Since my earliest moviegoing days the idea of a football stadium Press Box has fascinated me. It has carried in my mind connotations of tough-looking journalists, each one more expert in the fine points of the game than the next, and each one striving frantically to out-type, out-wisecrack and out-drink his neighbors.
Last weekend I had my first chance to visit the Saturday afternoon home of the Monday morning quarterbacks, high above the heads of the Harvard fans on top of Soldiers Field. From now on I have no more ideals of the working press, sports division; its representatives are not half so colorful as the assembled members of the Class of '00, gathered together in Row ZZ to watch their Alma Mater roll.
The physical characteristics of the Box include a roof, a back, and two rows of benches, one set about six feet higher than the other. Each bench had a long board running in front of it much in the style of Sever Hall, and on the board there can be placed typewriters, telegraph machines, or pen and ink. No one that I saw was using any journalistic paraphenalia, however, except for a man with a telegraph key up behind me. He seemed to be oblivious of a noisy party on the other end of the line and sat quiet and enjoyed the game with his colleagues.
I had always thought that Harvard stands were indifferent to who won football games until I stepped in among the athletic chroniclers a minute after the kickoff. From the first play until the last there was not a single cheer or sound or approbation for any play, any long run, any hard tackle, or any score.
Except me. When Franny Lee scored and it began to look as though the thousand and ten Dartmouth men in my home town weren't going to be able to gloat over me at Christmas time, I announced to the world in tones not loud but at least, finish, "Atta boy, Franny!"
Immediately, from the right, from the left, and from behind came a barrage of evil, malavolent stares. Not one of the looks was backed up with a voice, but I had a feeling that I had desecrated something holy, that I had violated the Saturday afternoon taboo of the fourth estate by making an enthusiastic noise. From that point on I followed my own example of the first three quarters and desisted.
There was some talking going on, but it was very spasmodic. Someone three seats down on my right would say, "Stub Pearson sure is getting knocked flat on his back, Mike, ain't he." (I figured him for the New York, Times). Then from all around would come an answering chorus of affirmative grunts, and the baldish gent on my left would grab in front of me for the binoculars of the man on the right and stare down at the field for a long minute and then add his own assent with a tardy lackadaisical "Yeah."
There was no attempt to scoop anyone else. In the Harvard Press Box any attempt would be the height of futility any-how. Six reporters are packed into a space designed for five; reporters spend a good bit of time sitting down and grow accordingly. It would be impossible not to read over the shoulder of your neighbor two down, and your next door pal can't even think without his brain waves vibrating in your ears.
So the gay dogs from the upper reaches of Washington Street sit back and relax and enjoy what they see with a non-partisan air of having watched it all before.
I stayed for a few minutes after to see if they didn't come out of their un-cine-malike showness and indifference. They didn't. One man did open up his portable, but he settled right down like his colleagues to watch the great goal post battle. All of them showed more interest in a battle of fisticuffs between two members of rival goal post gangs than they had in the affairs of ten minutes before, and a couple of them even went so far as to shout encouragement to the one who had already given his opponent a bloody nose.
This weekend I'm going back up into the Coffin in the Sky and pretend I'm an assistant cheerleader for the Harvards. It takes more than a pack of super-indifferent, super-blase sports staffs to subdue the Future Old Grad in me.