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Me? Cheer? For Them?

Sharf Shooter

By Joshua M. Sharfstein

"WANTED: Football Ticket for 40 to 50 Yardlines. Will Pay Anything. Will Trade for Anything. Will Sell Baby Brother or Sister."

It didn't take me long during my visit to Pennsylvania State University this summer to figure out that I wasn't at Harvard. For starters, Penn State students seemed to care whether their football team won. Even more surprising was how most acted excited about going to the games.

It was an alien experience for me. At Harvard, students will sell their younger siblings to get exemptions from the QRR or Lit & Arts B--but not to waste an entire afternoon across the river. So few students attend the games--and so few who do attend cheer--that Harvard football is the only team in the country that needs confidence-building by professionals when the team wins.

Given how exciting packed football games (and even school spirit) can be, it's a shame that the games are as popular as two-day old Union hummos. As school begins this year, why not make a commitment to change this tradition? Why not turn Harvard into the Penn State of New England?

Okay, I admit there are some problems with this goal. Penn State tends to win a few more games than Harvard every year and might even edge out the Crimson in head-to-head competition. It is hard to generate fan loyalty to a team that plays a competitive game with Columbia.

But even if we can't become Nittany Lions, we can do better. And we will, if we come to grips with the deep-rooted anxieties that prevent us from cheering for the team.

Anxiety One: Harvard football players are just like the football players who tortured us in high school.

Many Harvard students secretly fear that the nature of football compels its participants to pour their cafeteria spaghetti into our book bags and humiliate us in front of half of our senior class.

It's just not true. Harvard football players can be pretty nice guys, especially when they give you the privilege of walking within 20 feet of them.

Anxiety Two: Cheering for football players diminishes our own accomplishments.

After all, why should I cheer for some jock who probably can't even appreciate my organic chemistry test score and certainly won't be slapping me any high-fives?

The answer: because you don't need other people to lavish you with praise. You do a good job of it yourself. Football players, in contrast, are some of the most emotional and sensitive students on campus. They need encouragement, nurturing and love.

Plus, you get to yell out "You're a bum!" when they drop the ball on third down.

Anxiety Three: Rooting for football is treason to hockey.

Harvard students inexplicably drop their inhibitions at hockey games, sometimes even raising their voices to (dare I say) cheer. Would it be betrayal to support football as well?

When this problem presented itself at Penn State, the administration moved like the wind to kill the hockey program. At Harvard, we can develop a more complicated and confusing solution.

For example, Dean of the College L. Fred Jewett--still smarting over his housing compromise last year--might support a plan to assign students randomly to cheer for one sport each year. Or the Core committee could require students to cheer for teams in eight of 10 categories.

This plan is so flawless that problems would arise only if it worked. Harvard students tend to throw themselves body and soul into extracurricular activities; what if we took to football with the same passion and intensity we take to our resumes?

At Penn State, such problems are plainly evident. Entire conversations at Penn State revolve around where students' season tickets are and how much their seats have improved since their first year. ("Remember when we sat behind the goalposts way at the top? Section 56, Seat 432?" "Of course, dude.")

And according to people who tell me they know, Joe Paternostyle receding hairline haircuts are the rage in State College, Penn.--among women, too

Before Restic-cuts sweep through Cambridge, we must remember to keep football in context: go to the games, root for the home team, but remember, deep down, that these were the guys who poured spaghetti into your book bag.

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