdown against Princeton at home last winter, in which it clinched a share of the Ivy Title for the first time in the program’s history.
Yet when Harvard hosted its first Fall Fiesta last September, offering students various prizes for attending the soccer squad’s home opener against Stanford under the lights, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Although all the pieces were there and I myself had always been an avid soccer fan, I knew that it wasn’t a sport that typically drew huge crowds in America.