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There are several places in the world that carry a certain rowdy form of ambiance that make a sports fan exclaim with enthusiasm, "This is what it's all about!"
British soccer fans have their proud, blue-collar sections of Wembley Stadium. The French urge on the tennis underdog amid the dusty-red clouds of Rolland-Garros. Duke basketball is thunderously supported by the "Cameron Crazies." And there was nothing like the "Dawg Pound" in Cleveland before Art Modell whisked the Browns (er, Ravens) off to Baltimore.
In the midst of the flamboyant autumn hills in New Hampshire stands Memorial Field, home of the Dartmouth Big Green football team. Its bleachers seem to hover in the misty air. Its grass has savored championship celebrations 18 times--the most in the Ivy League.
Upon the aforementioned bleachers reside the wildest fans in the Ancient Eight. Smothered in green sweatshirts, hats and face paint, two or three thousand students squish together and chant in voices hoarse from the previous night's parties.
This Saturday was Homecoming for Dartmouth. The evening before, a Promethean bonfire lit the cold sky amidst shouts of "Harvard sucks" and "No mercy."
At noon on Saturday, I squeezed my way into the enemy stands, my Crimson hat intact and only a press pass preventing possible attacks. Like Dustin Hoffman in the upcoming movie "Mad City," I was a journalist in a precarious position, abusing my privileges to snag some juicy quotes.
As Harvard was building a 7-0 lead, the hot dog man slithered through the jammed aisles. After a few weak tosses to a dozen hungry men fell short, the latter wailed in desperation.
"Go deep, man!"
Only 10 minutes after kick-off, the score was 14-0 in favor of the Crimson.
"We're playing like the f--Colts!" shouted an obvious NFL connoisseur.
After the third Harvard touchdown, an optimistic fan attempted to ebb the evident unrest of his peers.
"It's alright; we can spot'em like 35 [points]!"
With the Big Green pinned deep in their own territory, quarterback Pete Sellers lost the pigskin. The ball seemed to rest on the turf for an eternity before the Crimson defense scooped it up.
"Safety school," sounded several uncertain voices.
With the score now 24-0, a deep pass by Sellers was broken up by senior Jeff Compas. There was no flag on the play, causing a chorus of boos from the crowd.
"I want [the referee's] family dead, I want his house burnt down," screamed a violently-disposed student.
It is a Dartmouth tradition for freshmen to rush the field at halftime. Mature upperclassmen goaded the frosh with encouragement.
"They can't catch you all."
During the halftime ceremonies, a contest was held in which a female student booted a punt over 40 yards. Always eager to recruit, calls of "sign her up!" filled the air.
Halfway through the third quarter, with no change in the score, some of the fair weather fans began to file out. The true followers, however, stayed until the final whistle.
Harvard won the game 24-0 to remain undefeated in league play. For the first time in three years, the Big Green lost two in a row.
The Crimson may wrap up the title with a victory over Yale on Nov. 22. They may do so in front of more fans than can fit into Dartmouth's Memorial Field. However, in terms of crowd noise, spirit homogeneity, football expertise, loyalty and overall aura, it is doubtful that Harvard can ever match that little college in the mountains of New Hampshire.
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