On paper, the only big loss to graduation the Harvard men’s basketball team sustained this year was that of Christian Webster ’13. But paper can’t tell you much about heart or passion. Paper won’t say anything about relentless noise-making and rabble-rousing. And that’s why, until now, paper never documented the departure of football player and student section leader Adam Riegel ’13.
To witness Riegel in front of a crowd at Lavietes Pavilion was to watch Rembrandt at his canvas. Riegel had an intimate feel for when to make noise (always) and how to make it (obnoxiously). Better yet, he convinced everyone else to get loud with him—and when they didn’t follow a chant, he maintained his composure and kept yelling. Riegel may have had an acute cotton allergy judging by the swiftness with which his shirt would come off, but this body was not on display for that cute Kappa girl in the third row. It was there so that you—yeah, YOU, UP THERE—would be inspired to get on your feet, cast aside all social norms, and stomp around like an ape for two hours.
At this year’s home games, the loss of Riegel has been glaring. Attendance remains high, but the noise level is not. Gone are Riegel staples like the call-and-response “Is that not the losing team?/Yes, that is the losing team” and “Boo that ref!/BOO!” Even the classic “I Believe” chant has been underwhelming, deployed with ham-fisted timing.
This past Saturday, against archrival Yale, with the entire football team in attendance, the moments of actual disruptive crowd noise were scarce. There may have been the odd “De-fense!” chant early in the game, and perhaps one or two more on key possessions late, but there was little sustained energy from the crowd. Obviously, no one is going to pin the night’s loss on the fans, but for the last few years, they were the ones who made Lavietes Pavilion an entirely unfriendly place for opponents to play. Have the Harvard faithful already become complacent with their success, now that they are no longer rooting on an up-and-comer? Or are they just searching for their Riegel?
I talked to Riegel earlier this week to get his take on his time at the front of the stands and on how he went about riling up students. Riegel described the rise of the student section as in parallel with the rise of the team itself; a few students who had close friendships on the basketball team began marshaling student support, creating Facebook events for games and leading cheers. As the wins mounted, so did the fan support, culminating in one of Riegel’s favorite moments as a fan, when the students damaged the stands at Lavietes during the Crimson’s defeat of Princeton on March 5, 2011, which earned the team a share of the Ivy title.
“Sometimes people aren’t going to follow you in the chants,” Riegel said. “Sometimes you’re just going to look like a fool, but that’s kind of part of the fun of it, too. You’re still there to have fun and watch the guys that you know, watch your classmates and help support them.”
Though cheering and shouting may be a natural extension of Riegel’s personality, there was also an element of strategy to his actions. By setting the bar high, he made the fans around him get more involved, as he did in absorbing the abuse of the Yale student section—again, in a shirtless performance—on the road at John J. Lee Amphitheater.
“If I’m going way over the top and way out there, and people see that, then it should make them more comfortable to do some of the basic stuff, just to be a little bit louder on their own,” Riegel said.
It may be that Riegel was a once-in-a-generation talent. It may be that, while Harvard was blessed with him for a crucial moment in the program’s development, his energy was never destined to be with us forever. But as the student section continues its search for his spiritual successor, his messages still contain essential truths for his erstwhile peers.
“Stand up, jump around, be loud, have a good time, be a little more boisterous than people expect Harvard kids to be,” Riegel said. “Maybe say some borderline aggressive things and see who follows behind you.”
PRINCETON V. BROWN
Games like these can give a guy mascot envy. Though both simple choices, there’s a lot you can do with fierce, intimidating creatures like tigers and bears. I hate to admit it, but the Princeton Tiger is a very well executed logo; the stern face and hooded eyes contain a great mix of danger and arrogance. The Brown Bear just looks vaguely stoned.
As much as we might talk ourselves into it, we’ll always be a little disappointed with “Crimson.” One of these days, I’ll get around to circulating a petition to get the name changed to a more powerful, respected representation of our institution: now introducing your Harvard Elephants!
HARVARD V. COLUMBIA
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School of Murphy