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McGINN 'N TONIC: Revisiting Harvard Football Etiquette

A lesson in how not to be a good fan across the Charles

By Timothy J. Mcginn

I have often wondered aloud why students don’t bother to trek across the river more often to take in a football game. The Crimson is, after all, arguably the nation’s top team, and regularly whips opponents who are as equally deserving of our derision as Yale is.

But after two encounters with infrequent Harvard Stadium visitors on Saturday, one thing is for certain.

I’m not sure why most fair weather “fans” can’t summon the spirit to support the Crimson on a regular basis, but I’m glad they don’t.

You see, even those sitting in the seats reserved for students don’t always understand that The Game—or any game, for that matter—isn’t a black-tie gathering, at which attendees quietly bide their time before cocktail hour. They don’t quite realize that the range of appropriate reactions can include sitting on one’s hands as Yale endures yet another blunder, but might also include “cheering” and “standing up.”

And when the plebeians in their midst resort to such vulgar means to signify their approval, these spectators get angry, then attempt to restore some semblance of proper decorum.

In short, they ruin the game for me.

I had scarcely taken my seat in Section 35 when a gentle but firm tap on my shoulder drew my attention away from the field. Seeing as Harvard was driving deep inside Yale territory, I turned quickly, expecting to see a late-arriving friend or some other welcome interruption.

Sadly, it was neither.

“Would you mind sitting down, please?” asked an over-dressed fan with a forced half-smile.

Sure he asked nicely. But the request was absurd. It isn’t possible to see the end zone at the closed end of the stadium while seated at that distance, and even if it were, would you really want to?

The cement rows aside, offering vocal support for one’s side of choice is, as it turns out, a widely accepted practice nowadays, particularly when done at the proper moment. And the series leading up to Clifton Dawson’s game-winning touchdown run qualifies by most standards. So I informed the disappointed ticket holder that he would, in fact, have to stand up.

And when he wouldn’t take a simple “no” for an answer, I asked, “How many football games have you been to this season?”

Exactly.

Moments later—following Brian Edwards’ fumble-cum-punt return touchdown—came another thump on the shoulder, this one considerably more forceful.

“You need to sit down,” demanded the man occupying the row directly behind mine.

“Actually, it’s a football game,” a friend and I quickly responded in unison. “You’re supposed to stand.”

No luck. So I resorted to the quip that had dispatched the previous malcontent.

“I’m a tutor,” he barked. “Don’t fuck with me.”

Sure enough he was a tutor—Daniel Sussner of Kirkland’s ‘J’ entry, a history tutor and Foreign Cultures 21 TF, to be precise—though the relevance of that claim continues to elude all with whom I’ve shared the fact. Once it has been made clear that this entire saga played out in the stands, and not in his section, anyway.

According to Sussner’s official Kirkland biography, as posted on the House’s website, he “grew up in Paris and San Francisco, torn between Giant’s [sic] baseball and European soccer.”

Now I’m not intimately familiar with the cheering habits of the “hooligans” who fill the stands overlooking soccer pitches worldwide, but—based on their record of drunken rioting and routinely beating one another senseless—I’m going to go ahead and assume that standing up to take in particularly exciting portions of a game is an accepted part of their culture. It is, unfortunately, one which Sussner was not familiar with.

Informed a second time that neither my friends nor I had any intention of sitting while our beloved Crimson battled on the field, Sussner headed for an event staff representative, presumably to seek our ejection.

The tutor told the red-jacketed usher that we had been particularly belligerent, cursed at him, and probably didn’t attend Harvard anyway. All this as Yale mounted a second-quarter comeback push. I consider it nothing short of a miracle that I was able to enjoy Ricky Williamson’s 100-yard interception return at all.

Thankfully, as my assembled group of friends and I leapt for joy following that score, which extended the Harvard lead to 21, Sussner disappeared into the crowd, never to be heard from again. Yet, as the stands swelled to hold the drunken masses pouring in from the tailgate, I could not rest easy for fear that Sussner would re-emerge at a critical moment to rain on my metaphorical parade.

He didn’t. But someone like him probably will in the future. So, once-a-year fans, stay where you belong: on the Cambridge side of the river.

—Staff writer Timothy J. McGinn can be reached at mcginn@fas.harvard.edu.

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